List o’ the Week: Movies I Don’t Get

•June 16, 2018 • 12 Comments

A few weeks ago, I ran into an old friend, who happens to be one of my (very) few “real-life” friends who has any interest whatsoever in classic movies. We got to talking about some films he’d seen recently, which had been recommended to him – The Third Man and How Green Was My Valley. He gave a disgruntled, lengthy thumbs-down review to them both, saying he just “didn’t get” what all the fuss was about. Although I urged him to give The Third Man a second (or third, or fourth) try, and explained that although How Green Was My Valley didn’t really have a plot, it was a beautiful, moving film, he wasn’t convinced.

This started me to thinking about movies I’ve seen, that are highly thought of by most film fans, but that I just “don’t get.” So that’s today’s List o’ the Week: my Top 10 movies I don’t get:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

I can’t deny it. This movie made me want to stick something in my eye. Anything.

Vertigo (1958)

I’m a HUGE Hitchcock fan, but I just can’t with this one. I’ve tried. But I just can’t.

Dr. Zhivago (1965)

I only get this movie as a substitute for a sleeping pill. Zzzz.

The Swimmer (1968)

I REALLY don’t get this one.

Spellbound (1945)

I love Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck is great, Hitchcock is awesome…so it’s a mystery why I don’t get this one. But I don’t.

The Champ (1931)

Oh my gosh, y’all — the scenery chomping is too much. And the final scene just makes me laugh. I’m sorry.

Black Narcissus (1947)

I know it’s all visually breathtaking and deep and Powell and Pressburger and whatnot, but I don’t get it.

Chinatown (1974)

For me, the parts were better than the whole — quotable quotes, memorable scenes (“She’s my sister! She’s my daughter!”), awesome cinematography, but I just wasn’t bowled over. Maybe because I didn’t know what the heck was going on most of the time.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Nope.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

I’m wild about Cary, but I have to admit that I … well, you know.

And that’s my top 10 list of films I don’t get. I may revisit some of these as part of a future “Second Chances” series I have planned — but in the meantime, they remain in the realm of perplexed shrugs, if you know what I mean.

What about you – are there any fan favorites whose charms escapes you? And what do you think of my list?

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Pre-Code Crazy: The Animal Kingdom (1932)

•June 3, 2018 • 11 Comments

Harding, Howard, and Loy

I think I’ve made it clear on these pages that I’m a big Ann Harding fan. Her performances in Double Harness and When Ladies Meet rate among my all-time favorites. And she delivers again in my Pre-Code pick for this month, The Animal Kingdom (1932), co-starring Leslie Howard and Myrna Loy.

The Animal Kingdom focuses on a kind of love quadrangle between Connecticut book publisher Tom Collier; his former lover, artist Daisy Sage (Harding); Tom’s socialite fiancée, Cecelia (Loy); and Owen (Neil Hamilton), Cecelia’s would-be-if-he-could-be beau and Tom’s lawyer.  We meet all four players on the night that Tom and Cecelia reveal that, after dating only a few weeks, they are to be married. Not surprisingly, Daisy and Owen are less than happy to receive the news.

Daisy is none too pleased with Tom’s news.

In the scene where Tom visits Daisy to personally tell her of his engagement, Ann Harding is mesmerizing. She practically takes your breath away – you can feel her unalterable shock, her searing pain, her fierce pride, her self-righteous fury. She makes you want to bundle her in your arms and protect her from the world. Myrna Loy, conversely, plays an unexpectedly unsympathetic role in the film. When her Cecelia is first introduced, she appears to be completely devoted to Tom and both understanding and accepting of his close friendship with Daisy. As time goes by, though, we learn that Cecelia’s not the paragon of virtue that she initially appears to be. She encourages Tom to fire his brutish longtime friend (William Gargan), a former prizefighter who works for the couple as a butler; she convinces him to publish a series of tacky – but popular – pulp fiction novels instead of the more prestigious fare he prefers; she feigns a debilitating headache when Tom wants to attend the opening night of Daisy’s art exhibition – and when that doesn’t work, she uses her feminine wiles (if you know what I mean) to achieve her goal of keeping Tom at home. “You go in alone. . . I’m going to tuck myself into my warm bed and read,” Cecelia tells him, blowing him a kiss full of promises. “Goodnight, lover – I’ll miss you.” (Whoa!)

