Summer Reading Challenge: How Sweet It Is!

•September 15, 2016 • 9 Comments

You know the anticipation a six-year feels while she waits for Christmas? Well, that’s how I feel waiting every year for the announcement by Raquel over at Out of the Past about her annual Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge. That’s the one where you commit to reading six classic film-related books during the summer, and writing a review about each one.  It’s great fun, and a perfect chance for me to check out some of these classic film books that I love to accumulate, but never seem to get around to actually reading!

This is my fourth straight year participating in the challenge – last year, I literally read around-the-clock for two days to finish four books in order to meet the deadline. It was probably one of the nuttiest things I’ve ever done. (Not that I wasn’t proud of my accomplishment, but that didn’t make it any less nutty!) Because of that extreme experience, though, I was determined that I wasn’t going to have a repeat performance this year. I carried one of my books with me at all times, all summer long, whipping it out whenever I had a free minute – waiting in line at the post office, sitting in the drive-thru line at the bank, even while I was cooking dinner (but only once with that last one, as it resulted in some rather overdone pork chops). My determination paid off in spades – I not only finished the challenge a week before the deadline, but I actually lost track, and finished seven books instead of six! (Can I get a woot woot?)

So it’s with much pleasure that I share with you my books for the Summer Classic Film Book Challenge for 2016. And, I might add, this year’s crop was the best yet!

Strangers May Kiss by Ursula Parrott

In last year’s challenge, I read Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrott, the book on which one of my favorite pre-Codes, The Divorcee (1931), was (loosely) based. I absolutely fell in love with Parrott’s writing, so I was thrilled to receive for my birthday last year a copy of another one of her books, Strangers May Kiss (1931). Like Ex-Wife, Strangers May Kiss was made into a pre-Code feature starring Norma Shearer, and also like Ex-Wife, I loved, loved, loved Strangers May Kiss.

Divided into four parts – Parade, Tomorrow, Today, and Yesterday – Strangers May Kiss focuses on a beautiful young woman named Lisbeth, and her endlessly endless love for Alan, a newspaper correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. Lisbeth and Alan first meet when she is a 17-year-old freshman at Wellesley College and he is in his early 30s. Lisbeth is immediately taken with the handsome and dashing reporter, and has no inkling that he’s a bit of a cad: not only is he married (estranged, but married nonetheless), but he hops from one affair to another like the bunny rabbit in Mr. McGregor’s garden. (Or something like that. You get the idea.)

The book depicts 10 years in Lisbeth’s life, beginning with her first date with Alan, during which she has her first martini, her first kiss, and her third cigarette. From that day forward, her heart belongs to Alan, and only Alan, despite the fact that during the next decade, she literally spends fewer than 45 total days with him. We’re with her when she has her second date with Alan (three years after the first), and sleeps with him. And three years later when he returns from China. And a month later when he leaves again, this time for Africa. All the while, her love for him grows and grows. But Alan? Not so much.  At one point in their relationship, he actually tells her, “When a woman decides a man is her career for life, she fastens to him and thereafter he is like a horse carrying extra weight.”

The character played in the film by Irene Rich (center) wasn't in the book at all.

The character played in the film by Irene Rich (center) wasn’t in the book at all.

Ursula Parrott does a masterful job taking us inside Lisbeth’s mind and heart, helping us to understand her feelings and actions, even as we want to slap some sense into her and give her a good shake. Lisbeth eventually realizes that Alan just considers her to be “an episode,” but this merely makes here just that much more determined to “make him care as I care – to make him feel that he doesn’t want to let me be just an episode.” It’s heartbreaking and incredibly moving, especially if you’ve ever loved someone more than they loved you, or longed for a commitment that you didn’t get.

Although the 1931 big screen vehicle shares the name with Parrott’s book, there are only a few similarities between the two. In both, Alan is a newspaper correspondent who enters and exits (mostly exits) Lisbeth’s life, and in both, the couple take an extended vacation – Bermuda in the book, Mexico in the film. Also in both, Lisbeth desperately wants Alan to take her with him on his next venture – and he refuses. The book, though, contains several characters that are missing from the film, including Lisbeth’s close girlfriend, Geneva, and Stephen, an alcoholic newspaper reporter who loves Lisbeth as much as she loves Alan. And the primary difference between the two films comes at the end – the film version ends happily, with Lisbeth and Alan walking off together in the proverbial sunset, but the book… well, I certainly don’t want to give it away, but let me say that it was a stunner and it left me with quite the soggy hanky.

I can’t recommend this book enough. There’s just something about Ursula Parrott’s writing that speaks to me. Loudly.

Leave Her to Heaven by Ben Ames Williams

I have wanted to read this book for years. Then, this summer, while on my annual road trip to The World’s Longest Yard Sale, I saw a hardback copy of it on a table in Celina, Ohio. For a quarter, y’all. Dust jacket and all! I almost felt guilty buying it – what a find!

The book was everything I wanted it to be. (If you’ve never seen the movie, you might want to skip ahead to the next review – I’m going to get a little spoilerific.) Like the film of the same name, it tells the tale of Ellen Berent, a beautiful sociopath whose penchant for all-encompassing love leads to deception, betrayal, and murder. In fact, the book very closely mirrors the film – it’s told as a flashback, and takes us through the meeting of Ellen and novelist Richard Harland on a train, the whirlwind relationship that results in their marriage, and the steps she takes to ensure that no one comes between her and her man – not Richard’s crippled younger brother, Danny, or even their own unborn child.

Williams has an engaging writing style and the ability to create imagery and detailed character studies without becoming tedious. Through his words, we fall in love with Ellen’s sweet-natured adopted sister, Ruth; feel revulsion for Ellen’s ex-fiance Russell Quinton; appreciate the stinging candor of Ellen and Ruth’s long-suffering mother; and experience ongoing horror at Ellen’s behavior.

Ellen Berent was just as scary in the book as she was on screen.

Ellen Berent was just as scary in the book as she was on screen.

There were only a few major differences between the book and the movie – in both, Ellen takes Richard’s brother on a swim in the lake, allowing him to drown when he suffers a cramp. Film Richard didn’t know his wife’s culpability until much later in the couple’s marriage, but in the book, he knew right away that Ellen was responsible for Danny’s death. Also, in the book, Richard and Ruth fell in love and married a few years after Ellen’s death, and just before Ruth was accused of murdering her sister. In the film, it was only while on the witness stand for Ellen’s murder that Ruth admitted that she loved Richard. Overall, though, this is one of the most outstanding adaptations of a book that I’ve come across. If you get your hands on this book, I highly recommend that you snatch it up. Even if it costs more than a quarter.

Star-Crossed: The Story of Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker by Beverly Linet

Actor Robert Walker met and fell in love with Jennifer Jones when her name was still Phylis Isley, and the two were studying at New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. The couple had two children, Robert Walker, Jr., and Michael. It was quite a lovely fairytale story – until producer David O. Selznick entered the picture. And then, all bets were off.

