Pre-Code Crazy: The Purchase Price (1932)

•March 3, 2016 • 9 Comments

I have to be honest – my Pre-Code Crazy pick for this month, The Purchase Price (1932), is not exactly one of those films that makes me all ga-ga and gooey inside. But while I can’t say that I count it among my favorite pre-Codes, it does star Barbara Stanwyck and, really, what else do you need? (Also, it’s kinda bizarre, and the more I see it, the more I like it!)

The Purchase Price starts out with Stanwyck’s character Joan Gordon warbling a bluesy love song (in Stanwyck’s own voice, mind you!): “Take me away, my heart only belongs to you.” (She’s kinda pitchy but, hey, who cares – it’s Stanwyck.)

We learn that Joan has a part-time lover, Ed Fields (the always fabulous Lyle Talbot), as well as a full-time boyfriend, Don Leslie (Hardie Albright), who she hopes to marry. Ed warns Joan that Don will never marry her – his family is wealthy and socially prominent while Joan is, as she herself describes, “just a little gal who sings torch songs in a naughty nightclub.”

After Joan gets dumped by Don.

Post-Don dumping.

But Joan wants a change in her life, and marriage to Don is her ticket out. Unfortunately for Joan, Don’s dad has hired a private investigator to do some digging and he’s unearthed Ed’s existence. Don drops this bomb on Joan in the lobby of the hotel where she lives: “Of all the men in the world, Eddie Fields,” Don grouses. “A bootlegger, a racketeer, a crook.” And with that, he’s out the door and Joan’s dream of escaping her current existence disappears like so much smoke in a windstorm.

But she’s no quitter – not this dame. When Eddie comes tipping back in her life, Joan takes a powder, traveling all the way to Montreal, Canada, to get away from him and landing a job singing under the name of “Francine LaRue.” Before long, Eddie’s boys have tracked her down, but the ever-resourceful Joan finds another opportunity to escape. It turns out that her housekeeper, Emily (Leila Bennett), has signed on with a matrimonial agency and is leaving town to marry a wheat farmer . Joan offers the housekeeper a hundred dollars and the next thing you know, Joan’s on her way to North Dakota in Emily’s place.

The wedding night. Not good.

The wedding night. Not good.

Joan’s new spouse is Jim Gilson (George Brent), who gets off on the wrong foot (and that’s putting it mildly) on their wedding night when he aggressively tries to put the moves on Joan. She’s not playing that game, and slaps him so hard that he ends up sleeping in the barn with the pigs. Over time, Joan falls in love with Jim, but he keeps her at arm’s length, with his treatment of her ranging from indifference to downright jackassery. “Our marriage is hopeless,” he tells her at one point. “We started all wrong. Like going into a race blindfolded.”

There’s more (much more) to this little tale, but I’ll let you discover the rest of the goings-on for yourself. I will give you this little tidbit, though – you ain’t seen the last of Mr. Eddie Fields. Tune into TCM on March 15th; it’s worth your time.

Favorite quote:

I have two favorites:

“You daffy little tomato, I’m bugs about you. I’d marry you myself if I wasn’t already married.” – Ed Fields (Lyle Talbot)

“I’m fed up with hoofing in shows. I’m sick of nightclubs, hustlers, bootleggers, chiselers and smart guys. I’ve heard all the questions and I know all the answers. And I’ve kept myself fairly respectable through it all.  The whole atmosphere of this street gives me a high-powered headache. I’ve got a chance to breathe something else. And, boy, I’m grabbing it.” – Joan Gordon (Barbara Stanwyck)

That's Clyde in the middle. More about him later.

That’s Clyde in the middle. More about him later.

Favorite scene:

Joan and Jim get married by the local Justice of the Peace (Clarence Wilson), who gathers up a couple of witnesses – his wife (Lucille Ward), who’s in the midst of making a cake and keeps stirring her batter during the ceremony, and Clyde (who, I assume, is the couple’s son), whose attention is captured by a fight outside the window between two snarling dogs. Throughout the brief service, the Justice of the Peace is chewing on a piece of tobacco, and at the conclusion of the vows, he declares, “I now pronounce you man and wife – three dollars please.” The wife, still clutching her bowl o’ batter, vigorously shakes Joan’s hand and wishes her happiness, but when Joan’s too-big ring falls off her finger, chaos ensues. The wife’s ample bottom bumps into the pot bellied stove, causing the pipe to topple, and all three end up on the floor as the bowl tips over, slathering the ring in batter.

