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Recently Watched Pre-Codes


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#1 LawrenceA

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Posted Yesterday, 10:35 PM

Way for a Sailor (1930) - Uneven romantic comedy from MGM and director Sam Wood. Jack (John Gilbert), Ginger (Jim Tully) and Tripod (Wallace Beery) are sailors in the merchant marine who love life on the sea, but love spending their pay on cheap women and booze even more. Jack meets beautiful but chaste clerk Joan (Leila Hyams), and will go to any lengths to try and bed her. But will his attempts lead to fleeting success or genuine affection? Also featuring Polly Moran, Doris Lloyd, Toshia Mori, and Ray Milland.

 

This is the first John Gilbert talkie that I've seen, and I didn't think he was bad at all. I also liked Leila Hyams, and thought she was exceptionally pretty here. Beery is his usual boorish self, and your tolerance for his scenery chewing will determine your enjoyment of this. The tone of the film is all over the place, from the eye-opening raunchiness of the opening segments as the sailors go from brothel to bar and back again, to a sincere romance, to slapstick comedy, and even high-stakes adventure in the last quarter. Some of the special effects during those last scenes are really awful, with terrible miniatures and poor double exposure work, but in the end I enjoyed this knockabout feature.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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#2 LawrenceA

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Posted Yesterday, 01:45 PM

Tom Sawyer (1930) - First sound adaptation of Mark Twain's book that proved to be a big success for Paramount Pictures and director John Cromwell. Jackie Coogan stars in the title role, a trouble-making young boy in St. Petersburg, Missouri, along the banks of the Mississippi River, circa the mid-to-late 19th century. Tom gets into all kinds of mischief, along with his friend Huckleberry Finn (Junior Durkin), and his sweetheart Becky Thatcher (Mitzi Green). Also featuring Clara Blandick, Tully Marshall, Ethel Wales, Dick Winslow, Jackie Searl, Charles Stevens, and Jane Darwell.

 

This hits all of the familiar beats of the oft-told tale, and your enjoyment of the film may be predicated on your enjoyment of Twain's source material. I've never much cared for this or Huck Finn, and this adaptation reminded me why I don't usually like movies starring kids. The performances range from adequate to annoying, and Cromwell's direction is leaden. This was a major hit in 1930, though, ending up as the biggest box-office champ of the year.    5/10 

 

This movie is another case of not knowing what genre thread to post it in: is it a comedy? A romance? An action/adventure story? There is no section for family films. 

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#3 LawrenceA

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 03:55 PM

Sin Takes a Holiday (1930) - Would-be sophisticated drama from Pathe and director Paul L. Stein. Constance Bennett stars as meek secretary Sylvia Brenner. She works for worldly attorney Gaylord Stanton (Kenneth MacKenna), who comes up with a rather dubious plan: he will marry Sylvia so as to avoid a marriage proposal from another client, and in exchange he will provide Sylvia with enough money to take a cruise to Paris and live a life of luxury. She reluctantly agrees, but during her sea voyage, wherein she is wooed by wealthy cad Reggie Durant (Basil Rathbone), Sylvia starts to gain self-confidence and insight, and when she arrives back in America, she has a determined new outlook on life. Also featuring Rita La Roy, Louis John Bartels, John Roche, Kendall Lee, Muriel Finley, Fred Walton, and Zasu Pitts.

 

The basic premise of the film is more than a little absurd and implausible, but Bennett and Rathbone are both very good. Very few could play the sophisticated predator better than Basil in his prime, and this, his earliest sound film that I've seen, is a perfect example. MacKenna is a little too bland, and his role needed someone stronger. Fashionistas should enjoy the many evening gowns on display.   6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#4 LawrenceA

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Posted 20 September 2017 - 12:31 PM