Star-Crossed is a kind of triple biography, giving us the story of Walker and Jones separately, and then their relationship together, from its meet-cute beginning to its unhappy end – and on through to Jones’s marriage to Selznick. It’s a really interesting read, and I learned all sorts of details about the three principal characters that I never knew. I discovered, for instance, that Walker was willful and unpredictable as a boy, with a hair-trigger temper and a lack of impulse control that frequently got him into trouble. And that Jennifer Jones, the well-behaved only child of tent show owners, wanted to be an actress from the time she was six years old, when she announced her future plans to her parents. And that Selznick was full of ambition, drive, and “an obsessiveness that drove everyone with whom he worked to distraction.” (On second thought, I guess I kinda knew that last one already.)

If you don’t know the story, Walker and Jones were married for six years, but their union started to unravel when they moved to California and David O. Selznick signed Jennifer Jones to a personal contract. Less than two years later, Jones left Walker, an act that devastated the sensitive actor and led to a reliance on alcohol that would last for the rest of his life. In 1949, six months after Selznick’s divorce to his wife was finalized, he and Jennifer Jones were married. And two years later, shortly after the release of his Oscar-worthy performance in Strangers on a Train (1951), Robert Walker would be dead, following an adverse reaction to a doctor-administered dose of sodium amytal.

Walker and Jones. The salad days.

Walker and Jones. The salad days.

After her marriage to Selznick, Jones’s life was certainly no bed of roses. Professionally, her highly anticipated Broadway debut was a flop, and she was panned in such Selznick productions as the remake of A Farewell to Arms (1957). And she fared even worse in her personal life. She reportedly attempted suicide on more than one occasion, and, saddest of all, her daughter with Selznick, Mary Jennifer, killed herself at the age of 21.

I have to admit, though, while the book is certainly written in an objective manner, I couldn’t help coming away with a strong sense of sympathy for Robert Walker and a rather bad taste in my mouth toward both Jennifer Jones and David O. Selznick.  It’s just such a sad story – and I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Selznick had never entered the picture.

Scarlett O’Hara’s Younger Sister: My Lively Life In And Out Of Hollywood by Evelyn Keyes

One of the most fun things about this reading challenge – other than the actual reading, of course – is choosing the books that I’m going to read. About three weeks after this year’s challenge started, though, I still hadn’t picked all of my books. Then, as fate would have it, one day I happened to see a post on Facebook that referred to Evelyn Keyes’ autobiography, Scarlett O’Hara’s Younger Sister. I don’t remember exactly what the poster said, but I do recall that he described it as “raunchy.” And that’s all I needed to know. I’ve had this book in my collection for years and years – I had to find out what this guy was talking about!

And let me just say I wasn’t disappointed. Here’re a few examples of the book’s titillating tidbits:

Keyes shared that she engaged in a one-night stand with a “very tall actor” after catching her husband making out with a starlet. (“I don’t even like actors very much,” she admitted. “But once in a while they have come in handy.”)

The actress also admitted that she was disappointed in her affair with Anthony Quinn. “There was simply too much of Tony (yes, there too).”

And she offered this self-observation: “I was pretty enough little thing; my breasts, unfortunately were only average. America – and movie producers – preferred those blown-up jobs.”  Further introspection led the actress to share that she once thought she was “the world’s lousiest lay.”

And I couldn’t leave out the description of her sexual awakening, thanks to an affair with her soon-to-be second husband, Hungarian director Charles Vidor.  One of Keyes’s accounts actually includes the following: “Oh please…” I was excited. “I…you…you…” I knew I should stop him. I didn’t seem to be able to…I don’t know how it happened. He was suddenly on his knees before me, his mouth on the inisde of my knee. It was climbing…


Keyes and Hubby Number 3.

Keyes and Hubby Number 3.

But the book wasn’t all sexual shockers. We learn that her first husband committed suicide, and that her subsequent marriages – to Vidor, actor/director John Huston, and big band leader Artie Shaw – all ended disastrously. And she didn’t fare any better with her longtime relationship with larger-than-life producer Mike Todd, who eventually left her for Elizabeth Taylor. Keyes also gave us the inside scoop about her brush with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), where she joined her then-husband Huston and such luminaries as Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, and Myrna Loy in standing up against HUAC’s Communist witch hunt. Her stance caused the Committee to shine the spotlight her way – and she was once even forced to sign a Loyalty Oath in order to secure her passport.

Aside from her openness about her sex-capades (and her colorfully descriptive language), Keyes was incredibly candid about other areas of her life, including her penchant for remaining in toxic relationships with men. She also didn’t shy away from admitting that she was a reformed racist. Keyes’s first reference to the way she felt about blacks came during her discussion of Gone With the Wind (1939) – she remarked on the fact that the film’s black performers were portraying slaves, saying it “kept them in their place.” And later, describing an event where black dancer/choreographer Katherine Dunham was a guest, Keyes recalled telling her then-husband Charles Vidor, “I can’t stay here in the same room with a nigra…!” After being vehemently chastised by her spouse, Keyes began the journey toward shedding her lifelong prejudices, but I found her raw honesty to be really rather refreshing. (Incidentally, she divulges that years later, she had a fling with a popular, but unnamed, black performer – a fact that her one-time boyfriend Mike Todd was never able to accept.)

I can’t say that I’ve ever read a book quite like this one before. I’ll tell you one thing – I’ll certainly never look at Suellen O’Hara the same again.

Virginia Bruce: Under My Skin by Scott O’Brien

I’ve only seen Virginia Bruce in one movie – Downstairs (1932) – but her standout performance in this first-rate pre-Code was enough for me to look forward to digging in to this biography that I received last year for Christmas.  Written in 2008, the book’s subtitle was taken from the Cole Porter song that she warbled to James Stewart in MGM’s Born to Dance (1936).

An accomplished pianist, Bruce wanted to study music at the University of California, but she wound up in the movies after a chance meeting with a Hollywood director. Before long, she was appearing in small roles in films starring such luminaries as Adolphe Menjou and Jeanette MacDonald. Professionally, Bruce never wanted for work, but she was never very ambitious and her career always seemed be just on the brink of stardom – always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

Off-screen, Bruce was probably best known as the fourth – and last – wife of actor John Gilbert, her co-star in Downstairs. Nine days after she first met Gilbert at the home of Downstairs director Monta Bell, Gilbert proposed, but a couple of years later, just months after the birth of their daughter, Susan Ann, the marriage was over. “Love tricks you into a false sense of security,” Bruce said later. “Maybe the old fairy tales are to blame.” Bruce seemed to find real happiness with her second husband and father of her son, screenwriter J. Walter Ruben but, tragically, just five years after they married, Ruben died. And Bruce’s third (and fourth!) marriage, to Turkish film producer Ali Ipar, was full of more ups and downs than a roller coaster, not least of which was Ipar’s imprisonment in a Turkish jail after a bad business deal.

Virginia Bruce in Kongo. I gotta get my mitts on this film.

Virginia Bruce in Kongo. I gotta get my mitts on this film.

One of my favorite anecdotes about the actress came from her high school days. Not one of the school’s better students, Bruce earned a perfect score on a paper one day and was praised by her teacher, who asked how she’d gotten such a high mark. The future actress replied, “I copied Hamilton Simon’s paper.” And when the teacher said that she’d have to be given a zero instead, Bruce said that she’d expected that: “I just wanted to see what a hundred on my paper would look like.” Bruce’s unerring honesty and habit of speaking without thinking was a trait that would crop up again and again.