What else?

Look for a young Anne Shirley in one scene – she plays the older daughter of a neighbor who has a newborn baby and gets some much-needed help from Joan.

Near the end of the film, Jim and Ed get into a rip-roaring fist fight. Reportedly, during the action, Lyle Talbot struck his head on a nail protruding from the wall and was bleeding profusely.

The blond is not happy.

The blonde is not happy.

In the opening scene, when Joan is singing, she pays special attention to two men in the audience. One of the men is with a date – don’t miss the funky look on her face while Joan is singing to her man. It’s a hoot.

The film was directed by William Wellman, who also directed Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent in So Big (1932).

Clyde (Victor Potel), who was so fascinated by the fighting dogs during Joan and Jim’s nuptials, pops up again late in the film. In the nearby town, Clyde encounters both Joan and Jim separately, and on both occasions, he barks and howls at them like a dog. It’s really weird, y’all.

There are several lines of dialogue that point to the film’s pre-Codiness. In the scene where Joan pays the housekeeper, Emily, the hundred dollars, Emily tells Joan that she can use the money to get herself a husband right there in town. “And then,” she adds with a giggle, “I’d sort of have a chance to try the goods before I bought it.” (Whoa!) More spicy lines can be found while Joan is riding on the train to North Dakota with three other women, also on their way to be wed, who are sharing raucous stories about their spouses-to-be.  One woman holds up a banana and proclaims, “You know what they say about men with bushy eyebrows and a long nose!”

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Be sure and pop over to Speakeasy to check out Kristina’s Pre-Code Crazy pick for this month!

Celebrating Jean Harlow on TCM

•March 2, 2016 • 4 Comments

Beautiful, talented, and vivacious, Jean Harlow was born on March 3, 1911, in Kansas City, Missouri. TCM is celebrating the life of this actress on Thursday, March 3rd with nine (count ’em — NINE!!) back-to-back Harlow features. Do yourself a favor and set your DVD player (or your VCR if you’re like me!), call in sick, or do whatever you have to do to catch these first-rate features!

You only owe it to yourself.

Platinum Blonde (1931)

The Public Enemy (1931)

The Secret Six (1931)

The Beast of the City (1932)

Red-Headed Woman (1932)

Three Wise Girls (1932)

Hold Your Man (1933)

The Girl From Missouri (1934)

Personal Property (1934)

The Life and Death of Albert Dekker

•February 18, 2016 • 9 Comments

SSAlbert2Albert Dekker was a talented and intense actor, with such memorable stage roles to his credit as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, and appearances in more than 60 films, including Dr. Cyclops (1949), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), East of Eden (1955), and The Wild Bunch (1969). Unfortunately, Dekker’s impressive body of work is frequently overshadowed by his bizarre death, the circumstances which remain a mystery to this day. The actor’s tragic end notwithstanding, Dekker was known among friends and family for his kind and sensitive nature, and among movie fans for his first-rate character performances, which included roles in several features from the film noir era.

Born on December 20, 1905, in Brooklyn, New York, Albert Dekker originally planned to become a doctor, but was encouraged by a friend to pursue an acting career after he appeared in several school plays. He debuted on Broadway at the age of 21, and was seen in his first feature film, The Great Garrick, in 1937. His first starring role came in 1940, where he played the title role in Dr. Cyclops, as a demented scientist in the Amazon who reduces unsuspecting travelers to doll size. Over the next several years, he was seen in a total of six films noirs, including The Killers (1946) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

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With Frances Farmer in his first noir, Among the Living.

The actors switched vocational gears in 1944, running for state assemblyman for the 57th district which, at that time, included parts of Hollywood. After a landslide victory, Dekker spent two years serving in the assembly, championing such liberal causes as support for unwed mothers and indigent children. He returned to films on a full-time basis in 1946, however, claiming that the trips to the capital in Sacramento had interfered with his movie career.

“Politics would be all right if I were a bad actor,” Dekker said. “But I’m not.  I’m a good actor and I like the job of acting.”

