Shadowy and Satiny: What to Watch on TCM in May 2023

There’s not likely, any time soon, to be a couple of back-to-back months of outstanding films like TCM aired in March and April of this year, but May is no slouch in the good-movie department. Check these out!

Satiny Pick: Evelyn Prentice (1934)

I’m starting my Satiny pick discussion with a full disclosure: my selection for May, Evelyn Prentice, isn’t pre-Code. It was released in November 1934 – four months after the official end of the pre-Code era. But it’s a William Powell-Myrna Loy feature that’s rarely shown, it has a plot that’ll keep you on your toes, and it’s got enough pre-Code-adjacent touches that I made an executive decision to overlook those pesky 120-or-so days. And there you have it.

Myrna Loy is Evelyn Prentice.

Powell and Loy are John and Evelyn Prentice; he’s a high-powered defense attorney and she’s his long-suffering wife, tired of giving swank dinner parties that her spouse is too busy to attend, disheartened by feeling like a single mother to the couple’s adorable moppet of a daughter, Dorothy (Cora Sue Collins). We learn of Evelyn’s feelings when she complains about her absentee husband to best friend Amy (Una Merkel who, for some reason, always seems to be in the Prentice house), and in case it’s not made clear that John’s work is his priority, the concept is endorsed by young Dorothy; there’s a scene early on where Evelyn tucks her daughter in and kisses her goodnight, then tells Dorothy to give her a kiss for her father. “Oh dear,” Dorothy says sleepily. “I’m always kissing you for Daddy. I wish he’d come home and get his own kisses.” Get it? Got it? Good.

Rosalind Russell’s character isn’t the paragon of virtue she appears to be.

As for John, we really don’t know what he’s up to. When we first meet him, he’s defending the very attractive Nancy Harrison (Rosalind Russell, sporting an affected New Englandish drawl), who’s on trial for striking and killing a man with her car. In a scene where Nancy pays a late-night visit to John’s office, she moves =in for a kiss just before the scene fades to black. In a later scene, after Nancy is acquitted, she shows up on John’s train to the East coast, telling him – once again before the camera darts away – “Please don’t be angry with me, John. Today, you saved me from prison. And I’m so grateful. But you can’t tell a man how grateful you are if that man is taking a train, can you?” she asks. “Unless you take the train too.” So, are they? Are they not? We’re really not sure.

Meanwhile, bored, dispirited and, frankly, more than a bit affronted, Evelyn starts stepping out with Lawrence Kennard (Harvey Stephens), a smooth, mustachioed gent who she meets one evening in a nightclub. She begins by having tea with him and before you know it, they’re having lunch and sending letters and telegrams to each other. Kennard is not on the up-and-up, though – within minutes of his entrance into the proceedings, we see that he’s a rather slimy character, and he proves this time and again as the plot unfurls. I won’t go any further into the details, but trust me when I say there’s a whole lot more to this story than meets the eye. Tune into TCM on May 3rd to see what I mean.

Isabel Jewell is a delight, playing the kind of friend every woman should have.

Other Stuff:

As always, Una Merkel is a sheer delight in this film. In her first scene, she arrives at a dinner party that Evelyn is giving, and she volunteers to make the cocktails. As she tosses together a concoction consisting of gin, French vermouth, cognac, absinthe and a dash of bitters, Evelyn is alarmed, stating that her guests are respectable people. Una rejoins, “Marriage has changed you a lot, Evelyn. You used to have plenty of zip and bounce, and now you’re so oh-so-good and bounceless. Does your husband beat ya?”

Rosalind Russell made her big screen debut in Evelyn Prentice.

The film’s cast includes Isabel Jewell, as the girlfriend of Lawrence Kennard. I’m always amused when Una Merkel and Isabel Jewell are in a movie together, as they remind me so much of each other. Merkel and Jewell were in a total of five movies together; besides Evelyn Prentice, they both appeared in Bombshell, Beauty for Sale, The Women in His Life, and Day of Reckoning, all released in 1933.

This film was the second of 13 pictures that William Powell and Myrna Loy made together. The first was The Thin Man, released earlier in 1934.

Evelyn Prentice was remade in 1939 as Stronger Than Desire, starring Virginia Bruce and Walter Pidgeon. Ann Dvorak played the Isabel Jewell role; the film was directed by her then-husband, Leslie Fenton.

Shadowy Pick: Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo really gets going once Eddie G. makes his appearance.