In a few other reviews I’ve read about this book, writers complained that O’Brien put too much emphasis on Bruce’s professional life and not enough on her life off-screen; for instance, little was written about her relationship with her children or her eight grandchildren. I, too, would have liked more information about her offspring, but I thought that the amount of information about Bruce’s life behind the scenes was more than satisfactory. Plus, the details about her films certainly piqued my interest – I’m especially eager to track down Kongo (1932) and The Invisible Woman (1940).

(One more thing that I have to mention – the book was fairly overflowing with errors, from misspelling Una Merkel’s name, to using the word “where” instead of “were,” to referencing “Howard K. Stern” instead of “Alfred K. Stern.” It was a little distracting. This was still a good read, though.)

Ricardo Cortez: Magnificent Heel

Ricardo Cortez: Magnificent Heel

The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Times of Ricardo Cortez by Dan Van Neste

Full disclosure – this soon-to-be-published book came across my desk because the author asked me to read it over. He’s a pal of mine, but don’t think that will stop me from giving you the straight dope on what I thought of the book.

And what I thought was that it was one of the most interesting biographies I’ve ever come across.

On a side note, I lucked out with this summer’s crop of biographies. I have to say that most movie bios are pretty much unreadable for me – either there’s too much research and not enough juicy stuff, or the writing is flat and kinda boring, or there are too many details about the star’s personal life and not enough about their films (or vice versa). I didn’t encounter those problems with any of the bios I read for this year’s challenge, including this one.

Did you know that Cortez was the only actor to receive top billing over Greta Garbo? He was!

Did you know that Cortez was the only actor to receive top billing over Greta Garbo? He was!

I was really excited to read this book, because Ricardo Cortez is one of my favorite pre-Code performers. And just like with Virginia Bruce, I didn’t know one single thing about his personal life before I read this book.  Driven by captivatingly titled chapters (like “The Latin from Manhattan” and “Professional Scoundrel”), the book takes us through Cortez’s beginnings as Jacob Krantz, born on Hester Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side; his teen years, when he held down such varied jobs as newspaper copyboy, theater doorman and taxi dancer; and on through his path to the stage and then films, where he was originally groomed as the next Rudolph Valentino.

I was fascinated to read about Cortez’s relationship with silent screen actress Alma Rubens, who he married in 1926 (not knowing that she was a narcotics addict), and who died five years later, at the age of 33. Equally interesting were his struggles to overcome a spate of unfounded rumors that cropped up about him and threatened to end his early career.  In addition to Cortez’s life off screen, there’s a great deal about his professional work, and while Van Neste doesn’t sugarcoat the less favorable aspects about Cortez’s personality, overall, I came away with a positive feeling toward this hard-working performer and a desire to seek out even more of his films.

Cortez turns on the charm in Mandalay, one of my favorite pre-Codes!

Cortez turns on the charm in Mandalay, one of my favorite pre-Codes!

The book is divided into two parts – the first part covers Cortez’s life and career, and the second part focuses on his films, providing a cornucopia of information, including casts, taglines, plot summaries, reviews, and – my favorite – trivia!  I’m telling you, this section is like a whole ‘nother book, chock-full of all kinds of goodies. I learned, for instance, that in during a fight scene in one of his films, Children of Jazz (1923), Cortez knocked co-star Theodore Kosloff unconscious. According to news reports, Kosloff required “much sponging to free himself of gore.” (Har! And, also, ew.)

I highly recommend that you grab a copy of this one when it’s released by Bear Manor Media early next year. You’ll be glad you did.

And that’s it! Another summer, another challenge under my belt. Can’t wait ’til next year!

The 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Even More Adventures in Paradise – Part 4

•September 5, 2016 • 9 Comments
Vaudeville 101 in Club TCM.

Vaudeville 101 in Club TCM.

Now that TCM has announced its dates for the 2017 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (April 6-9, 2017), I thought this was an ideal time to offer up another installment in my year-long look at the 2016 event. (What – I didn’t mention that I was plan to write about the 2016 film fest all year? Why, sure! You see, that way, I can keep reliving it over and over – and take you right along with me!) So, thusly, the adventure continues…

Among the many things I love about the TCM film fest are the special presentations held in Club TCM, located in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel (which, incidentally, was the site of the first Academy Awards banquet in 1929). My first special presentation this year was Vaudeville 101, hosted by Bruce Goldstein of Film Forum, who also hosted the earlier trivia contest. The standing-room-only (and I oughta know, ‘cause I was standing up!) presentation consisted of film clips on a wide variety of vaudeville performers and performances. I hadn’t expected to enjoy the presentation as much as I did – I actually just attended it to kill time between films – but it was a hoot!

Here’s just a sampling of all that I learned from this entertaining and informative “course” –

My favorite clip was of a comedy team called The Beau Brummels. This duo – their real names were Al Shaw and Sam Lee – delivered a volley of jokes in a completely deadpan manner that made their corny jokes even funnier. Here’s one:SSVaudeville1

First guy: Twenty people fell off a roof and none of them got hurt.

Second guy: How’s that?

First guy: They were all killed.


Another comedy team, Smith and Dale, did a comedy routine called “What Price Pants.” This duo performed together from 1898 to the 1960s, and their “Dr. Conkrite” sketch was the inspiration for one of the bits used in the 1975 film The Sunshine Boys (starring George Burns and Walter Matthau).

W.C. Fields did a really cool juggling act with 11 cigar boxes.

Baby Rose Marie, who looked to be around six years old, belted out a song like she was Ethel Merman or something. The little tyke, who started performing at the age of three, grew up to be actress Rose Marie, best known for her role as Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show. (She celebrated her 93rd birthday on August 15th, incidentally.) I was completely blown away by her performance. Check it out:

Speaking of Ethel Merman, she had a clip, too, warbling “Sing You Sinners.” I’d never seen her so young – and pretty!

A highly physical musical comedy routine, “Let’s Be Common,” featured Lillian Roth and Lupino Lane. Roth’s harrowing real-life story was told years later in the film I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955), starring Susan Hayward. Lane was the uncle of actress/director Ida Lupino.

Jay C. Flippen. And his cigar.

Jay C. Flippen. And his cigar.

Jay C. Flippen, a veteran of such noirs as They Live By Night (1948) and The Killing (1956), did a stand-up comedy routine – he must have been in his 20s. He delivered his jokes in a rather broad, slightly southern accent; part of his act was talking about his “dumb” girlfriend. “She don’t know nothing. In fact, I don’t even think she suspects anything,” he said. “Any girl is liable to be dumb, but she abuses the privilege.”

Early shorts featuring the stars of The Wizard of Oz – Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr – were a real delight. Who knew that they all started in vaudeville!

The biggest applause from the festival goers was earned by a clip of the Nicholas Brothers.  The talented dance team of Fayard and Harold Nicholas had a long-term contract with Twentieth Century-Fox and enjoyed a career that spanned seven decades.

Other clips featured vaudeville performers whose lives were later turned into films, including Irene and Vernon Castle, The Dolly Sisters, Eva Tanguay – the “I Don’t Care Girl” (played by Mitzi Gaynor), and songwriter Nora Bayes, played by Ann Sheridan in Shine On Harvest Moon (1944).