In the early 1950s, Dekker’s film career was derailed for a time, after he publicly revealed his disdain for Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his ongoing Communist “witch hunts.” Dekker verbally berated the senator in the press, and on one occasion called him “insane.” As a result, Dekker found himself “gray-listed,” and unable to find work at any studio in Hollywood. To make ends meet, Dekker toured with actress Edith Atwater in poetry readings in New York and London, and was booked for speaking engagements for colleges and literary groups.

He got back on track in 1955, when he signed a contract with Warner Bros., and he also began to accept several stage roles. He was on tour in one such production when tragedy struck. After concluding his performance in a play in Palm Beach, Florida, the actor was told that his 16-year-old son, John, was dead. According to news accounts, John was found by his mother, actress Esther Theresa Guerini, at the family home in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. He died from a single shot from a 22-caliber rifle, which had pierced his right eye. The shooting was ruled an accident.

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In Suddenly, Last Summer with Katharine Hepburn.

Dekker continued to perform in a variety of stage and screen roles during the next several years, including Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), a box-office success despite a rather bizarre story that combined the twin themes of homosexuality and cannibalism, and in the Broadway productions of The Andersonville Trial and A Man for All Seasons.

 

While appearing in A Man for All Seasons, Dekker met former fashion model Jeraldine Saunders (who would go on to write The Love Boats, on which the popular, long-running television series would be based). The two began dating and eventually, according to Saunders, planned to marry. However, it was around this time that Dekker’s personal life began to nosedive. Like many celebrities in the 1950s and 1960s, Dekker became a client of Dr. Max Jacobson, a New York physician known as “Dr. Feelgood” for administering “vitamin cocktails” that were later discovered to be laced with amphetamines.

“It just gave him a tremendous boots of energy . . . [he] would tell me that he was able to stay up for 24, 36, 40 hours at a time,” said Dekker’s son, Benajmin, in a 1999 documentary. “I think [in] the long term, [the drugs] were very detrimental to his health.  And I think that was the beginning of his, somewhat, demise.”

SSAlbert5With Dekker’s performing ability perhaps impaired by his growing dependence on the drugs being administered by Max Jacobson, the actor was seen in only a few performances during the next few years. In 1967, he co-starred with Troy Donahue in Come Spy with Me, an amateurish thriller, and guested the following year on the popular television series I Spy. Also in 1968, Dekker was cast as a tough railroad detective in The Wild Bunch (1969), appearing alongside veteran actors William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, and Robert Ryan.  During the on-location filming in Mexico, Dekker was reportedly “the life of the set with his endless fund of dialect stories.”  Sadly, he would not live to see the film’s release.

Shortly after returning to Hollywood from Mexico, in May 1968, Dekker and Jeraldine Saunders took in a play and afterward, Dekker returned to the apartment in which he had been living, with a promise to call Saunders the following day.  It was the last time she would see the actor alive. Several days later, on May 5, 1968, concerned that she had not heard from Dekker, Saunders requested that the building manager open the apartment door. Dekker’s body was found inside.

“It was so horrible that when I saw the body, I simply passed out,” Saunders recalled in a 1979 Los Angeles Herald-Examiner article.

The 62-year-old actor was found naked, kneeling in the bathtub, with a hypodermic needle sticking out of each arm. A noose was tied around his neck, and in his mouth was a rubber ball with a metal wire passed through it, like a horse’s bit. Metal chains attached to the wire were tied tightly around his head. Leather belts were girded around his neck and chest, attached to a rope than ran the length of his body and tied his ankles together. Handcuffs were around both wrists, and in red lipstick on his chest, abdomen, and buttocks were written words like “whip” and “slave.”

Authorities determined that Dekker died from asphyxiation, and initially ruled the death a suicide, but it was later judged to be accidental.

Dekker’s shocking death invited numerous theories and countless reactions. Paul Lukas, an old friend of Dekker’s who appeared with him in Strange Cargo (1940) and Experiment Perilous (1944), refused to accept the coroner’s ruling. “Al never would leave the world in such a terrible shambles,” Lukas told the press. “He was a man of culture and breeding.”

SSAlbert4Similarly, Jeraldine Saunders questioned the verdict, expressing the belief that Dekker’s death had involved a robbery. According to Saunders, a large amount of cash and the actor’s expensive camera equipment were missing from the apartment. “I can’t say who took it, but foul play based on theft of the money seems to me the answer,” Saunders maintained. “I think it was someone he knew and let into the apartment.”