The interactions between our four major players come to a head when Cecelia invites Daisy to a surprise party for Tom’s birthday. I won’t tell you what happens there – or afterward – but, trust me, there are plenty of surprises to go around. You can discover them for yourself by tuning in to TCM on June 18th. Meanwhile, here are a few trivia tidbits concerning the cast and the production.

Cecelia’s snarky friend, Grace, is played by Ilka Chase. You might remember Chase as the kind-hearted sister-in-law of Bette Davis’s Charlotte Vale in Now, Voyager (1942). Chase was also in the original Broadway cast of The Women, where she played Sylvia Fowler, the role portrayed by Rosalind Russell in the 1939 MGM film. Chase’s first husband was actor Louis Calhern – they were married for less than a year.

The screenplay for the film was based on a play written by Phillip Barry. Barry also wrote the play The Philadelphia Story. He died in 1949 at the age of 53.

Barry’s play opened on Broadway in January 1932 and played for six months. Leslie Howard, William Gargan, and Ilsa Chase also starred in the Broadway version.

Don’t forget to watch The Animal Kingdom on TCM June 18th. And be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to see what gem Kristina is recommending for the month!

 

Pre-Code Crazy: Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933)

•May 8, 2018 • 10 Comments

The opening scene of Mary Stevens, M.D., my pre-Code pick of the month, offers a perfect illustration of the bad-ass pre-Code dame.

As the film begins, an ambulance is called to a tenement apartment on a crowded, bustling street. A frantic resident (Harold Huber) stands at the top of the stairs, urging the doctor to hurry. He quickly learns, though, that the man he assumes is the doctor is actually the ambulance driver and that the real doctor is none other than a woman. Or, as he puts it with over-the-top dramatics, “You’re the doctor!? I need a man doctor! Please go home – my wife, she’s very sick, she’s going to die! I got to have a man doctor!” (I forgot to mention that Harold Huber’s character is Italian and sounds

Meet Dr. Stevens.

like a cross between Father Guido Sarducci and Roseanne Roseannadanna.)

The husband – Tony is his name, according to the opening credits – continues to insist that his wife’s death is imminent, and finally reveals that she’s having a baby. The doctor scoffs: “Is that all?” Momentarily floored by the doctor’s nonchalance, Tony recovers enough to grab a nearby machete (seriously), brandishing it in the doctor’s face and warning that he will kill her if his child dies. Again, the doctor is unfazed – I mean, she literally does not flinch, wince, or even blink an eye. This sister is all business. “All right, all right,” she says as she pushes Tony out of the bedroom. “Now put that knife away before you hurt yourself.”

A short time later, the doctor emerges from the bedroom with not one, but two healthy, crying babies. Tony takes one look at his twins and faints dead away. “He would!” the doctor remarks.

The salad days.

The doctor in question is none other than the title physician, Mary Stevens, played by one of my favorite pre-Code actresses, Kay Francis. Stevens is a pediatrician with a wise-cracking nurse named Glenda Carroll (played by Glenda Farrell), and shares her offices with her childhood and med school chum, Don Stevens (Lyle Talbot), who doesn’t quite share her professional dedication. We soon see that Mary’s in love with Don, but he’s more interested in getting ahead by pursuing Lois Rising (Thelma Todd), the daughter of a local politician. Before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” Lois is Don’s bride and Don is the new head of the city compensation bureau (“Well, some people work for a career and some people marry one,” Mary caustically remarks).

Don’s not exactly steady as a rock.

It doesn’t take long for Mary to realize that Don has become seduced by his newfound position, neglecting his medical duties and spending more time in the bottle than he does with his patients. “You never used to drink until sundown,” Mary admonishes him on one occasion, to which Don quips, “It’s a cloudy day!” His drinking problem becomes undeniably apparent when Don tries to operate on a patient after an afternoon of boozing and Mary has to take over.