This fascinating introduction to vaudeville was a real eye-opener and left me hungry for more! If you get the opportunity to check out some of these early performances, don’t miss it!

Stay tuned for more from the 2016 TCM Film Festival . . .

Pre-Code Crazy: Ann Vickers (1933)

•September 4, 2016 • 6 Comments

In my experience, pre-Code movies with a woman’s name in the title tend to serve up title characters who are multifaceted, strong-willed, take-no-crap dames – Frisco Jenny (1932), Blondie Johnson (1933), Lilly Turner (1933), and Sadie McKee (1934) are among those that spring most immediately to mind.

Well, my Pre-Code Crazy pick for the month of September – 1933’s Ann Vickers – is no exception to this rule.

Brought to life by the always first-rate Irene Dunne, Ann Vickers is not only beautiful, intelligent, and independent, with a strong sense of self, but she’s also capable of fiercely loyal, undying love and devotion, regardless of the circumstances. In a nutshell, I find that she’s one of pre-Code’s most fascinating women.

Here are the reasons why I’m just wild about this character, and why I’m recommending that you take a look at this film. (But take care – if you don’t want to be spoiled, better exit stage left now!)

  1. Ann Vickers is an ambitious career woman – when we first meet her, she’s employed as a social worker in a settlement house – she’s got an office with her name on the door and everything! Ann, we’re told by one character, “has a passion for helping people. She’s going to make the word over if it takes all winter.”
  2. Even though she declares that she’s not ready for love and that her focus is squarely on her career, Ann is completely swept off her feet by a soldier on his way to fight in WWI. Just one day after she meets the smooth-talking Lafayette “Lafe” Resnick (Bruce Cabot), Ann’s having dinner with him in his hotel room – and breakfast, too, if you know what I mean. We get our first peek at Ann’s unique strength of character when Lafe proposes marriage that night, not once, but several times. But Ann is hesitant: “You’re going to France, and when you get over there, you’ll meet grand American girls driving ambulances. Pretty French ones, too,” she explains, displaying an unusual maturity. “If you were tied to me then, you’d be furious. If you want me [when you come back], I’ll marry you like a shot.”

    Malvina and Ann spot Lafe pitching woo to Leah. 'Cause she's swell.

    Malvina and Ann spot Lafe pitching woo to Leah. ‘Cause she’s swell.

  3. If you know your pre-Code, you’ll know that a departing soldier plus a one-night stand generally doesn’t equal good news. In keeping with this formula, Ann winds up pregnant and, of course, Lafe turns out to be a louse. Ann gets her initial hint of Lafe’s true nature when his once-impassioned letters are sent with decreasing frequency, and the latest one she does receive is full of praise about Leah Birnbaum, the “swell” daughter of a family that’s taken him under its collective wing. This hint develops into full-blown evidence when a happenstance encounter in a local restaurant reveals that Lafe is in town on leave – a fact that he neglected to share with Ann. But Ann shows what she’s made of when she sees Lafe dining with Swell Leah. When she gets an opportunity to speak with Lafe alone, Ann doesn’t withhold the information about her pregnancy, as we’ve seen many a noble sister do in these films; she tells him quite plainly, “You and I should, perhaps, be married right away.” Lafe grudgingly consents, but he makes it clear that he’s not happy about it – and that’s all that our Ann needs to know. For her, the conversation is over.
  4. Ann’s experience with Lafe becomes a life lesson – one, she says, that every girl ought to learn, sooner or later. “I’ve discovered that you can read into someone else all the things you want them to be. And you can love those things and think that you’re loving the person – blind to the truth that you’ve never once seen and never heard them. That you can read into boastful whining all the wise gallantry you’ve always longed for in a man, and into his glittering eyes an authentic passion which was not his at all, but only the projection of your own desire.” It’s an amazing realization for a woman to achieve in any film, but especially one from the early 1930s. From that moment, Ann Vickers had me.

    Ann recuperates at Malvina's home after losing her baby.

    Ann recuperates at Malvina’s home after losing her baby.

  5. Sadly, Ann loses her baby (or goes to Havana to have an abortion – the movie doesn’t explicitly say), but she doesn’t allow herself to wallow in her sorrow; she determines to lose herself in her career. And later, when another man shows an interest in her, she chooses her work over a relationship with him. She’s unwilling, she tells her best pal, Malvina (Edna May Oliver), to employ the “regulation woman’s wiles” that it would take to snag him: “If I want a man, I must lure. Flatter. Be ecstatically impressed by all he says or does. Be coyly aloof. Wistful. Flattered by his handclasp. Arousing him to a conviction that I’m a swooning mystery which he must understand or die. No – I’m hanged if I will.” Instead, Ann takes her talents in the field of sociology to Copperhead Gap Women’s Prison, where she hopes to institute her ideas on prison reform.
  6. Upon her arrival at the prison, Ann is confronted by a weak-willed warden and his sweating, brustish enforcer, Captain Waldo (Mitchell Lewis), who longs for the “good old punishments” like public floggings with a cat-o-nine-tails and pouring salt in their wounds afterward. (He actually says this, y’all!) Ann’s efforts to improve the conditions at the prison meet with constant resistance but, to her credit, she refuses to give up or retreat – until her bosses frame her with a staged photo meant to show her in an uncompromising encounter with the prison’s doctor. The blackmail scheme forces her from the prison, but Ann gets the last word – she publishes a best-selling book about her experience, which leads to her appointment as head of Stuyvesant Industrial Home, a massive reformatory for women.

    Ann and Barney had a thing goin' on from the start.

    Ann and Barney had a thing goin’ on from the start.

  7. Love re-enters Ann’s life in the form of Barney Dolphin (Walter Huston), a Supreme Court judge who’s admired her work from afar and finally gets the chance to meet her at a party thrown by Malvina. Ann is drawn to the judge like a moth to a flame – even after she learns that he’s soon to be the subject of a federal investigation into his finances. She’s also not put off by the fact that he’s got a wife (who, of course, refuses to grant him a divorce).  “I may not know you very well,” she tells him, “but I approve of you thoroughly.”
  8. Ann and Barney carry on a secret but loving affair that results in the birth of a son, Matthew. Their happiness is shattered, however, when Barney is indicted for receiving bribes. He winds up with a six-year prison sentence, and when word of Ann’s illegitimate son gets out, she is forced to resign as the head of the Stuyvesant Home. (“You don’t seem to realize that the head of a woman’s reformatory should herself be above reproach,” she’s told by a board member of the prison.) There is a silver lining, though – the scandal entices Barney’s shrewish wife to finally seek a divorce. And through it all, Ann not only keeps her head high, but her devotion to Barney remains constant – she even goes so far as to ask a former boyfriend (Conrad Nagel), now a judge himself, to assist her in securing a pardon for her lover. (Talk about guts!)

And now, just so you’ll have a little of the movie to discover for yourself,I’m going to stop here. But before I go, I’ll leave you with a few tidbits about the movie:

Keep an eye out for this guy. It's John Cromwell! (Thanks to Danny over at for the pic!)

Keep an eye out for this guy. It’s John Cromwell! (Thanks to Danny over at for the pic!)