But Dekker’s son, Benjamin, offered another scenario. “His death was the result of an accident that was between or occurred during a relationship of two consenting adults,” Benjamin said in 1999. “There are some things that are private. One of those things is a person’s private life. As long as what they do does not affect, in a pejorative fashion, the lives of others, they have a right to be able to do whatever they wish to do. It’s that simple.”

The circumstances surrounding Albert Dekker’s death will, in all likelihood, remain a mystery; a greater crime, however, would be to allow the manner in which he died to overshadow the way in which he lived. Dekker not only left behind an impressive body of stage, screen, and television performances but, by all accounts, he was a generous and compassionate man who was much beloved by his family and friends.

“Al has a fine mind,” actor Alfred Lunt once said, “and a soul in which unkindness is wholly absent.”

On the Occasion of Wallace Ford’s Birth

•February 12, 2016 • 12 Comments

Ford1Wallace Ford’s life was stranger than fiction.

He was raised in an orphanage and a series of foster homes. He lived the life of a hobo as a teenager and adopted his stage name from a fellow tramp. His early training as a performer took place n dance halls and vaudeville troupes. He was 38 years old before he learned the identity of his parents. And he reportedly never attended school a day in his life, but became one of Hollywood’s most dependable actors, with roles in more than 100 movies.

During his prolific screen career, Ford was seen opposite a variety of leading ladies including Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow and Loretta Young, and was featured in such popular films as Spellbound (1945) and The Rainmaker (1956). He was also a significant presence in the films of both the pre-Code era – in pictures that included Possessed (1931), Freaks (1932), and Employees’ Entrance (1933) – and film noir, in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Dead Reckoning (1947), The Set-Up (1949), and He Ran All the Way (1951).

WALLACE FORD, PORTRAIT CA. 1936

WALLACE FORD, PORTRAIT CA. 1936

In celebration of Ford’s date of birth – February 12, 1898 – I’m taking a look today at the actor’s beginnings and the path he took to the silver screen.

The man who eventually became a star of both stage and screen was born Samuel Jones in Bolton, Lancashire, England, but the early circumstances of his life are a bit sketchy. According to one account, the lad’s father, Samuel Jones, Sr., was killed in India while fighting the British. Still a toddler at the time of his father’s death, young Samuel became “accidentally” separated from his mother. Another version claims that Samuel’s mother was led to believe that her baby died at birth and the infant was placed in an orphanage by a relative. (Sounds like the plot of a movie, doesn’t it??) The details of his early years notwithstanding, it is known that for several years Samuel lived in London’s Bernard Foundling Home, and was later transferred to the institution’s Canadian branch, from which he was farmed out to 17 foster homes before the age of 11. Samuel ran away from the 17th placement – with a farmer in Manitoba – and joined a vaudeville troupe known as the Winnipeg Kiddies.

Ford3Leaving the troupe in 1914, Samuel made his way to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he earned money selling newspapers and performing in local saloons and pool halls. In one such pool hall, Samuel met a tramp by the name of Wallace Ford. The two became fast friends and, impressed with Samuel’s dancing ability and amusing impersonations of Charlie Chaplin and Theodore Roosevelt, Ford arranged for the talented young man to perform in various vaudeville houses they encountered while “hoboing” across the country. With the entry of the United States in World War I in 1917, Samuel and Ford planned to enlist, but Ford first wanted to return to his hometown in Sioux City, Iowa, to bid farewell to his mother. The men never made it. Ford was killed in a freight train accident and, in homage to his friend, Samuel adopted his name.

The newly christened Wallace Ford served during the war with the U.S. Calvary at Fort Riley, Kansas, and after his release, he signed on with a stock company in Grand Island, Nebraska. The company was known for performing “pirated” plays, by which they paid a man in Chicago to attend the opening nights of new plays, write down the dialogue and directions in shorthand, type the notes, and ship them off to Grand Island. Later, the actor joined Stuart Walker’s stock company in Indianapolis, and in 1919 appeared in the company’s hit production of Seventeen, which ran for nine months in Chicago and received a rousing reception on Broadway.

For the next decade, Ford was seen in a variety of Broadway productions, including Abraham Lincoln, Gypsy, and Abie’s Irish Rose. In the cast of the latter production, in which he played the title role, Ford met a young actress named Martha Haworth. The two were married on November 27, 1922, welcomed a baby girl, Patricia Ann, five years later, and would go on to enjoy one of Hollywood’s longest marriages.