The Silver Horde (1930) - Outdoor drama with an uncommon setting and an interesting cast that fails to impress, from RKO and director George Archainbaud. Joel McCrea stars as a young and tough go-getter named Boyd Emerson. He and his partner Fraser (Raymond Hatton) show up in a frosty little town in Alaska. The only people who will aid them are Cherry Malotte (Evelyn Brent) and her surly workman George (Louis Wolheim). Cherry informs Boyd that a rich scoundrel named Fred Marsh (Gavin Gordon) owns a local salmon fishery, and that he has instructed the townsfolk to be hostile to strangers to prevent any rival operations starting up. This infuriates Boyd, so he, along with Cherry, decides to open his own salmon company. Boyd travels back to the big city for funding, and to meet up with his beloved Mildred (Jean Arthur). But will Boyd fall for Cherry, now, instead? Also featuring Purnell Pratt, William B. Davidson, Ivan Linow, Dennis O'Keefe, and Blanche Sweet.

 

The script is silly and often dull, and the acting is rather pitiful, even from performers I normally like such as McCrea and Arthur. The setting and location shooting aren't very well utilized, preferring to spend most scenes in doors. Wolheim's role is amusing, as is his (definitely pre-code) final moment. This was silent star Blanche Sweet's final film before retiring.   5/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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#5 LawrenceA

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Posted 18 September 2017 - 10:26 PM

Anyhow I enjoy these post and they provide a lot of insight.    E.g. I didn't know there was a prior version of "They Knew What They Wanted',  a film I have seen since I'm a major fan of Lombard.     I don't know if you have seen the Lombard version but I wonder if the pre-code version is more open about 'what they wanted'.    

 

That movie is a sore point of contention for me: it's one of the only two films nominated for an acting Oscar that I have not seen (other than a few of the earliest titles thought to be lost or only in private collections). The other film is Ride the Pink Horse, which is available via Criterion, but I have been trying to track down They Knew What They Wanted for many years with no luck.



#6 jamesjazzguitar

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Posted 18 September 2017 - 08:53 PM

A Lady to Love (1930) - Mediocre romantic drama from director Victor Sjostrom and MGM. Edward G. Robinson stars as old Italian grape-grower Tony, who falls in love with San Francisco waitress Lena (Vilma Banky). He convinces her to marry him via mail when he includes a picture of his handsome young farm hand Buck (Robert Ames) in place of his own. Lena is mortified when she learns Tony's true age, but she stays on anyway, and soon enough, she is torn between the sweet-but-simple Tony and the rugged Buck. Also featuring Richard Carle, Lloyd Ingraham, Anderson Lawler, Gum Chin, and Henry Armetta.

 

I thought it was funny to see Robinson so early in his career already playing old guys. His performance is way over the top, and his overdone "Mamma Mia!" accent battles valiantly against Banky's Hungarian one. Ames wasn't very memorable, in my opinion, but he had a rising career, only to die less than a year later from alcoholic detox complications. This was based on Sidney Howard's play They Knew What They Wanted, which would be filmed again in 1940 with Charles Laughton, Carole Lombard, and William Gargan in the leads. This isn't horrible, but the pathos of the play is almost drowned in the overdone histrionics of the acting.   6/10

 

Source: TCM by way of YouTube.

 

vilma-banky-a-lady-to-love-edward-g-robi

 

Funny but when I saw the picture and E.G. the first thing I though was 'why is Larry posting this in a pre-code thread?'.

 

Ah,  thanks to the make-up department.    

 

Anyhow I enjoy these post and they provide a lot of insight.    E.g. I didn't know there was a prior version of "They Knew What They Wanted',  a film I have seen since I'm a major fan of Lombard.     I don't know if you have seen the Lombard version but I wonder if the pre-code version is more open about 'what they wanted'.    



#7 LawrenceA

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Posted 18 September 2017 - 01:23 PM

Laughter (1930) - Romantic drama from Paramount and director H. d'Abbadie d'Arrast. Nancy Carroll stars as Peggy Gibson, a former showgirl who gave up the high-life for the security of marrying older millionaire C. Mortimer Gibson (Frank Morgan). Peggy's safe but dull life is upended when her former flame Paul Lockridge (Fredric March) shows up. He's a devil-may-care songwriter who wants to get Peggy to embrace life and laughter once again, much to the annoyance of Mr. Gibson. If that wasn't enough, another former flame of Peggy's, unstable sculptor Ralph (Glenn Anders), has started to woo Gibson's grown daughter Marjorie (Diane Ellis). Also featuring Leonard Carey, Ollie Burgoyne, Eric Blore, and Charles Halton.