  • The film was directed by John Cromwell, father of actor James Cromwell, who has appeared in countless feature films, including Babe (1995), L.A. Confidential (1997), and The Artist (2011), and such television series as Six Feet Under (2003-2005) and American Horror Story (2012-2013).
  • John Cromwell was known to make cameo appearances in his films. In Ann Vickers, he can been seen in three separate shots in the first scene, during a party at the settlement house where Ann works. Keep an eye out for the soldier who stands in the doorway throughout the event, gazing soulfully at Ann at every opportunity. That’s John Cromwell.
  • Ann Vickers was based on a novel by Sinclair Lewis, who also wrote Elmer Gantry and Dodsworth.
  • Barney Dolphin’s wife appeared in one scene. She was played by Gertrude Michael, who can be seen in Murder at the Vanities (1934), singing an ode to marijuana!

Ann Vickers airs on TCM on September 30th. Believe me when I say it’s worth your while to check it out, especially if you a fan of Irene Dunne and Walter Huston – and badass pre-Code femmes!


Be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to see what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for this month!

The Film Noir Blogathon: The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

•August 14, 2016 • 16 Comments

Picture this.

It’s the dead of night, three miles outside of Desert Springs, Arizona. We know this because the signpost announcing the location is briefly illuminated by the glaring headlights from a speeding car. When the car stops in the middle of the desert, we see three men in the front seat. The one in the middle, though, isn’t doing very well. We know this because when the driver exits the car, the fella in the middle slumps over on the seat. We further know this because the other passenger then joins the driver in tossing said fella out of the car and down a sandy dune.

Welcome to The Damned Don’t Cry.

TDDC (if you will) is one of my favorite noirs. Starring Joan Crawford, it’s brimming with memorable, well-defined characters, and it’s directed by Vincent Sherman, who also helmed such gems as The Hard Way (1942), Mr. Skeffington (1944), and Nora Prentiss (1947). The story consists primarily of one, big flashback, presented via a crackling screenplay with some of the best quotes this side of Out of the Past.

The tale begins with the discovery of the body that was so unceremoniously dumped in the sand in the opening scene. We learn that the body belongs to one Nick Prenta, a “notorious gambler and racketeer.” A search of the man’s sprawling desert estate turns up a home movie featuring wealthy socialite Lorna Hansen Forbes, and police launch a nationwide search for the missing woman after they find blood-stained carpet in Forbes’ home.

Who is Lorna Hansen Forbes? (And where can I get those sunglasses?)

Who is Lorna Hansen Forbes? (And where can I get those sunglasses?)

“Who is she? Where is she? Is she dead, or is she alive? The questions continue to pile up,” a radio broadcaster intones. “Where did she come from? What was her source of income? Did she kill a well-known racketeer, whose blood stains were found in her home in Desert Springs? Or is she, herself, the victim of some kind of gang war? How and why the obviously well-bred and cultured society beauty could be even remotely associated with members of the underworld is a question which baffles the authorities.”

As these words are spoken, we see the woman in question, played by Joan Crawford, as she arrives, clad in mink and an air of weary defeat, at a wood frame house in a dusty factory town. Turns out that it’s the home of her parents, who obviously haven’t seen her in quite some time – and it turns out that her real name isn’t Lorna, but Ethel. After her mother prepares a place for her to rest, Lorna/Ethel gazes plaintively at a picture depicting her with a man and a young boy, and becomes lost in a flashback that will last nearly the length of the entire film.

We learn that Ethel Whitehead was married to Roy (Richard Egan), a frustrated, ill-tempered factory worker who cares more about keeping up with his life insurance premiums than furnishing the couple’s six-year-old son with the new bicycle he craves. When the boy is hit by a truck and killed, Ethel leaves her husband: “I haven’t anything to hold me here any longer,” she explains. “I would have left a long time ago if it hadn’t been for Tommy.”

It doesn't take long for Ethel to go from naive small-town wife to this dame.

It doesn’t take long for Ethel to go from naive small-town wife to this dame.

Ethel moves to the big city and winds up working for Fit-Right Frocks (dontcha love that name?) as a dress model, enduring the customers’ leers and earning extra cash on the side by occasionally dating the out-of-town buyers. Before long, she’s shed her small-town naivete, and she’s smoking cigarettes, smacking her gum, and cracking wise with the best of them. She finds herself attracted to an earnest, hard-working (but slightly dull) accountant, Martin Blackford (Kent Smith), and uses her wiles to snag side jobs for Martin with the owner of a local gambling joint and his pals. Eventually, she coaxes Martin into joining the fold of George Castleman (David Brian), an organized crime boss whose ruthlessness is offset by his appreciation for the finer things in life. Martin is reluctant to take the job, knowing that Castleman is operating an illegal enterprise, but Ethel talks him into it: “I know how you feel. You’re a nice guy,” she tells him. “But the world isn’t for nice guys. You gotta kick and punch and belt your way up, ‘cause nobody’s gonna give you a lift. You gotta do it yourself, ‘cause nobody cares about us except ourselves.”

Castleman was able to see Lorna beneath Ethel's showy head gear.

Castleman was able to see Lorna beneath Ethel’s showy head gear.

Recognizing an opportunity for self-advancement, Ethel pays a personal visit to Castleman, and he’s soon able to look past her gaudy accessories and cheap perfume to the potential underneath. “I admire a woman with brains,” he admits. “But a woman with brains and spirit excites me.” Ethel promptly transfers her affections from Martin to Castleman, who engages a colleague, Patricia Longworth (Selena Royle), to transform Ethel into oil heiress Lorna Hansen Forbes. Under Patricia’s watchful eye, Ethel is provided with lessons on how to dress, eat, and speak, order food, and tastefully decorate an apartment; she’s even exposed to travel to such far-flung climes as St. Moritz, Amalfi, and Paris.

But being Lorna Hansen Forbes isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. When one of George’s underlings, Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran), gets out of line, Castleman presses Lorna into service, instructing her to ingratiate herself with Prenta so she can get valuable information out of him. Lorna isn’t keen on the idea, but she eventually agrees. “I learned a long time ago, George, that the customer is always right,” she says wryly.

Check out the movie to see what becomes of these two!

Check out the movie to see what becomes of these two!

I don’t want to give away the rest of the plot, but suffice it to say that Lorna does her job with Nick Prenta not wisely, but too well, if you get my drift. And you already know from the opening scene that Nick ends up dead. How he gets that way, and what happens to Lorna, George, and even Martin, I leave you to discover for yourself. But trust me, it’s worth your time to find out.

One more thing – you might recall I mentioned earlier that The Damned Don’t Cry features some great lines. I leave you with some of them. Enjoy!

“I want something more than what I’ve had out of life. And I’m going to get it . . . . I’m not a kid any longer. I’ve gotta do something about it now, while I’ve still got a chance.” – Ethel Whitehead (Joan Crawford)

“A woman has only a short time when life can be exciting for her. When she can enjoy being a woman. Well, I want that time – I want it desperately. I’m going to drain everything out of those years there is to get. I’m going to squeeze them dry.” – Ethel Whitehead

“Don’t talk to me about self-respect. That’s something you tell yourself you got when you got nothing else.” – Ethel Whitehead

“Look Marty, the only thing that counts is that stuff you take to the bank, that filthy buck that everybody sneers at, but slugs to get.” – Ethel Whitehead

Ethel/Lorna and the men in her life.