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Ford with Gable and Crawford in Possessed (1931)

Meanwhile, Ford’s entry in films was just ahead. In 1930, he appeared in two Warner Bros. shorts, Fore and Absent Minded, then got his big screen break when he was cast as Joan Crawford’s boyfriend in MGM’s Possessed (1931). During the next four years, the actor was seen in an average of eight films a year, including The Beast of the City (1932), where he was a cop who falls for a gangster’s moll played by Jean Harlow; Three-Cornered Moon (1933), an hilarious screwball comedy (and one of my favorite movies of all time); The Whole Town’s Talking (1935), directed by John Ford and starring Edward G. Robinson and Jean Arthur; and The Informer (1935), which earned Academy Awards for Best Actor (Victor McLaglen), Best Screenplay (Dudley Nichols), and Best Director.

 

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Ford’s final role, in A Patch of Blue (1965)

Ford went on to appear in more than 100 feature films in a career that spanned four decades and lasted until shortly before his death in 1966 – the previous year, he played the good-natured, alcoholic father of Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue. In February 1966, Martha Haworth, Ford’s wife of more than 40 years, died after a long illness. Just four months later, on June 11, 1966, Ford suffered a heart attack and died while hospitalized at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. Friends theorized that the actor’s grief over his wife’s death had hastened his own demise.

 

Ford6Several days after his death, Ford was honored at a memorial service in Brentwood, California; reading like a “who’s who” of the screen, more than 60 honorary pallbearers were listed, including such luminaries as John Ford, Pat O’Brien, Spencer Tracy, Lee Tracy, Lloyd Nolan, Bing Crosby, Ralph Bellamy, Ed Begley, William Talman, Alan Hale, J. Carroll Naish, Frank McHugh, Otto Kruger, Keenan Wynn, Leon Ames, Vincent Price, Clarence Must, and Arthur O’Connell. Although the “histrionic hobo” started his life in an orphanage and honed his craft in saloons and pool rooms, Ford rose above his circumstances and managed to become one of the most respected and beloved performers of his time.

Timeworthy Cinema: Registered Nurse (1934)

•February 9, 2016 • 2 Comments


SSRegistered5Registered Nurse
may not crop up on many lists of must-see Pre-Codes, but for my money, it’s 63 minutes of worth-your-time cinema.

Released in April 1934, Registered Nurse stars Bebe Daniels as Sylvia Benton, a wealthy Connecticut socialite whose would-be carefree life is marred by the fact that her husband, Jim (Gordon Westcott), is a hopeless alcoholic (not to mention a bit of a jerk). Sylvia is so miserable, in fact, that she’s decided to leave Jim and return to her profession of nursing. Problem is, she shares this information with her spouse while he’s driving the couple home, after having consumed more than one-drink-too-many at a swanky party. Not surprisingly, their car ends up in a ditch.

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Frankie Silvestri was a handful.

The next thing we know, Sylvia is living in New York and is signing on at a hospital there. We don’t know what happened to Jim, but we do know that Sylvia tells the hospital matron (the venerable Beulah Bondi) that she’s not married. Via a montage of speeding ambulances and rolling gurneys, two years go by, and Sylvia is now a highly respected nurse at City Hospital.  And as we soon see, she’s no pushover. When fight promoter Frankie Silvestri (Sidney Toler, of Charlie Chan fame) is brought into the emergency room with a broken leg and a funky attitude, Sylvia is sent for. Silvestri refuses to listen to her instructions and gives her a shove – and Sylvia promptly counters with a slap to the man’s face. “Say! Dames don’t slap me where I come from!” Silvestri informs her. And Sylvia calmly rejoins, “If you don’t behave yourself, I’ll slap you so hard you’ll forget where you came from.”

Now, THAT’S a pre-Code nurse!

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Beulah and Sylvia take a break from the patients.

Speaking of pre-Code, this film seems to have exchanged the usual gratuitous lingerie shots for lots of scenes with nurses smoking cigarettes (in fact, they’re frequently shown striking their matches on a “No Smoking” sign). In one scene, Nurse Sylvia even gives a cigarette to an insistent patient, brothel madam Sadie Harris (Irene Franklin), who, incidentally, was the person responsible for breaking Silvestri’s leg. He, in turn, left her with a black eye and a few broken ribs. (And don’t think that their violent exchange leads to any somber moments in the film. Instead, it’s played for laughs – the two ride in the ambulance together, bickering all the way, and after they arrive, an orderly jokes that Sadie “looks like a hamburger.”)

