The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon: 24 Hours (1931)
But for me, she IS the movie.
Before I go any further down that path, though, let’s dispense with a little housekeeping: the plot. (Spoiler alert!)
The entire movie takes place over the course of – in case you hadn’t guessed it – 24 hours. And all kinds of stuff is going on – murders, mobsters, two-timing, backstabbing – and in less than 70 minutes! The film focuses on Jim and Fanny Towner, an unhappy couple who, although they’re “nutty” about each other, are both engaged in extramarital affairs. Jim is seeing nightclub singer Rosie Dugan, who, in turn, is continuously bedeviled by her estranged husband, a two-bit crook named Tony. In a fit of jealousy, Tony kills Rosie, and Jim – who was dead drunk in the next room at the time – is accused of the crime. Ultimately, Tony is killed by a rival gang member, Jim is cleared of the charges, and Jim and Fanny reunite with vows to rekindle their love.
But in other news – Miriam Hopkins.
Hopkins is Rosie Dugan, the woman with whom Jim (Clive Brook) is having an affair (and exhibiting very good taste, I might add). Jim’s wife, Fanny, is played by Kay Francis who, under normal (Hopkins-free) circumstances, would be the highlight of the film for me. But in this one, she – like everyone else – is just so much background.
We first meet Rosie when Jim – already half-drunk after tippling at a dinner party and downing a series of shots at a local dive – makes his way to a nightclub that bears her name. When Jim pulls back the curtain leading to the nightclub’s main room, we see, seated atop the piano, in a low-cut, glittering gown, none other than Rosie, who proceeds to sing a song like nothing you’ve ever seen or heard. It provides two of my favorite minutes in all of cinema – seriously. And I am making it my personal goal to figure out how to post a clip of it on YouTube. But until I’m able to master that feat, let me try to describe it to you.
First off, “singing” is far too mild a label for what Hopkins does with this song. She belts it out in a slightly off key. She moans. She shouts. She laughs. She soundlessly mouths the words. She sidles through the crowd, singing only to the men in the audience – completely ignoring the presence of their pissed off dates. She clutches her hair. She sighs. She warbles in a baby voice. She sings just inches from the face of one man, rolling her eyes in resignation when her attentions fail to raise the ardor of another.
The song is called “You’re the One I Crave.” Here’s one of the verses:
“I’m yours for the taking. That’s just what is making me rave. Baby, come and get me. You’re the one I crave.”
But that’s just the beginning. Hopkins truly brings Rosie to life – she’s at once sweet, loving and sad (“I’m good leather – but I just ain’t polished.”), and fearless, tough, and bitter (“I got a whole wad of money in the other room, but you ain’t even gonna have a postage stamp.”). She makes you fall in love with Rosie, the same way Jim Towner did.
Hopkins is really in only five scenes: the opener where she’s performing, talking to Jim in a small room off the nightclub’s main floor, an encounter when her ex shows up at the nightclub, caring for the soused Jim in her apartment, and her final confrontation with Tony. But in her brief time on screen, Hopkins serves up a fully realized character.
Rosie is a rather heartbreaking persona – she’s still in love with her ex-husband (Regis Toomey, in an intriguing, sometimes over-the-top performance), but she refuses to take him back. We’re given a limited amount of time to suss out their back story, but we learn a lot in a few minutes. We know that Rosie “tried [her] best to make something” out of Tony during their marriage. Instead, he’s a drug addict (one of the mobsters refers to him as a “shivering hophead”), an ex-con (“Even when I was up the river, I used to lay awake nights thinking about you.”) and a small-time crook (“Pretty little thing,” Rosie says about Tony’s gun. “You just wouldn’t be a man without it, wouldja?”) We also know that Tony is a chronic liar and that he was unfaithful to Rosie – he himself says he’s “had other women.” And despite Rosie’s biting insults and her callous exterior – she even goes so far as to have Tony bodily tossed from the club – we realize that Rosie is struggling to maintain her resolve. Her tear-wet eyes, her tremulous voice, and her delivery of her next song tell us how she really feels: “There’s No Use Tryin’ To Leave That Man.”
In contrast to her fiery façade with Tony, Rosie is the polar opposite with Jim. No longer the effervescent songstress, she lets Jim see her anger and discontent. With him, her vulnerability rises to the surface, as she concedes that he’s still in love with his wife, and bonds with him over their shared despair: “It’s a funny world all right. You got everything people want. I got everything I wanted to have. Both of us ain’t got nothing.”
Taking Jim home with her, Rosie shows us another aspect of her personality – she treats him with tenderness, helping him remove his clothes and putting him to sleep on the sofa, covering him first with his coat, and then taking the spread from her own bed to place over him. But the true manifestation of Rosie’s “heart of gold” was yet to come. When she hears someone trying to enter her apartment, she locks the door to the room where Jim is sleeping and craftily hides the key in a jar of cold cream. Seconds later, Tony belligerently enters, looking for Jim, growing increasingly furious when Rosie insists that she’s alone and that she doesn’t know the whereabouts of the key to the next room. (“The maid lost it,” she offers.).
And when Tony grows violent, we witness the final expression of Rosie’s true feelings for him: “Look here, Tony,” Rosie says, pulling him into an embrace. “Didn’t our life together mean anything to you?” Sadly, Tony is beyond reason, and as the camera offers a close-up shot of a record playing Rosie’s version of “There No Use Trying To Leave That Man,” we hear the sounds of Rosie breathing her last.
It’s really impossible for me to convey how much I love the performance of Miriam Hopkins in this film – seeing it was a revelation. I never wanted it to end. (And when it did, the movie was pretty much over for me.) Before this film, I’d seen – and loved – Hopkins in many films: The Old Maid, Old Acquaintance, Design for Living, These Three, Trouble in Paradise, The Heiress – oh, I could go on and on. But I’d NEVER seen her like this. There’s just something about her melancholy, passionate, wearily vivacious figure of tragedy that struck me like a thunderbolt the first time I saw her, and has stayed with me ever since.
24 Hours isn’t exactly spilling off the shelves at Best Buy, but it can be found – you can get a copy for about a sawbuck at iOffer.com. I highly recommend it – it’s worth the price of admission just to see Miriam Hopkins belt out “You’re the One I Crave.” Trust me.
You only owe it to yourself.
Click the picture at the right to check out the many great posts being presented as part of this event!