 

This is passable, although not terribly compelling. March shows once again that he was one of the best, most natural screen actors of this period, while Carroll, a major star of the time that is largely forgotten now, is also good. But there's really not enough of interest here to recommend it. The film did receive an Oscar nomination for Best Story (Harry d'Arrast, Douglas Z. Doty, and Donald Ogden Stewart). It lost to The Dawn Patrol.   6/10

 

Source: archive.org.

 

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#8 LawrenceA

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Posted 17 September 2017 - 07:46 PM

A Lady to Love (1930) - Mediocre romantic drama from director Victor Sjostrom and MGM. Edward G. Robinson stars as old Italian grape-grower Tony, who falls in love with San Francisco waitress Lena (Vilma Banky). He convinces her to marry him via mail when he includes a picture of his handsome young farm hand Buck (Robert Ames) in place of his own. Lena is mortified when she learns Tony's true age, but she stays on anyway, and soon enough, she is torn between the sweet-but-simple Tony and the rugged Buck. Also featuring Richard Carle, Lloyd Ingraham, Anderson Lawler, Gum Chin, and Henry Armetta.

 

I thought it was funny to see Robinson so early in his career already playing old guys. His performance is way over the top, and his overdone "Mamma Mia!" accent battles valiantly against Banky's Hungarian one. Ames wasn't very memorable, in my opinion, but he had a rising career, only to die less than a year later from alcoholic detox complications. This was based on Sidney Howard's play They Knew What They Wanted, which would be filmed again in 1940 with Charles Laughton, Carole Lombard, and William Gargan in the leads. This isn't horrible, but the pathos of the play is almost drowned in the overdone histrionics of the acting.   6/10

 

Source: TCM by way of YouTube.

 

vilma-banky-a-lady-to-love-edward-g-robi



#9 LawrenceA

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Posted 17 September 2017 - 04:18 PM

Ladies of Leisure (1930) - Frank Capra directed this Pre-Code romance from Columbia Pictures. Jerry Strong (Ralph Graves) is a high society scion who has grown bored with the hard-partying ways of his contemporaries. He prefers to focus on his passion for painting, and he asks Kay Arnold (Barbara Stanwyck) to be his latest model. Kay is a good-time girl who earns her living as a "companion" to high-rollers. As the two develop a growing romantic bond, Jerry's parents grow disapproving. Also featuring Lowell Sherman, Marie Prevost, Nance O'Neil, George Fawcett, Juliette Compton, Johnnie Walker, Charles Butterworth, and Willie Best.

 

I thought this was very good, and that Stanwyck was fantastic, and not only should have been nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress, but should have won (over Norma Shearer in The Divorcee). I've read that many people dislike Graves in the male lead, but I didn't think he was that terrible, although I think the film would be better remembered and acclaimed if Stanwyck's co-star had been someone more noteworthy. Sherman, as a tipsy party regular, and Prevost, as Stanwyck's roommate and fellow party girl, are wonderful, and perfect examples of great supporting performances. Capra's camera is also very mobile, moving in and out of the shots, creating a heightened sense of activity. I really enjoyed this one, even if the ending rang a bit false. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: TCM by way of YouTube.