Afterward, Mary lets Don have it, right between the eyes: “You’re at the head of the most important medical department in this country, even if it is run by a lot of dirty politicians! You were getting somewhere, and here you are, tossing it all away. I’m disgusted with you!” We are, too.  But that’s just the first 20 minutes of the movie! There’s a whole lot more drama and pathos to come, including coincidental couplings, marital infidelity, political scandals, out-of-wedlock babies, and unspeakable tragedies. Tune in to TCM on May 25th and find out what else Mary Stevens, M.D. has in store.

Glenda as Glenda.

And in the meantime, here’s a little more stuff:

Glenda Farrell, who could always be counted on as a sassy sidekick in her films, didn’t disappointment here. In one memorable scene, she shows that she doesn’t bite her tongue even when it comes to youngsters. After tussling with an especially smart-alecky young patient, she first tells him if he breaks one more thing, “I’ll give you a high temperature, just below your Mason-Dixon line!” And a few minutes later, she tells the Dr. Stevens, “I’d like to take out his adenoids – with a lawn mower!”

One of the screenwriters on Mary Stevens also wrote the script for this lost gem.

Keep your eyes peeled for a brief appearance by actress Theresa Harris. She appeared in close to 100 films during her career, with more than 30 of them filmed during the pre-Code era. Her best role was as Chico, Barbara Stanwyck’s bosom pal, in Baby Face (1933).

The film’s screenplay was co-written by Rian James and Robert Lloyd – that same year, James co-wrote the screenplay for 42nd Street and Lloyd’s other 1933 credits included Frisco Jenny, Heroes for Sale, and the famed lost pre-Code Convention City, starring Joan Blondell.

Don’t forget, Mary Stevens, M.D. airs on TCM on May 25th. Do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s a pre-Code goodie!

And be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to read about the pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending this month!

Cinematic Paradise: The 2018 TCM Film Festival

•April 22, 2018 • 15 Comments

It’s hard to believe that in just a few short days I’ll be winging my way to Hollywood for my sixth trip to the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival – but it’s true! As always, I’ll be sending out messages during the event via Facebook and Twitter, and providing year-round coverage with monthly posts here at Shadows and Satin. This year, for the first time, I’m also offering this pre-fest post, to discuss some of the movies I might be seeing and the many conflicts I’m facing, and ask you for your advice!

Here goes.

On the first day of the fest, Thursday, April 26th, I’ll kick things off by continuing my annual tradition of participating in the “So You Think You Know Movies” trivia contest hosted by Bruce Goldstein of New York’s Film Forum. The questions are always unbelievably difficult, but I’m proud to say that my team tied for first place in last year’s event (not because of me, but STILL). It’s lots of fun and it’s a great way to meet new film peeps. Plus, there are always special surprise guests in the audience like Diane Baker (I stood right next to her last year!), James Karen, and Norman Lloyd. Afterward, I hope to snag a spot in the bleachers to watch the red carpet arrivals for the opening night film, The Producers. And for my first film of the fest, it’ll be a no-brainer – I’ll be checking out The Sea Wolf (1941), starring Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield, and Ida Lupino. It won’t be my first time seeing it, but it’s a great movie and, as a bonus, it’ll be introduced by my pal, film historian Alan Rode.

Next day, Friday, I plan to watch Witness for the Prosecution (1957), which will feature a discussion with actress Ruta Lee, who plays a small but pivotal role in the film, followed by A Hatful of Rain (1957), where Eva Marie Saint will be interviewed. (I have to admit that I don’t especially want to see A Hatful of Rain, which centers on the effects of morphine addiction. It’s an excellent film, but it’s SO harrowing. Yikes.) The conflicts start with the next group of films. One possibility is The Odd Couple (1968), which I’ve seen numerous times and is always a treat – and the two actresses who played the Pigeon Sisters, Cecily and Gwendolyn (Monica Evans and Carole Shelley) will be on hand to talk about their experiences in the film. The other is None Shall Escape (1944), which depicts the misdeeds of a Nazi war criminal. This screening will feature an appearance by 100-year-old Marsha Hunt, who starred in the film. This is a toughie. My next conflict of the day is between Leave Her to Heaven (1945), which will be shown on nitrate film (should be gorgeous, as this color film is already a treat for the eyes), and Point Blank (1967), which I’ve never seen and always wanted to.