We spend even more time with the fight promoter when two of his wrestlers visit him in the hospital. After exchanging some heated words, the two fighters get into a no-holds-barred brawl in the hospital room. They make such a commotion that it attracts stunned nurses and doctors from throughout the building, and the scuffle eventually earns both men their own beds in the hospital. (Incidentally, one of the wrestlers was played by Tor Johnson who, two decades later, would achieve a measure of fame in a couple of Ed Wood pictures, Bride of the Monster in 1955 and the notoriously bad Plan 9 From Outer Space in 1957.)

But back to heart of the movie:  the hospital staff.

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This is what you call a Hippocratic Triangle. (Or something like that.)

In addition to being City Hospital’s favorite nurse, Sylvia is also the object of the affection of two of the physicians there:  notorious womanizer  Dr. Greg Connolly (Lyle Talbot) and Dr. Hedwig (John Halliday), who’s a self-described woman-hater until he falls for Nurse Sylvia’s charms. Hedwig even goes so far as propose marriage, but Nurse Sylvia turns him down with a heartfelt but rather cryptic response: “I’m sorry. I can’t.”

Other nurses on hand include Gloria Hammond (Mayo Methot), who’s head over heels for Dr. Connolly; Ethel Smith (Renee Whitney), who uses her skills to charm gifts from her patients; and Beulah Schloss (Minna Gombel) who, with her beloved fiance, Pat (Edward Gargan), lends a tragic sidenote to the proceedings. Also in the film’s cast is Louise Beavers as a patient who faints dead away when she discovers that she’s been cut in a fight.

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There’s a lot more going on in this hospital than meets the eye.

Eventually, we learn the reason for Sylvia’s mysterious refusal of Dr. Hedwig’s marriage proposal. We also discover what happened to her boorish spouse after their car wreck a few years earlier, and why Sylvia turns as white as a sheet and nearly passes out anytime the word “insanity” is mentioned. And boy, does it make for quite a pre-Codian end. It’s truly one that has to be seen to be believed.

Directed by Robert Florey, Registered Nurse makes the most of its short running time. Although most of the action takes place inside the walls of the hospital, there’s never a dull moment and the film is full of little touches that keep things moving along nicely. In one scene, Dr. Connolly stops in to examine Sadie, the owner of the brothel, and she instantly recognizes him. “Mr. Gregory,” she coos, “fancy meeting you here.” Connolly stammers that he’s a doctor, and Sadie replies, with some amusement, “Okay, doc. I never saw you before.”

SSRegistered6Another lighthearted scene comes when a couple of RNs poke fun at a probationary nurse while she’s eating a meal of grilled kidneys. “Talking of kidneys, did you see the beauty that Hedwig just took out of the old dame in 429?” one of the nurses asks. “Aw, but kidney operations aren’t much fun. Give me a good leg amputation. And, hey – Connolly wielded a good scalpel on the liver . . .” The veteran nurses are barely able to mask their glee as the probie covers her ears with her hands and abruptly abandons her lunch.

If you’ve got an hour or so, check into City Hospital and spend some time with Registered Nurse. It’s no masterpiece, but it might just be good for what ails ya.

Because I’m feeling silly . . .

•February 9, 2016 • 4 Comments

A guy walks into a bar after a long day at work and orders a drink. After his first sip, he hears a high-pitched voice.

“Hey mister! Nice pants!” it says.

He looks around, doesn’t see anything, and quickly shrugs it off. After a little bit, he takes another sip and hears the voice again.

OutPastBarBaja“Hey mister! Great shoes!”

Again, he looks around, sees nothing but a bartender who is busy attending to other customers. Shaking his head, he sips once more.

“Hey mister! Cool shirt!”

He puts down his drink, frustrated at this phantom voice, and signals to the bartender, who comes over.

“Hey barkeep,” he asks, “what is that high-pitched voice I keep hearing?”

“Oh, those are the peanuts,” the bartender replies. “They’re complimentary.”