 

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#10 LawrenceA

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Posted 17 September 2017 - 12:57 PM

Ladies Love Brutes (1930) - Awkward romance/gangster showcase for star George Bancroft, from Paramount and director Rowland Lee. Bancroft stars as Joe Forziati (and just try counting how many times his name is mentioned during the film!), a rough-and-tumble construction magnate who has really made good after the completion of his latest NYC skyscraper. The uppercrust wealthy society is loathe to admit Forziati into their ranks, though, as they view his as too coarse and unrefined. Forziati sets out to improve his image with a wardrobe upgrade and an invitation to a high society dinner hosted by Mimi Howell (Mary Astor). Mimi has filed for divorce from her philandering husband Dwight (Fredric March), and she warms to the no-nonsense approach of Forziati. His hopes for acceptance may be dashed, though, by the intrusion of low-life racketeer Mike Mendino (Stanley Fields). Also featuring David Durand, Freddie Burke Frederick, Margaret Quimby, Ben Hendricks Jr., Paul Fix, Lawford Davidson, E.H. Calvert, and Ferike Boros.

 

I watched this for March, but he's hardly in it. This is almost completely a showcase for the onscreen persona of George Bancroft, whose star was already starting to fade. He was the first real gangster movie star, and he also did well in blue-collar type roles, but his prima donna attitude and changing audience taste made a rather quick end to his stardom, and he was soon playing fourth or lower billed roles in B westerns. He's not bad here, but the script can't decide how much of a heel he is. Astor looks disappointed at being in the film. Fields once again makes for a terrific thug.   6/10

 

Source: archive.org.

 

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#11 LawrenceA

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Posted 15 September 2017 - 02:20 PM

The Devil to Pay! (1930) - Enjoyable light romantic comedy from director George Fitzmaurice and the Samuel Goldwyn Company. Willie Hale (Ronald Colman) is an adventurous spendthrift who is just back home after blowing through all of his money in Africa. He begins to romance Dorothy (Loretta Young), the daughter of a wealthy man (David Torrence) who doesn't approve, thinking Willie is just after her money, especially since he has been seen in the company of stage actress Mary (Myrna Loy). Also featuring Frederick Kerr, Florence Britton, Paul Cavanagh, and Crawford Kent. 

 

This has a breezy, sophisticated air that makes for undemanding entertainment. Colman is fun, with a smirk and a twinkle in his eye, and Young (who was only 17!) and Loy are both at the height of their beauty, with the latter appearing in a racy, near-nude scene. I also enjoyed Colman's interactions with his reluctantly acquired dog.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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#12 LawrenceA

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Posted 13 September 2017 - 05:35 PM

Danger Lights (1930) - Cornball melodrama set in the world of the railroad. Dan Thorn (Louis Wolheim) is the tough-but-lovable railroad boss of a bustling company. He has a soft spot for the bums and hobos who often ride the rails, and he offers a job to one such derelict, former railroad man Larry Doyle (Robert Armstrong). Dan may grow to regret the helping hand he extended when his fiancee Mary (Jean Arthur) falls for the handsome Larry. Also featuring Hugh Herbert (who also served as dialogue director), Frank Sheridan, Robert Edeson, Alan Roscoe, and Jim Farley.

 

Director George B. Seitz tries to add energy to a bland and cliched storyline, one that most viewers could guess the outcome without much difficulty. Train enthusiasts may enjoy the many locomotives, both real and miniature, used in the production. This was another 65mm widescreen release, although all of those prints are lost, and only the standard size version remains. In any size, the acting is terrible, even from dependables like Arthur and Wolheim, and the story won't enthuse, either. This is an interesting case of a Pre-Code that would require very little or no changes if released post-Code.   5/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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#13 LawrenceA

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 07:42 PM

True to the Navy (1930) - Pre-Code romantic comedy from Paramount and director Frank Tuttle. Clara Bow stars as Ruby Nolan, a drug-store counter-girl in San Diego who maintains multiple sailor boyfriends from multiple ships. Her profitable juggling act is ruined, though, when the entire Pacific fleet is called into port and the various sailors learn of each other. They decide to get revenge against her by setting her up with hard-edged sailor "Bull's Eye" McCoy (Fredric March), who will lead her along and then drop her when she's good and hooked on him. But what happens if he starts to fall for her, too? Also featuring Harry Green, Rex Bell, Eddie Fetherston, Eddie Dunn, Ray Cooke, Harry Sweet, Jed Prouty, Adele Windsor, Frances Dee, and Louise Beavers.