My first movie on Saturday will likely be When You Read This Letter (1953), a noirish French-Italian production, introduced by director Taylor Hackford, but I’d also like to see Outrage (1950), an Ida Lupino-directed film about a woman whose life is shattered when she becomes a victim of rape. Another time slot with several movies I’d like to see includes Heaven Can Wait (1978), which will feature an interview with Dyan Cannon, and The World of Suzie Wong (1960), where the film’s star Nancy Kwan will make an appearance. However, I’m almost certain to opt for Show People (1928), a silent film starring Marion Davies. I’m choosing this one because I always like to see one silent movie at the festival, and it’s being introduced by my friend Lara Fowler, who is writing a biography on Davies. The one film of the day that I unquestionably will be seeing is Sunset Boulevard (1950), where I will finally get the chance to see Nancy Olson, who played the gal William Holden should have wound up with (instead of winding up floating face down in Norma Desmond’s pool). I’ve been looking forward to this screening ever since it was announced several months ago. Another film I plan to catch that day is The Big Lebowski (1998), because I’m a HUGE Coen Brothers fan, but I’ve never seen it!

On the last day, I’d love to see Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), starring Henry Fonda, but I’d also like to check out the special event where festgoers can have their movie memorabilia appraised for free by representatives of Bonhams Auction House. A bit later, I may go for Places in the Heart (1994), which will feature a discussion with the film’s star Sally Field, but that will mean I’ll have to miss a presentation called “Growing Up Mankiewicz,” featuring the four Mankiewicz brothers: TCM’s very own Ben, Josh (of Dateline NBC), John (who writes for House of Cards and Bosch), and graphic designer Alex. Argh. An even more painful conflict is between Bull Durham (1988) — I’ve never seen it and the film’s star, Tim Robbins, will be there — and another special event, Mostly Lost, which is all about an annual Library of Congress film identification workshop where incomplete and unidentified films are shown to an audience that calls out anything they recognize on screen. So much good stuff, so little time. The only certainty on this final day will be the Closing Night Party, which is always a bittersweet blast!

And that’s about the size of it, y’all. What are your thoughts on some of my conflicts – any suggestions? What would you choose?

Little-Known Gems: Wicked Woman (1953)

•April 16, 2018 • 9 Comments

Don’t you love this shot? You’re going to love this movie even more.

Even classic film lovers who aren’t film noir aficionados have heard of such classics as Double Indemnity, Laura, and Out of the Past, am I right?

But what of those low-budget Bs that no one ever talks about? The ones that rarely show up on the Late, Late Show? Don’t they deserve their moment in the sun?

I’ll say they do! And among these is one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures: Wicked Woman (1953), directed by Russell Rouse and starring none other than Rouse’s wife, Beverly Michaels. It’s one heck of a flick that you’ve got to see to believe!

As the credits roll, we see the wicked woman of the film’s title, riding a bus through dusty towns, on her way to who-knows-where. And just in case we weren’t sure who this film was about, we’re treated to a jazzy theme song all about her as the credits roll, soulfully belted by Herb Jeffries (who, incidentally, was billed during his career as “Hollywood’s First Black Singing Cowboy” and the “Bronze Buckaroo”). (Just thought you’d like to know.) The words of the song tell us all we need to know about this dastardly dame: “You know that what she’s doin’ is sure to cause you ruin – and still, you listen to her lies.”

Everything’s better with Percy. Everything.

We learn that the dame’s name is Billie Nash (Michaels), and when she disembarks from the bus, she finds a rooming house and gives the landlady her last dollar, including a “good luck” coin – “All the luck that’s brought me shouldn’t happen to a dog,” she emotionlessly remarks. There’s something fascinating about Billie – from her uncommon name, to her blonde hair and all-white outfit, which puts you in mind of a poor man’s (I mean a REALLY poor man’s) Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice. There’s the syncopated rhythm record that she plays over and over (and over!) on her portable phonograph. The nearly empty pint of gin that she drains once she’s settled in her room. The astrology magazine that she reads to pass the time. She’s not beautiful, but she’s attractive in a brassy, I’ll-kick-your-ass kind of way. And she doesn’t just walk – she moves with a slow-motion strut that makes you wonder if she really wants to get where she’s going.