Ethel/Lorna and the men in her life.

“I have a notion that you’ve never admitted a mistake in your life, even to yourself. And to admit one in front of others would really be a catastrophe, wouldn’t it?” – Lorna Hansen Forbes (Joan Crawford)

“Your old man made his money in oil, and that made you an heiress. I never knew my father. Or anybody I could call that. I had to make mine myself. Well, I’m making it. But there’s someone who’s always trying to take it away. You either protect what you’ve got, or you’ve got nothing.” – Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran)

“In your crowd, a polite ‘no’ is enough. In mine, it isn’t. The only kind of a ‘no’ they understand is at the point of a gun.” – Nick Prenta

“This isn’t a party you can leave when you get bored. We could have left, you and I, a long time ago. We were only guests then. But we stayed too late.” – Martin Blackford (Kent Smith)


This post is part of the Film Noir Blogathon, hosted by Quiggy, over at The Midnite Drive-In. Be sure to click the banner below and check out the other posts that are part of this dark and shadowy event!

Pre-Code Crazy: Red Headed Woman (1932)

•August 3, 2016 • 4 Comments

Red-Headed Woman is one of my very favorite pre-Codes, starring one of my very favorite actresses, Jean Harlow.

So why haven’t I devoted a post to this film before now? Beats the heck outta me! But better late than really, really late, I always say.

Red-Headed Woman tells the story of Lil Andrews (Harlow), a working gal who’s got more on her mind than dictation, if you know what I mean. Specifically, her mind is focused on her very-much-married boss, Bill Legendre (Chester Morris), who, like most of the men in this film, is unable to resist Lil’s unique charms. Ultimately, Lil manages to seduce Bill, break up his happy union, get him to marry her, make her way up the local social ladder (or, at least the first few rungs), have a couple of affairs, and even commit attempted murder – all in less than 80 minutes.

But it’s not the crazy, twisty-turny, action-packed plot that made me fall in love with Red-Headed Woman – although that’s certainly enough! Instead, it’s the characters populating the film that make this one of those movies I can watch over and over (and over!) again. And I do!

Here’s what I mean:

Lil learns that Bill is a leg man.

Lil learns that Bill is a leg man.

Lil Andrews Legendre (Jean Harlow)

We’re introduced to Lil through a series of vignettes at the very start of the film, and they provide some valuable insight into her persona. In one scene, she’s in a dressmaker’s shop, trying on a frock. She strikes a pose, asking the saleswoman if she can see through her dress. When the woman reluctantly replies in the affirmative, Lil flashes a grin. “I’ll wear it,” she says. And in another scene, we’re treated only to the sight of Lil’s gams as she cuts a photo from a newspaper. Turns out it’s a picture of her boss, which she promptly fits into a small frame on her garter belt. “Well, it’ll get me more there than it will hanging on the wall,” she philosophizes.

Bill Legendre (Chester Morris)

As one character said, Bill Legendre was “crazy” about his wife. But as Lil herself rejoined, “He’s a man isn’t he?” And, boy, does Bill prove her right. One minute, he’s off-handedly attempting to dismiss Lil from his house; the next, he’s agreeing to let her help him with his mail; and the next – well, let’s just say that he’s not exactly having Lil file his papers. One look at Lil’s legs and Bill seems to lose all of his senses – he can barely even finish a sentence. And, later, when he tells Lil, “I love my wife! I’ve never loved anyone else!” – he seems to be trying to convince himself as much as he is Lil.

Sally was always there when Lil needed a listening ear.

Sally was always there when Lil needed a listening ear.

Sally (Una Merkel)

Sally was Lil’s ace boon coon, her BFF, her sister from another mister. Although Sally never ceased to be shocked at Lil’s antics, she always had Lil’s back and, like a true friend, she never hesitated to tell Lil when she was crossing the line. Like the time Lil swiped a stack of mail from the desk of Bill Legendre’s secretary so she could take it to Bill’s house. Sally was right by her side all the way, but when Lil confessed her nervousness as they approached the house, Sally didn’t bite her tongue. “I’d be nervous myself,” she quipped, “if I didn’t have any more brains than you’ve got.”

Irene Legendre (Leila Hyams)

Irene, Bill’s wife, is quite an interesting woman. Early in the film, she discovers Bill engaging in some sort of (off-camera) shenanigans with Lil. Irene is justifiably upset – tearful and hurt. But the first words out of her mouth are these: “I might have understood – if it hadn’t been a girl like that.” So what’s that supposed to mean? If she’d caught Bill smooching some society dame, or doing the horizontal hokey pokey with last season’s most popular debutante, it would’ve been okay? That she’s only offended by Bill’s taste in sidepieces? Tut, tut, Irene – your snobbery is showing. But don’t get me wrong – I actually dig Irene. She turns out to be strong and determined, yet forgiving and loving – but not stupid. I like that in a dame.

William Legendre, Sr., had Lil's number.

William Legendre, Sr., had Lil’s number.

William Legendre, Sr. (Lewis Stone)

Bill’s dad is one of the few men in the movie who seems immune to Lil’s allure – he sees through Lil like she’s made out of cellophane. When he gets wind of his son’s one-night stand, he first tries to get rid of Lil by shipping her off to Cleveland. “It’s going to be a lot easier for my son without you in this town,” he tells her. His initial effort to remove Lil from Bill’s life doesn’t work, but trust me – he’s no quitter.

Aunt Jane (May Robson)

Outspoken and opinionated, Irene’s aunt is the pre-incarnation of two characters from one of my favorite films, The Women: Norma Shearer’s mother (Lucile Watson) and one of her best pals (Pauline Goddard). Like these women, Aunt Jane chides Irene for divorcing Bill when he found himself in Lil’s clutches: “However you came to make that idiotic blunder is beyond me,” Aunt Jane wonders. “You’d have stood by Bill if he’d gone broke or had the smallpox or some other awful calamity had befallen him. Well, he’s sick now! Or insane. Or whatever you choose to call it.”

Charles Gaerste (Henry Stephenson)

Gaerste is a longtime friend of the Legendre family, and literally old enough to be Lil’s grandpa – but that doesn’t prevent him from falling under her spell. To his credit, he falls before he’s aware that Lil is Bill’s wife, but by the time he discovers that bit of info, he’s hooked. Actually, Gaerste is a pretty pathetic character – Lil leads him around like a puppy on a leash, first blackmailing him into aiding her social climbing aspirations, and later carrying on an affair with him in the Big Apple. Like Bill, Gaerste is like putty in Lil’s hands: “You’re so beautiful,” he sighs. “What’s the use?”

If you like your pre-Codes hot and your pre-Code women hotter, then be sure to catch Red-Headed Woman, August 7th on TCM. You. Will. Not. Be. Sorry.


Now be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for this month!

