A Many Splendored Thing: The 2019 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival — Part 6

Happy New Year, y’all!

Now that we’re in a new year, the countdown to the 2020 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival is on! And you know what that means – time for another installment in my ongoing, year-round coverage of the 2019 event! Today, I’m shining the spotlight on two of my favorite film-viewing experiences at the fest, which were the screening of two pre-Code features: Merrily, We Go to Hell (1932) and Blood Money (1933).

Cary Grant had a featured role, a year before his breakout part in “She Done Him Wrong.”

Merrily, We Go to Hell (1932)

Merrily, We Go to Hell stars Fredric March and Sylvia Sidney as first a happily and then an unhappily married couple whose union struggles through his alcoholism and infidelity. (For more on this character, click here.) The film was introduced at the festival by Cari Beauchamp, author and film historian, who told the early morning crowd: “I’m so impressed by your dedication.”

Merrily was directed by Dorothy Arzner, “one of those rare creatures who was comfortable in her own skin and aware of who she was from an early age,” Beauchamp said. Originally, Arzner wanted to be a doctor and attended the University of Southern California. When World War I broke out, Arzner lied about her age in order to drive for the officers; the wife of one of these officers introduced her to movie director William DeMille, brother of Cecil and a co-founder of Famous Players-Lasky.

Also in the supporting cast was a young and glamorous Esther Howard, looking like a completely different person from the characters she played in Murder, My Sweet and Born to Kill.

Initially, Arzner landed a job for DeMille typing up scripts, eventually working her way up to editor – she edited 32 films in one year – but what she really wanted was to be a director. (“If you’re going to be in this business, the thing to be is a director,” Beauchamp offered.) Finally, according to Beauchamp, Arzner had to threaten to leave Paramount in order to be given a chance behind the camera.

As director, Arzner was “an innovator and practical to the core,” Beauchamp said. For example, she invented the boom mike – when she saw that Paramount star Clara Bow was uncomfortable with microphones planted in various locations on the set, Arzner asked for a fishing pole and put the microphone on it.

Based on a book by Cleo Lucas called I, Jerry, Take thee, Joan (“Gee, I wonder why they changed the title,” Beauchamp joked), the picture also featured Cary Grant in a role filmed a year before his breakout appearance in She Done Him Wrong. Also in the cast was Rev. Neal Dodd, a “real-life” Episcopalian priest

“You have to love it – a priest with a SAG card,” Beauchamp said. “Only in Hollywood.”

Frances Dee was a far cry from wholesome in this feature.

Blood Money (1933)

Blood Money is one of the pre-Codiest pre-Codes I’ve ever seen. (And that’s saying something!) It was advertised in the festival literature as quite possibly the “ultimate pre-Code film” – and it didn’t disappoint. For a first-rate write-up on this wild ride of a film, check out Danny’s take on it over at Pre-Code.com.

The third film produced by Darryl F. Zanuck’s new 20th Century Pictures, Blood Money was introduced at the fest by Bruce Goldstein, repertory program director of New York’s Film Forum, who told the packed crowd that the picture bears a striking resemblance to the type of programmers that Zanuck produced at Warner Bros. The feature stars George Bancroft, one of the screen’s “first modern gangsters,” Judith Anderson in her feature film debut, and Frances Dee, who’d already appeared in more than 20 films when she did Blood Money. (Incidentally, Dee’s Little Women premiered the same month as Blood Money.)

Judith Anderson made her feature film debut in Blood Money. She didn’t appear on screen again until seven years later, in Rebecca.

“[Dee] is often described as ‘wholesome,’” Goldstein said. “In Blood Money, she is anything but.”

The film was written and directed by Rowland Brown, and based on an unpublished story by Brown entitled “Bail Bond.” According to Goldstein, very little is known about Brown, but he is rumored to have been involved with the underworld, and many of his films were about gangsters and crime (Brown, incidentally, also wrote the screenplay for The Doorway to Hell [1930] and the story for Angels With Dirty Faces [1938], and the noirs Nocturne [1946] and Kansas City Confidential [1952]). He reportedly socked a producer (some say it was David O. Selznick) and was blacklisted. After that incident, he never directed again.

After its release, with its portrayal of a crook as a sympathetic leading character, and a girl who is a “sexually pathological case,” Blood Money had various scenes cut in different cities, and was banned altogether in British Columbia and Saskatchewan for being “salacious,” Goldstein said. Eventually withdrawn from theatrical release, the film was thought to have been lost until the 1970s.

I’m sure glad they found it!

Stay tuned for next month’s installment of A Many Splendored Thing: The 2019 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!

~ by shadowsandsatin on January 18, 2020.

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