We don’t know anything about Billie when we meet her, except that she’s flat broke and looking for a job. And also that she’s resourceful – not long after noting the frank appraisal given to her legs by her across-the-hall neighbor, Charlie Borg (the always great Percy Helton), she turns on the charm and winds up dining on the chop he’d been cooking for his own dinner. And then, after landing a gig as a waitress in a bar, she gets Charlie to loan her 20 bucks for a new outfit by suggesting they celebrate her new job by going out for dinner and dancing on her first night off (“I’ll teach you all the latest steps,” she promises with a dazzling smile).

Richard Egan. Hubba hubba.

The bar is owned by Matt Bannister (a hunky Richard Egan) and his wife Dora (Evelyn Scott), who’s just a little too fond of the product they’re selling, if you know what I mean. Before long, Billie is casting meaningful glances in Matt’s direction, taking suggestive puffs from his cigarette, and letting her hand rest in his just a couple of beats longer than necessary when passing money from the customers. And before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” she’s ensnared Matt like a fly in a spider web, drawing him in with her fantasy of going to Mexico: “I want to dance and make love and be serenaded,” she purrs. “And lay out in the sun all day. And get tan. Not too tan, though. They like blondes with fair skin down there.” After lulling him into a stupor with her imagery, she only has to say three more words – ‘’Mexico City. Acapulco…” – and Matt’s a goner. Meanwhile, she keeps poor Charlie panting on the sidelines, getting favors out of him by continuing to dangle the promise of their future night on the town.

Billie and Matt enjoy a brief interlude of stolen kisses and whispered endearments, but Billie’s soft and sultry side falls away like scales off a lizard when she insists that Matt sell the bar and run away with her south of the border. Matt’s appalled at the notion of leaving his wife in a lurch, and when he turns her down flat, Billie shows her true colors: “You can look for a new girl at the end of the week – I’m quittin’,” she tells Matt. “You stay in this hole you dug for yourself, but don’t expect me to hang around ‘til it’s six feet deep!” And Matt’s not the only one to suffer Billie’s wrath. Charlie encounters her upon her return to the rooming house and makes the mistake of trying yet again to get her to set a date for their outing. Instead, he gets pummeled with Billie’s screaming insults: “Do you think I’d go out with an undersized runt like you? Don’t make me laugh – I wouldn’t be caught dead with you!”

She looks kinda sweet here, doesn’t she? Kinda innocent? Well, she AIN’T.

But if you know anything about film noir, you’ll know that this isn’t the end. I don’t want to completely spoil the film – you’ve really got to see it to believe it – but let me just say this: the last 20 minutes of Wicked Woman will leave you bug-eyed and on the edge of your seat.

By the way, in addition to directing the film, Russell Rouse co-wrote the feature, along with Clarence Greene. This duo also penned the screenplay for D.O.A. (1949) and, in a complete about-face, they were responsible for the story for Pillow Talk (1959), the first teaming of Doris Day and Rock Hudson. In addition, Rouse was the man behind the camera for another of my favorite noirs, New York Confidential (1955).

If you’ve never seen Wicked Woman, do yourself a huge favor and check it out – you can catch it on You Tube. And if you’ve already had the pleasure of seeing it, there’s no time like the present to see it again!

You won’t be sorry.

——————-

This post first appeared in my Noir Nook column for Classic Movie Hub. Do yourself a favor and check out this awesome site!!

 

 

The 2017 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Revisiting Adventures in Paradise: Part VIII

•March 22, 2018 • 2 Comments

Dick Cavett during his interview — er, conversation — with Illeana Douglas.

In a little over a month from now, I’ll be making my way to Hollywood to attend my sixth Turner Classic Movies Film Festival! So, while I wait for more films to be announced, and try to figure out the perfect wardrobe for wall-to-wall movie-watching and whatnot, I thought I’d take this opportunity to offer up another installment in my year-round look at last year’s fest. This month’s post takes a look at one of my (many) favorite events during the festival, an interview with the legendary Dick Cavett.