The Joan Crawford Blogathon: Dance, Fools, Dance (1931)

•July 29, 2016 • 4 Comments

Dance, Fools, Dance (1931) may not be one of those films that turns up on Top 10 lists of pre-Code movies, but it’s one of my favorites. When I say it’s got it all, you can take that to the bank. Gratuitous shots of ladies in their lingerie. Financial ruin. Premarital sex. Bootlegging. Gangsters. Petty female jealousy. Murder.

And best of all, it’s got Joan Crawford.

La Crawford stars as Bonnie Jordan, a wealthy, spoiled brat who seems to spend half her time partying with her friends on the yacht that bears her name, and the other half lounging in bed, recovering from the yacht parties. Along with her equally trifling brother, Rodney (William Bakewell), Bonnie gets an abrupt and unexpected awakening when her father suffers a fatal heart attack following the stock market crash. Forced to earn a living, Bonnie gets a job as a cub newspaper reporter and winds up going undercover to find a local bootlegger (Clark Gable).

In this scene, practically the entire cast strips down to their undies!

In this scene, practically the entire cast strips down to their undies!

There’s not a dull moment in this 80-minute film, as we see Bonnie undergo a drastic transformation from flighty socialite to struggling working girl to purposeful crusader – and we get a saucy dance number from Crawford as an extra treat! Here are some of the many reasons why Crawford and her character make this underrated pre-Coder one to watch:

The movie makes no secret of the fact that Bonnie and her (rather boring) boyfriend, Bob (Lester Vail), are doing more than just holding hands, if you know what I mean. We quickly learn that Bonnie’s in no rush to walk down the aisle – instead, she espouses the virtues of “trying love out on approval.”

An illustration of Bonnie’s shallow personality at the start of the film is offered up in a scene at her family breakfast table. Shortly after taking her seat, Bonnie lights up a cigarette, and her father asks her if she has to smoke before they eat. “I must if I want to keep thin, darling,” Bonne tells him.

Bonnie refuses to let Bob see her cry.

Bonnie refuses to let Bob see her cry.

After the sudden death of their father, Bonnie and her brother discover that they are flat broke. Bob shows up to rescue Bonnie with a half-hearted proposal of marriage, but Bonnie’s pride won’t allow her to take him up on the offer. She manages to mask her disappointment and sadness at Bob’s palpable relief when she turns him down – she doesn’t let the tears flow until after he’s gone.

Bonnie and Rodney are forced to auction off the contents of the mansion where they grew up, but while Rodney turns sullen and bitter, Bonnie quickly develops a plucky sense of determination. “There’s no use crying about it,” she tells her brother. “Buck up. Put on your spurs and gauntlets and give the world a battle. Swat ‘em in the eye.”

After she lands a newspaper job, Bonnie’s no overnight sensation. She devotes pages to stories that deserve only a paragraph and she’s stuck reporting on less-than-earthshaking events like a local poultry show. But she doesn’t give up, learning the ropes from her closest friend on the paper, Bert Scranton (Cliff Edwards). And when Bert is gunned down by the local mob, Bonnie gets the job of infiltrating the gang in an attempt to find the killer. Fully aware of the danger she’s facing, she tamps down her fears: “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to find out who killed Bert,” she tells her boss. “I’m not afraid.”

Jake Luva has his eye on Bonnie from the start.

Jake Luva has his eye on Bonnie from the start.

Bonnie gets a job as a dancer in a nightclub owned by mobster Jake Luva (Clark Gable), and while performing one night, she spies her old boyfriend, Bob, in the audience. She still loves him, but when he comes to her dressing room, she hides her feelings under a veneer of defiance. There is a moment when her bitterness over Bob’s half-assed marriage proposal rises to the surface, but she doesn’t allow it to stay there for long.

If I tell you any more about this plucky dame, I’ll be spilling some important plot points, but suffice it to say that the last 20 minutes of the film are packed with non-stop action and some twists that you won’t see coming. It’s totally worth your time.

Joanie Tidbits:

The critic for Photoplay magazine wasn’t a fan of the film, but he praised Crawford’s performance, writing that the actress “proves herself a great dramatic actress. The story . . . is hokum, but it’s good hokum and Joan breathes life into her characterization.” Crawford, though, wasn’t pleased with her portrayal of Bonnie Jordan: “[Dance, Fools, Dance] was a disaster!” she said. “I gave a lousy performance, the overacting thing again.”

Dance, Fools, Dance is the first of nine films in which Gable and Crawford starred opposite each other. Some of their other films are Possessed (1931), Laughing Sinners (1931), and Forsaking All Others (1934).

Of Gable, Crawford once said: “The first time I met him, I was terrified. I kept thinking, ‘He is a stage actor. He knows how to read lines. I am suffering by comparison. He’s laughing at me.’”

If you’ve never seen Dance, Fools, Dance, hunt it down and check it out. And in the meantime, enjoy this clip from the film!


This post is part of the Joan Crawford Blogathon, hosted by Crystal over at In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Be sure to visit her site and check out the other great posts that are part of this event!


The Hot and Bothered Blogathon: The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932)

•July 10, 2016 • 7 Comments

When we first see Molly Louvain, she’s with a man. And she’s crying.

It’s a sign of things to come.

The Strange Love of Molly Louvain, released in 1932, stars Ann Dvorak in the title role – and, boy, is “strange” a good word to describe her love life. Another word might be “ill-fated” or better still, “lousy.” In fact, her experience with almost every man in her life is the very pits.

Let’s start with the fella we meet at the beginning of the film. His name is Ralph (Don Dillaway) and he’s rich (and kinda on the goofy side, if you ask me, but to each her own). And Molly’s nuts about him. To his credit, Rich Ralph seems to be quite taken with Molly as well. In fact, we learn, he’s taking her home with him for the first time the following night, to a birthday party his mother is giving for him. “I’ve kept you a secret from my mother long enough,” Rich Ralph proclaims. “You’re going to be at that dinner table, right between mother and me.”

Wanna take a guess whether Molly ever makes it to that dinner? If you guessed in the negative, you win! You see, Molly is from what some call “the other side of the tracks.” As she shares with Rich Ralph, her mother abandoned her when she was seven years old, leaving a note for Molly to be sure that her caretakers didn’t put starch in her underwear. (Seriously.) “I want to be different [from my mother],” Molly says. “Decent. Everything people think I can’t be.”

Who knew that stockings could lead to...MURDER?!? (Sorry, wrong movie.)

Who knew that stockings could lead to…MURDER?!? (Sorry, wrong movie.)

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I’ll back up just a bit, to the day before the big birthday bash. After Molly’s aforementioned date with Rich Ralph, she returns to her job behind a cigar counter, where we’re introduced to two more men in her life: Nick Grant (Leslie Fenton), a traveling salesman with a line so slick you could ice skate on it, and Jimmy Cook (Richard Cromwell), a young bellhop in the hotel where Molly works (and lives), who thinks she’s the best thing since motorized cars. Molly, of course, doesn’t have time for either of these gents, what with all the stars in her eyes over Rich Ralph, but she does rely on Jimmy’s help in getting ready for the birthday extravaganza, and she uses her feminine wiles to get Nick to give her a pair of silk stockings for the event.