Pre-Code Crazy: Golddiggers of 1933

•February 3, 2016 • 5 Comments

SSGold2If you recall, I began last month’s Pre-Code Crazy post by stating that I’m not exactly wild about musicals. And what do you think? My pick this month is another musical! What is going on?!?!

I’ll admit, February on TCM isn’t exactly brimming with pre-Code gems, but when I saw that Golddiggers of 1933 was on the list, I didn’t have to think twice about choosing it – it’s one of the handful of musicals that I watch whenever I get the chance.

First off, the film features a veritable who’s who of pre-Code vets: Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, Aline MacMahon, Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks – and bit parts by Sterling Holloway, Theresa Harris, Charles Lane, and Eric Blore. The cast alone is worth the price of admission.

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Trixie, Carol, and Polly — the “Golddiggers.”

On paper, the film’s plot doesn’t sound like much. We have three out-of-work showgirls – Carol (Blondell), Polly (Keeler), and Trixie (MacMahon), who share a small apartment and make ends meet via such creative approaches as using a pair of ice tongs to steal milk from their neighbor’s balcony. The girls are thrilled when they learn about the opening of a new show, but they’re just as disappointed to also discover that the producer (Sparks) doesn’t have the financing he needs. Polly’s boyfriend, Brad (Powell), an aspiring songwriter, offers to put up the dough, leading Polly and her pals to suspect that he’s gotten the cash through less-than-legal means. It turns out that he’s a member of a wealthy Boston family, and when the news breaks, his stuffed shirt older brother, Lawrence (William), and the family banker (Kibbee), show up to put the kibosh on Brad’s involvement with Polly, who they’ve perceived as a golddigger. When Carol and Trixie get wind of William’s plan, they come up with a crafty little plan of their own, leading to mild chaos and angst – but all is well by the final reel.

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The Waltz of the Shadows.

Woven between and around this flimsy plot is a series of eye-popping musical numbers created and directed by Busby Berkeley. In fact, the movie doesn’t waste a second before showing us what Berkeley has in store – right after the opening credits, we’re tossed right into a rousing rendition of “We’re in the Money,” featuring Ginger Rogers – who sings part of the song in Pig Latin. Other numbers include “Waltz of the Shadows,” where dozens of chorus girls are seen dancing on a giant curved staircase with neon-lit violins, and “Remember My Forgotten Man,” which offers up a stark and stirring depiction of the effects of the Depression. Another standout is “Pettin’ in the Park” – this one features some hoofing from Ruby Keeler, Billy Barty as a rollerskating baby, and lyrics like these:

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There’s a whole lotta pettin’ goin’ on!

Pettin’ on the sly, (Oh, my!)
Act a little shy, (Aw, why!)
Struggle just a little,
Then hug a little,
And cuddle up and whisper this:
“Come on, I’ve been waiting long,
Why don’t we get started?”
Come on, maybe this is wrong,
But, gee, what of it?
We just love it!

Golddiggers of 1933 may be light on substance, but there’s no denying that it’s overflowing with fun. Here are some more tidbits about this first-rate feature:

  • Dick Powell and Joan Blondell first met on this film. They got married three years later.
  • The film was selected in 2003 for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
  • Golddiggers is based on the play The Gold Diggers, which ran for 282 performances in Broadway in 1919 and 1920. The cast of the opening night performance included Ina Claire and Lilyan Tashman.

    SSGold7

    Pre-Code? Yes!

  • Busby Berkeley makes a cameo appearance in the film – you can see him knocking on a door saying, “Hurry up boys, snap it up – Forgotten Man number!”
  • At the time the movie was made, Ginger Rogers was involved with the film’s director, Mervyn LeRoy.
  • The film offers plenty of pre-Code naughtiness. Gratutious scenes of ladies in their lingerie are sprinkled throughout, and the “Pettin’ in the Park” number includes a scene where a bunch of showgirls get caught in the rain and peel off their wet clothes behind a scrim – at least one of the ladies is obviously nude. Also, in a scene near the film’s end, where a passel of chorus girls are scrambling backstage, you can pretty clearly hear one of them say, “Shit! Where’s my shoe!”

pcc1Golddiggers of 1933 airs on TCM on February 11th – do yourself a favor and tune in! Whether you’ve seen it 20 times or never before, you’re bound to have a ball!

And don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what movie Kristina has gone Pre-Code Crazy for in the month of February!

 
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