Key Largo isn’t one of those little-seen noirs – it’s quite possible that a good number of you are already familiar with this John Huston-directed feature. On the other hand, it’s also not one of those noirs that I tend to think of as a favorite, despite its high-octane cast. So why is it my Shadowy selection for May? There are several reasons, but the main one is Edward G. Robinson.

In a nutshell, Key Largo centers on a hotel (Hotel Largo, dontcha know) that’s taken over by a gang of hoods led by the charismatic and oh-so-scary Johnny Rocco (Robinson). Rocco’s prior misdeeds have resulted in his banishment from the United States (geez, I wonder what he did???), but he’s back in the country for a rendezvous with some of his old underworld associates involving a cache of counterfeit cash.

The film starts out a bit slow as it sets up the characters, who include the hotel’s feisty, wheelchair-bound owner, James Temple (Lionel Barrymore); Temple’s daughter-in-law, Nora (Lauren Bacall); Major Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart), the former commanding officer of Temple’s late son; and Johnny Rocco’s galpal from back in the day, Gaye Dawn (the always fabulous and, in this case, Oscar award-winning Claire Trevor). The set-up also informs us that there’s a hurricane on the horizon, which figures prominently in the film’s plot.

Some of the many characters in Key Largo.

But back to Robinson. After he’s referenced several times off-screen, we meet his Rocco via one of noir’s most memorable appearances: he’s in the bathtub, reading a newspaper, smoking a cigar, and sipping on a glass of whiskey, all the while being cooled by a fan sitting on a nearby wooden chair. When he rises to his feet, the expression on his face alone tells us that this guy is the real deal. And with that, the film kicks into high gear.

All of the performances in Key Largo are first-rate, but there’s something about Robinson’s that’s a standout. Yes, he’s playing yet another gangster in a career that was rife with characters of this vocation, but for my money, Johnny Rocco is the pinnacle. He’s fearless and mean-spirited. Confident and smart. Well-dressed, smooth as glass, and cooler than the other side of the pillow. He’s also witty, tossing off one-liners like a lawless Don Rickles – and hot-tempered, with a surprisingly thin skin. As long as he’s on the screen, I’m on the edge of my seat.

Harry Lewis was the founded of Hamburger Hamlet.

Catch Key Largo on TCM May 4th – even if you’ve seen it before, check it out again to see just how good Robinson is.

Other Stuff:

Key Largo was the last of four films that starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and the last of five pictures featuring Bogart and Edward G. Robinson.

Watch for this goof: there’s a scene where Johnny Rocco is spouting off while one of his minions is giving him a shave. Before he’s finished, with shaving cream still on his face, Rocco tells him to stop and rises from his chair. But when he reaches the mirror on the other side of the room, there’s no sign of the shaving cream.

One of Johnny Rocco’s underlings was called “Toots” – he was the most dapper of the hoods (next to Johnny Rocco) and he had an unfortunate habit of laughing inappropriately, making him the brunt of Johnny Rocco’s wrath. Toots was played by an actor named Harry Lewis, who can be seen in minor roles in several other noirs, including The Unsuspected (1947) and Gun Crazy (1950). Along with his wife, Marilyn, he also was the founded of the Hamburger Hamlet restaurant chain.

~ by shadowsandsatin on April 28, 2023.

5 Responses to “Shadowy and Satiny: What to Watch on TCM in May 2023”

  1. Key Largo isn’t one of those feel-good movies — you know, the kind you watch over again because it lifts your spirits. I can’t help but feel a disheartened grief for all of the characters.

    There is some redemption at the end of the film as you’re left to wonder if Nora (Bacall) and Frank (Bogart) were able to build a life together.

    • You’re so right that it’s not a feel good movie, David. It really has a number of blows, especially the Osceola boys and the crushing guilt felt by the sheriff and Dad Temple.

  2. Key Largo is due for a rewatch from me. Such a fantastic cast and I love tense limited location films. Robinson is so fabulous too. I like how sleazy his character is, especially when he’s whispering dirty stuff to Bacall and she gets upset. I know this is prompted by the Code, but I do love how the movie leaves whatever he said to our imaginations.

    • The whispering to Bacall is such a small but fascinating bit of business — you can just imagine that it must have been pretty awful. Yet another facet to the personality of the fascinating Johnny Rocco.

  3. Your review of Evelyn Prentice sounds intriguing, so will watch it soon! Totally agree Edward G’s Johnny Rocco was a terrific characterization – how was this man never even nominated for an Oscar? A travesty!
    Btw, on TCM OnDemand, there is an ’18 documentary, Scandal: The Trial of Mary Astor. Will be viewing it shortly; just wanted to let you know about it, in case you were unaware…🎬

    Cynthia 🌺

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