TCM Pick of the Month: Pre-Code

Several years ago on this blog, I had a monthly feature where I selected my recommendations for film noir and pre-Code features airing on TCM. I’ve decided to resurrect this practice – and what a month to start! TCM is practically overflowing with first-rate noir and pre-Code offerings, including Safe in Hell (1931), Red-Headed Woman (1932), Baby Face (1933), Dinner at Eight (1933), Out of the Past (1947), They Live By Night (1948), The Set-Up (1949), and Wicked Woman (1954). But aside from these gems, I was still left with a veritable smorgasbord of goodies to choose from for this month’s picks. First up, my pre-Code pick . . .

The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932)

This feature stars one of cinema’s most underrated and underappreciated actresses, Ann Dvorak, in the title role of a shopgirl who very nearly manages to climb her way out of her circumstances, only to fall plummeting ignominiously to the earth. (Ann’s lasst name is pronounced “VOR-shack,” by the way.) As the film begins, Molly, a hotel cigar counter clerk, has just learned that her wealthy boyfriend, Ralph (Don Dillaway), is having a birthday celebration and plans to introduce her for the first time to the upper-crusty matriarch of his family. “I’ve kept you a secret from mother long enough,” Ralph tells her. “You’re going to be right there at the dinner table between mother and me.”

Dvorak with her soon-to-be real-life husband, Leslie Fenton.

As Molly excitedly prepares to meet her future mother-in-law, we’re also introduced to two other characters – Nicky Grant (Leslie Fenton), an oily salesman with obvious designs on Molly, and Jimmy Cook (Richard Cromwell), a hotel bellhop who has a secret crush on our heroine.

Despite Molly’s belief that her meeting with Ralph’s mother means the beginning of a new life, it’s not to be. When she arrives at the family mansion, Molly’s informed that the party has been cancelled and Ralph has left behind nothing but a “Dear Molly” letter. Devastated by the news, Molly turns to Nicky and runs off with him, spending the next few years traveling from town to town. Incidentally, we learn that, in between stops, Molly has had a baby daughter – Ralph’s child.

In typical pre-Code fashion, circumstances go from bad to worse, with Molly eventually finding herself on the lam from the law. But you’ve got to tune in for yourself on April 9th to see how she got there – and what happens next.

Other stuff:

Did I forget to mention Lee Tracy’s in the cast?

Leslie Fenton, who played the pantyhose salesman, was married to Ann Dvorak in real life from 1932 to 1946. According to Dvorak’s biographer, Christine Rice, the two met New Year’s Eve, shortly before filming started on Molly Louvain. “Just about the second day we were together in scenes of the picture, we knew we were hooked.” Dvorak later recalled.

After Molly learns that Ralph has given her the air (don’t you love those 1930s sayings?), she’s seen in Nicky Grant’s hotel room, drunkenly playing the piano and singing. The piano playing and singing were done by Dvorak – and the song she sings at the end of the scene, “Gold Digger Lady,” was composed by Dvorak herself.

In that same scene, Nicky indicates his approval for her singing prowess, telling her “That’s swell, honey! I knew you could do something better than peddle that Bull Durham.” Having recently seen the 1994 Susan Sarandon-Kevin Costner film Bull Durham for the first time, my ears perked up, wondering what the character was referring to. After some brief research, I learned that Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco was a popular brand of loose-leaf tobacco that was manufactured between 1850 and the late 1980s. And Molly, at the time, worked at the cigar counter. Get it? (You’re welcome.)

With Richard Cromwell.

The actor who played the lovesick bellhop, Richard Cromwell, was married for a year (from 1945 to 1946) to actress Angela Lansbury. It’s now known that Cromwell was gay; he and Lansbury remained friends until his death from cancer in 1960 at the age of 50. (His father, incidentally, was a victim of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic – a fact that, before our current COVID-19 circumstances, probably would have escaped my notice. Now, though, it’s like a flashing neon sign.) (Anyway.)

A shooting takes place in the movie in Chicago at the corner or Dearborn and Clark Streets. This location is a block away from my job. (I just thought I’d share that with y’all.)

Tune into TCM on April 9th for The Strange Love of Molly Louvain . . . and stay tuned for my TCM film noir pick for the month!

~ by shadowsandsatin on April 5, 2020.

3 Responses to “TCM Pick of the Month: Pre-Code”

  1. April 9th? I’ll be there. My dad was a huge fan of Ann VOR-shack.

  2. Good to hear from you during this traumatic time.
    I’m big fan of Ann Dvorak. Definitely an actress who could have equalled Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and all the other big stars.

  3. You choice of films is often superlative ; thank you.

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