As it turns out, Rich Ralph fails to pick Molly up at the prearranged time, but this doesn’t seem to faze Molly – she merely uses her last 95 cents to take a cab to Rich Ralph’s mansion: “This is my big night, and nothing’s going to stop me,” she told Jimmy earlier. “My whole life, everything, depends on tonight!” But before dropping her off, even the cab driver seems to be offering Molly a sage warning: “Watch your step – it’s a tough climb,” he tells her before she ascends the stairs to the entrance. “Don’t fall.”

But the cabbie can’t stop Molly from receiving the news that’s delivered by the family butler: that Rich Ralph and his mother left “quite suddenly” for New York. No Rich Ralph. No introduction to Mumsie. The party was over before it started. The end.

Molly masks her sorrow with champagne and music.

Molly masks her sorrow with champagne and music.

When we next see Molly, she’s back at the hotel, guzzling champagne and banging out tunes on the piano. Oh, and did I mention that she’s doing all this in Nick Grant’s room? Yup, she’s drowning her sorrows and trying to put on a happy face – or, in other words, she’s testing the validity of that old adage, “The best way to get over one man is to get under another one.” And although Jimmy shows up with a liquor delivery and is mortified to find Molly there, his efforts to get her to leave are woefully unsuccessful. Instead, she winds up leaving town with Nick the next day.

At this point, the film fast-forwards three years and we find that Molly’s life still is nothing to write home about. Let me get you up to speed. First off, she now lives in Chicago and has a three-year-old daughter, Ann Marie (Jackie Lyn Dufton), whose father is – though he doesn’t know it – Rich Ralph. She’s still with Nick, but she’s fed up with their lifestyle, which is financed by Nick’s crooked schemes and petty crimes. And she’s made up her mind to ditch Nick, get a job, and leave her daughter in the care of her landlady while she gets her life together. “I want to see that my baby gets a break,” she tells Nick. “I’ve been weak and cheap drifting along like this, but I’m not going to drift any longer.”

Jimmy returns.

Jimmy returns.

The job Molly gets is as a dime-a-dance girl in a local dance hall. But in keeping with the “strange love” of the film’s title, and through a series of coincidences, Molly’s past catches up to her when both Nick and Jimmy (remember him?) wind up at the dance hall one night. Nick’s drunk and belligerent, yet for some reason, Molly and Jimmy climb into his new car with him – which turns out to be an even worse idea when it turns out that the car is stolen. Long story short, Nick is wounded in a gun battle with the cops, Molly escapes in the hot car with Jimmy, and the two of them take temporary refuge in an apartment hour in the heart of the city. And that’s where Molly (who has dyed her hair blonde to shield her identity) meets yet another man – enter Scotty Cornell (Lee Tracy), an audacious and animated newspaper reporter who lives across the hall.

Molly and Scotty have an instant mutual attraction – Scotty appreciates Molly’s biting wit and penchant for a stiff drink (or two), but he has no idea that she’s the woman being sought by the cops as Nick’s accomplice. (Also, despite his interest, Scotty nonetheless pegs Molly as a “tinsel” girl: “Looks swell on a Christmas tree,” he explains, “but you can’t stand up in the rain.” Actually, I’m not sure what this even means, but it’s no compliment, I’m certain of that.) In the midst of Molly and Scotty’s increasing sexual tension, the ever-reliable (and incredibly oblivious) Jimmy proposes marriage and, lured by the possibility of a fresh start, Molly accepts: “This is my chance to be respectable. And I’m going to take it,” she tells Scotty.

Love at first sight. Or something like that.

Love at first sight. Or something like that.

But Molly’s matrimonial plans don’t sit too well with Scotty: “It looks great now, but in a month, you’ll go daffy,” he snipes. Their resulting argument winds up in a passionate kiss, and of course, Jimmy chooses just that moment to make an entrance. Unable to fight her feelings, Molly changes her mind and decides to run off to Paris with Scotty – this despite the fact that Scotty actually tells her:  “Remember this. He’s willing to marry you. I’m not. He’ll give you a home. I won’t. But we’ll go places, hear the band play. For a while. And then maybe I’ll give you a dirty deal. I always do. He’s more of a man than I am . . . He’s your chance.” (Now, as Eddie Murphy once said in one of his routines, that’s a hint and a half for your ass.)

I’m going to stop here – I don’t want to spoil the rest of the film for you. You’ve simply got to see for yourself how strange Molly’s love actually gets. But trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

To tide you over until you get a chance to check it out, here’s some miscellaneous stuff about the film that I found to be interesting. I hope you will, too!

This is Angela Lansbury with her second husband, actor/producer Peter Shaw. The two enjoyed a happy union that lasted for more than 50 years, until Shaw’s death in 2003. (Just thought you’d like to know.)

Richard Cromwell, who played Jimmy, was briefly married to Angela Lansbury, from 1945 to 1946. When they married, Cromwell was 35 and Lansbury was 19. Lansbury later discovered that Cromwell was gay; the two remained friends for the remainder of Cromwell’s life, which ended in 1960 with his death from liver cancer.

The film was directed by Michael Curtiz, whose pre-Code output included Female (1933) and Mandalay (1934). He also helmed such disparate classics as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), and Life With Father (1947).

According to the math, Molly would’ve been 16 years old at the time of her ill-fated romance with Rich Ralph. She told him that her mother ran away when she was 7. And three years later, when she tells this story again, she says her mother ran away 12 years ago. Which would mean her mother had been gone for nine years when she was with Ralph – and 9 plus 7 is 16! The hell?! EW.

Keep an eye open for this goof: in a front page headline, Molly’s last name is misspelled – Louvaine.

While in police custody, after being grilled for hours by police, Molly sarcastically confesses to a slew of unsolved crimes: the kidnapping of Dorothy Arnold and Charley Ross and the murders of William Desmond Taylor and Arnold Rothstein. (Before seeing this film, I knew about Taylor and Rothstein, but I’d never heard about the kidnapping cases. Interesting stuff.

Dvorak and Tracy each appeared in seven films in 1932. Here they are in a scene from their other 1932 film together, Love Is a Racket.

Dvorak and Tracy each appeared in seven films in 1932. Here they are in a scene from their other 1932 film together, Love Is a Racket.

Ann Dvorak and Lee Tracy starred in another film this same year, Love Is a Racket, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. , and Frances Dee. It’s directed by William Wellman.

Leslie Fenton, who played the oily Nick Grant, was married to Ann Dvorak in real life from 1932 to 1945. The two met shortly before filming began on Molly Louvain.

Actress Mary Doran is in the credits, and she’s seen for about seven seconds in one scene, but her part obviously ended up on the cutting room floor; you only get a glimpse of her as a group of Jimmy’s college buddies walks past her at the dance hall. If you’ve seen The Divorcee, you’ll remember Doran as Janice, the woman who had the affair with Norma Shearer’s husband. Louise Beavers, who would star two years later opposite Claudette Colbert in Imitation of Life, also has a brief role. She has two lines: “Oh, that’s all right,” and “Oh, thank you, ma’am.”

Check out The Strange Love of Molly Louvain when you get a chance, y’all.

You only owe it to yourself.


This post is part of the Hot and Bothered Blogathon: The Films of 1932, hosted by Aurora, over at Once Upon a Screen, and Theresa, of CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch. Don’t miss the other posts that are part of this great event!