When I think back, I don’t recall ever watching an entire episode of any of the iterations of The Dick Cavett Show, but it seems like I’ve known all my life who he was. When I learned that he was going to appear at the festival, there was no question in my mind that I would juggle my schedule, eliminate screenings, go without meals, or do whatever else I had to do in order to see him in person. And let me say that I wasn’t disappointed.

In his introduction by actress Illeana Douglas (Melvyn Douglas’s granddaughter, dontcha know), I learned that the Lincoln, Nebraska native was nominated for 11 Emmys during his decades-long career, and is the author of four books, one of which he’d be signing at the end of his interview. “His interviews are a treasure trove,” Douglas said.

“Everything in my life came from that,” Cavett said of the big break he got from Jack Paar.

Cavett began his career as an actor (“They needed a kid who could do an English accent in Lincoln, Nebraska,” he joked), and soon after his graduation from Yale, he moved to New York to see acting work. To make ends meet, he worked several jobs, including copy boy for Time magazine, but his career swerved into a different direction when, on a whim, he wrote out a monologue for Jack Paar, then-host of The Tonight Show. He took the unsolicited manuscript to Paar (“Jack claims I cornered him in the men’s room,” Cavett recalled), who used a few lines from the monologue and promptly gave Cavett a job as a writer. Several years later, when Cavett got his own show, he said that Paar called him.

“He said, ‘Kid, when you do the show, don’t do interviews,’” Cavett recalled. “’Make it a conversation.’”

Cavett was a big fan of Groucho’s.

Among Cavett’s seemingly countless conversations was with Groucho Marx. Cavett spoke fondly of his long-time friendship with the comedian, whom he met at the funeral of George S. Kaufman.

“When I went in [to the funeral], I looked at this crowd and I think I saw every face every caricaturized by Hirschfeld,” Cavett said, referencing the famed artist whose drawings lined the walls at the Brown Derby restaurant. “And there in front of me was Groucho Marx. I froze. Because years earlier, out here, when I was about 10, at the chicken leg stand at the Farmer’s Market, the lady told me, ‘Hey kid, you should been here five minutes earlier – Groucho Marx was just here.’ I suspected there was no God at that age.”

Cavett said he followed Marx when he left the funeral.

“I went up to him and I said one of my most inspired lines: ‘Hi, Groucho – I’m a big fan.’” That was the start of their friendship.

Ali said Cavett was his “main man.”

Cavett was also friends with Stan Laurel. While working at Time, Cavett discovered Laurel’s Santa Monica address in the phone book. Cavett wrote him a letter and Laurel wrote him back, inviting Cavett for a visit. When Laurel came to the door, he said, “’Well, lad, it certainly is nice to meet you,’” Cavett recalled, describing the silent film comedian as “intelligent and cultured.” Laurel and Cavett talked for about three hours, Cavett said but, regrettably, Laurel wouldn’t come on his show because he “didn’t want the kids to see what I look like now.”

Another story involved boxing great Muhammad Ali. “There was a time when I felt Muhammad Ali was my best friend in all the world,” Cavett said, adding that the boxer appeared on his show 15 times. “The moment that got to me the most was after Ken Norton broke his jaw. He came on the show and he was very sullen. He told me that nobody else asked him to come on their show. He said, ‘I’m just an old washed-up fighter. I just want to say to you, you’re my main man.’”

Dick and me.

Cavett wrapped up his hour-long conversation with an hilarious story about Jack Benny, who he termed “the most admired man in show business” and “the cleanest act in vaudeville.” One night, after Benny had made an appearance on The Tonight Show, Cavett was riding in the elevator with him when a group of tourists got on. They began peppering Benny with a series of questions – “Are you really cheap?” and “Do you really play the violin?” and the like. Finally, after several floors, the tourists exited and Cavett turned to Benny.

“I asked him if that kind of behavior ever got to him, and he said, ‘You know kid,’” Cavett said, with a more than passable Benny imitation. “’Sometimes you just want to tell them to go fuck themselves.”

(I really wanted to end this post with that memorable quote, but I just had to say that I got the chance to meet Dick Cavett during his book signing, and it was truly a thrill. I told him he was my “main man,” ala Ali, and he gave me a soul-brother handshake. Now THAT’S a cool guy.)

