31 October 2010

21 October 2010

Design for Living (1933)

I had relatively high hopes for Design for Living, and I am pleased to report that for once I was not disappointed. I could throw around the superlatives usually assigned to Ernst Lubitsch films -- everything from sophisticated to smart to sexy -- because just about all of them are applicable here. Hollywood just doesn't make romantic comedies like they used to.

Design for Living truly excels in the casting department. It's four primary players are Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Miriam Hopkins and Edward Everett Horton, and each of them is absolutely perfect in their role -- Fredric March as the snarky playwright, Gary Cooper as the furniture-smashing painter, Miriam Hopkins as the classy minx and Edward Everett Horton as the straight-laced yet flustered milquetoast. March and Cooper play off one another extremely well, exhibiting both camaraderie and jealousy. Both also demonstrate great chemistry with Hopkins in the romantic scenes (for her part, Miriam displays significant presence while on screen). Finally, Horton's part as the jealous friend seems at first like an unusual heel turn for him, but ultimately works out just as well.

Definitely give this one a watch if you get the chance.

13 October 2010

Fear Before the (Fredric) March of Flames

As most of the classic film blogosphere is well aware, TCM's Star of the Month for October is none other than Fredric March. As he is one of my favorite actors from back in the day, you can probably imagine that I'm pretty thrilled with this. I listed some of the films in which he appears in my review of A Star of Born (which, perhaps not coincidentally, I watched again last night). To that list I can add the 1935 screen adaptation of Les Miserables (which also featured the great Charles Laughton), the Hal Roach-produced romantic comedy There Goes my Heart (1938, also starring Virginia Bruce and a Todd-less Patsy Kelly), and Nothing Sacred (1937, directed by William Wellman and co-starring the always entertaining Carole Lombard). Last but not least, March was fantastic opposite an equally-awesome Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind (1960).

I am eagerly anticipating Design for Living (1933) when it airs later this month -- with Ernst Lubitsch directing a film adapted from a play by Noel Coward, how can one go wrong? Hopefully I be able to write a glowing review. Most of the films I've mentioned in this post will be airing on TCM this month. Hopefully you'll catch as many of them as you can.


I just watched Bedtime Story (1941, co-starring Loretta Young and her menagerie of outlandish early 40s hats). I enjoyed this one, as well. The climactic scene in the hotel room brings to mind the stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera, I thought.

11 October 2010

The Criminal Code (1931)

Directed by Howard Hawks and released by Columbia Pictures in 1931, The Criminal Code bears a few marked similarities to The Big House, a film released by rival studio MGM the year before. Both films follow the story of an otherwise good fellow who is convicted of an accidental killing while under the influence of alcohol, both films attempt to illustrate the brutal conditions of American prisons, and both films feature highly improbable romantic subplots. Only one of these films, however, has Walter Huston.

In The Criminal Code, Walter Huston plays hard-nosed D.A. Martin Brady, who pursues a ten-year sentence for Robert Graham (Phillips Holmes), who accidentally killed a man in an altercation in a nightclub. Fast forward six years, and Brady is installed as the warden in the same prison where Graham has been serving his sentence. The horrendous conditions in the prison have taken their toll on Graham, who has begun to break down. On the recommendation of the prison doctor, Brady takes Graham out of the juke mill and takes him a his personal chauffeur. It is in that capacity that Graham meets Mary -- Brady's daughter, played by Constance Cummings. Romance ensues, but the situation is complicated when Graham witnesses the murder of a stool-pigeon by his cell-mate Galloway (Boris Karloff). Brady -- along with several guards -- finds Graham with the body, and Graham is compelled to choose between his saving his own skin or becoming a stool-pigeon himself. 

The Criminal Code is dominated from beginning to end by Walter Huston, who gives a dynamic and lively performance. Huston truly deserves to be counted among the best actors of his era, and his work in this picture is good evidence of that claim (to say nothing of Dodsworth, Rain and a host of other pictures I ought to see). Although his part is comparatively small, Boris Karloff is also good here, being suitably menacing as the convict with a score to settle.

On the other hand, Phillips Holmes and Constance Cummings are comparatively lukewarm in their roles. Furthermore, their romantic subplot does seem more than a little improbable, although this does not detract too much from the film as a whole.

The Criminal Code is an example of an early talking picture that truly benefits from great direction -- the common complaints of static camera work and stiff acting really don't apply here, and I'll wager that the direction of Howard Hawks can be credited for that. It isn't without its drawbacks, but nevertheless it's definitely one worth checking out.

09 October 2010

Holy Hell, I've Been at This for Three Years

It just dawned on me that my last post marked three years to the day that I started this blog. It was initially just meant to be something to play around with, but through the march of time it has become something a bit more important than that. Although it's been sparse here as of late, I have no intention of quitting or going on any sort of hiatus (you'll be greatly relieved to know, I'm sure). I've been grappling with that damned book I'm trying to write, which has been something of a black hole from which none of my attention can escape (that, plus all those damned computer games).

In the meantime, I'm going to try to recommit myself to posting some more meaningful musings for you passers-by to read. Thanks for taking moments of your life to read my scribblings -- it's good to know that there's someone out there in the blackness of space.