Pre-Code Crazy: Flesh (1932)

I saw Flesh (1932) for the first time when it aired on TCM last year. I don’t remember now what made me decide to watch it, but I enjoyed it so much that I tracked down the DVD and promptly added it to my collection! And when I saw it on the TCM schedule for this month, I didn’t have to look any further – it was a no-brainer to recommend it for my first Pre-Code Crazy pick of 2022.

The film opens with the release of an American woman, Laura Nash (Karen Morley), from a penitentiary in Germany, where she has been imprisoned along with her boyfriend, Nicky Grant (Ricardo Cortez). Laura is being discharged because she is pregnant, but she’s dismayed to learn that Nicky – who, incidentally, doesn’t know that Laura is with child (neither do we, at this point) – will remain locked up. She also dismisses the warden’s suggestion that she return to America.

Polakai’s post-match routine includes a whole lot o’ beer.

Alone, homeless and broke, she winds up at the Kaiserhof, a local beer garden built around a huge wrestling ring; a match is taking place, and the winner is crowd favorite Polakai (Wallace Beery). Laura is supposed to meet Joe Willard (John Miljan) there – apparently Laura, Nicky and Joe were involved in some kind of criminal enterprise where Joe wound up with the money they acquired, and Nicky and Laura ended up “taking the rap.” Laura eats a huge meal, but Joe stands her up, she’s unable to pay, and the beer garden’s owner, Mr. Herman (Jean Hersholt), threatens to contact the police. Laura is rescued, however, when Polakai intervenes, promising to fork over the money for her bill. As it turns out, this is only the first of numerous good deeds to be extended by the good-hearted (but slightly simple-minded) Polakai. Later that night, he invites Laura to sleep in his room, which is in a boarding house owned by Mr. Herman and his wife (Greta Meyer). And when Mrs. Herman discovers Laura’s presence and orders her out, Polakai insists that if Laura leaves, he will follow. Unwilling to allow their beloved Polakai to move, the Hermans allow Laura to stay in the vacant room across the hall from Polakai.

Not exactly a gleesome threesome.

As the days and weeks go by, Polakai falls in love with Laura – she can do no wrong in his eyes. When he catches her trying to steal money from his room, he believes her when she says she needs the money to spring her brother from prison, and he uses his cache to secure Nicky’s release. Laura wants to leave town with Nicky right away, telling him that Polakai wants to marry her. But Nicky wants to stick around – in fact, he suggests that Laura accept Polakai’s proposal: “What’s so terrible about that? It’s been done before. I’ll be around,” he says callously. “You’re all alike. It’s always the same. I show you how to get us out of a jam and you start squawking.”

I won’t give you any more specifics, but let’s just say that there is SO much movie left, with a whole lot of pre-Code drama and nary a dull moment. And it’s chock full of fascinating characters, beginning with Wallace Beery’s Polakai. I’m the first to admit that I’m not a huge Wallace Beery fan – I liked (to dislike) him in Grand Hotel (1931), but overall, I think he tends to overact and stray into the ham zone, if you get my drift. But here, he was lovable, sweet, believable – as innocent and guileless as a child but, ultimately, no pushover. Laura is painfully pathetic for much of the film, the type of woman who allows a man to walk all over her like she’s wall-to-wall carpet – in one scene she tells Nicky, “I’ll do anything you want me to. Only be nice to me, Nicky. I love you – even after what you said to me, I love you.” And then there’s Nicky, who’s simply awful – a liar, abuser, double-crosser, and all-round unredeemable creep. (He’s perhaps the worst character I’ve seen Ricardo Cortez play – and that’s saying something.) Other notables in the cast include the oily Joe Willard (who pops up later in the film) and Jean Hersholt’s kindly and loyal Mr. Herman.

Such an attractive couple. Looks can be deceiving.

Tune in to TCM on January 10th to catch Flesh – and let me know if you enjoy this feature as much as I do.

Meanwhile, here are a few trivia tidbits about the film to tide you over . . .

Flesh was co-produced and directed by John Ford (yes, THAT John Ford).

A number of notable personages worked on the screenplay, including Moss Hart, who would become best known for his plays and musicals like My Fair Lady (1956), but would also write the screenplays for such classics as Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) and A Star is Born (1954); William Faulkner, whose most famous novel, The Sound and the Fury, was published in 1929, and who also worked on the screenplays for To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946); and Edmund Goulding, whose primary claim to fame was his career as a director of films like Grand Hotel (1932), Dark Victory (1939), and Nightmare Alley (1947).b

A small role as an ineffectual wrestler is played by Nat Pendleton who, ironically, was a wrestler before becoming an actor and earned a silver medal at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp. You might recognize Pendleton from numerous films he was in, including Horse Feathers (1932), Manhattan Melodrama (1934), The Thin Man (1934), and The Great Ziegfeld (1936).

Don’t miss Flesh (1932) on January 10th – and be sure to visit Speakeasy to find out what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending this month!

~ by shadowsandsatin on January 2, 2022.

13 Responses to “Pre-Code Crazy: Flesh (1932)”

  1. Now I can’t wait to see this movie!

  2. I’m convinced.

  3. I thought I’d seen all the Cortez movies I could but I’ve missed this one, sounds really interesting, I’ll be sure to check it out!

  4. Sounds a fascinating picture. I’m more of a fan of Beery than yourself but only because I like the ham in him. But what a gang working on the picture. I just watched Sanctuary (1961) which doesn’t really compare to The Story of Temple Drake (1933) which was pre-Code. Have you reviewed that?

  5. While still undecided about classic movies, unnatural leaps of color occur to me in the modern age as Tom Cruise and the other A-listers age. That has me longing to go to Hollywood, where there are rumors that stars — actual superstars — can be pulled off the street, as Charlize Theron was. Maybe I’d be in those silver screen spectaculars if I went down there …

    — Catxman

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