Stay tuned . . . next month I’ll be serving up a preview of April’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival 2018!!

Pre-Code Crazy: The Eagle and the Hawk (1933)

•March 11, 2018 • 8 Comments

If you tune in to The Eagle and the Hawk (1933) on March 25th because you’re a huge Carole Lombard fan, let me give you a tip. Lombard is in the film, but her role is small; she’s on screen less than 10 minutes, tops.  But if you want to see a riveting pre-Code starring two first-rate actors near the starts of their respective successful careers, you won’t be sorry.

The film’s three stars – Fredric March, Cary Grant and Jack Oakie – are introduced in the opening credits in a sequence that reminded me of The Women (1939), in a manner that gives you a clue to the character’s persona. We see March’s Jerry Young looking refined and upper-crusty during a polo match; Grant, as Henry Crocker, grimly overseeing a field of workmen (and inexplicably gifting one of them with a right hook to the jaw); and Oakie’s character, Mike Richards, gleefully stuffing his face with a hearty sandwich, just before playing one of those penny fortune machines, which spits out the ominous message: “You will soon be facing great danger.”

These two weren’t exactly BFFs.

The film is set during World War I and Jerry, Henry and Mike are members of the Royal Air Force. We soon learn that while Jerry is a top-notch pilot, Henry’s not quite so talented in that area. In fact, when the men in their squadron receive orders to head for France, Henry’s left off the list – at Jerry’s behest. “You’re the best gunner in the bunch,” Jerry tells him. “But you’re gonna kill yourself if you keep trying to fly.” Jerry’s honesty earns him a knock-down punch from the embittered, hot-headed Henry.

Once in France, Jerry is immediately dispatched to the air, charged with flying through rival territory while his observer-cum-gunner, seated in the rear cockpit, takes aerial photographs and engages in gun battles with enemy aircraft. Back on land after making it through his first flight, Henry’s jubilance is quickly dampened when he realizes that his gunner was killed during the mission.

Jack Oakie was on hand to provide some much-needed comic relief.

In the next two months, Jerry loses four more gunners during his missions, and grows increasingly disturbed by his experiences, telling a superior: “I didn’t expect to be a chauffeur for a graveyard – driving men to their death day after day!” It only makes matters worse when Jerry receives a medal for his valor, and is presented as a shining example to future flyers. “We’re telling them, ‘Be like Young,’” Jerry’s commander proclaims.

Later, Jerry learns that his most recently departed gunner is being replaced by his old compatriot, Henry Crocker, who arrives on the base with a spiteful disposition and a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. We learn that Henry knows all about the fate of Jerry’s previous five gunners, and that he’d volunteered to ride with Jerry. “I heard about you and your medal. I wanted to see how you did it. And how long you could keep on doing it,” Henry says nastily. “I was just wondering how long you’d go on before your nerves would go to pieces.”

Jerry and “The Beautiful Woman.”

As Henry predicted, Jerry becomes further unhinged, drinking more and more with every death he witnesses and suffering nightmares that leave him screaming out in his sleep. Meanwhile, Henry begins to develop a grudging respect and appreciation for his partner, even cooking up a savvy scheme to earn Jerry a 10-day leave. It’s on that leave that Jerry meets a glamorous but sensitive and understanding woman who observes his growing unease at a party where he’s constantly reminded of the horrors he left behind. She winds up sharing a bottle of champagne with him in the park, encouraging him to reveal the thoughts and feelings that he’s kept bottled inside throughout the war. “I thought it was like a game – polo, or something like that. And then the first time I went up, I brought down a plane and that started it,” he tells the woman (who is credited only as “The Beautiful Lady.”) “Somebody slapped me on the back and told me I was great and I had to go on. More planes. More dead men. More medals. There isn’t any end.”

Speaking of the end, I’m not going to share any more – you’ll need to see for yourself what happens with The Eagle and the Hawk. But I will say this: this movie is harrowing, moving, sad and unforgettable, with amazing performances from both Fredric March and Cary Grant. It’s sometimes hard to watch, and it’s definitely hard to stop thinking about after the credits roll, but it’s a truly excellent film.

Don’t miss it. March 25th on TCM. You only owe it to yourself.

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And don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to see what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for the month!