 

Bow is sharp and sassy as the manipulative Ruby, and she gets to sing a song, too. March does well in a role against type, a tough, street-smart roughneck. I'm not sure how much of the main premise of this would remain post-Code, as Bow's multiple boyfriends may have seemed too indecent. In the end, this is a slight, though entertaining, diversion.   7/10

 

Source: archive.org.

 

true-to-the-navy-from-left-fredric-march


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#14 LawrenceA

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Posted 10 September 2017 - 04:10 PM

Manslaughter (1930) - Courtroom melodrama from Paramount and director George Abbott. Claudette Colbert stars as Lydia Thorne, a spoiled rich girl with a passion for hard partying and fast driving. She meets hard-nosed district attorney Dan O'Bannon (Fredric March) at a social gathering, and the unlikely pair begin to develop feelings for each other. This complicates matters when Lydia's reckless driving results in the accidental death of a motorcycle cop, and Dan is forced to prosecute her for manslaughter. Also featuring Emma Dunn, Natalie Moorhead, Richard Tucker, Hilda Vaughn, G. Pat Collins, Steve Pendleton, Stanley Fields, Frances Dee, and Louise Beavers.

 

This is a fairly entertaining melodrama, with some interesting moral and emotional quandaries. March and Colbert are both good in their roles. The Pre-Code elements include a humiliating stripsearch jail booking for Colbert, and some early women-in-prison scenes.   7/10

 

Source: archive.org.

 

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#15 LawrenceA

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Posted 08 September 2017 - 04:19 PM

The Wild Party (1929) - Pre-Code romance from Paramount and director Dorothy Arzner. Set at an all-girls college, the story follows Stella Ames (Clara Bow), who likes to party and have a good time more than anything else. She and her friends like to be outrageous, and they find a new target for their attention when new professor Gilmore (Fredric March) arrives on campus. However, a rumor begins about Stella and Gilmore being an item, which could tarnish his reputation forever and end her academic career prematurely. Also featuring Marceline Day, Shirley O'Hara, Jack Oakie, Adrienne Dore, Joyce Compton, Jack Luden, and Phillips Holmes. 

 

This was Bow's talkie debut, and audiences clamored to hear the big star's voice for the first time. Reviews at the time were mixed, but I don't think she sounded bad at all. The film has become a bit of a milestone for the supposed invention of the boom mic by director Arzner to help catch the audio better. The story isn't much, relying on the "naughtiness" of the college girls' antics to carry the narrative weight. The "scandal" seems a bit inconsequential these days. March does a good job in only his second major film.   6/10

 

Source: archive.org, where the print has truly horrendous sound.

 

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#16 LawrenceA

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Posted 06 September 2017 - 01:54 PM

The Marriage Playground (1929) - Pre-Code from Paramount that's an indictment on divorce and the toll is takes on the children. Martin Boyne (Fredric March) bumps into a band of raucous kids on the beach, much to the chagrin of their supervisor, eldest sister Judith (Mary Brian). Martin is shocked to learn that 17-year-old Mary is the daughter of an old college acquaintance, and that all of these other kids are the offspring from Mary's father's and mother's subsequent marriages. Martin (and the audience's) head spins as he tries to keep track of who was married to whom and when. Martin himself is due to marry a widow (Seena Owen) soon, but Judith finds herself pining for him, too. Also featuring Lilyan Tashman, Huntley Gordon, Kay Francis, William Austin, Jocelyn Lee, and Philippe De Lacy, Anita Louise, Mitzi Green, Billy Seay, Ruby Parsley, and Donald Smith as the children.

 

Directed by Lothar Mendes and based on the novel by Edith Wharton, this loses some of its sophisticated gloss dues to a surplus of "cute kid" precociousness. Brian at 23 seems a bit old to be playing the 17-year-old Judith, and the relationship between her character and March's is only a little creepy. The film's highlight is Kay Francis as the gold-digging actress Lady Wrench, a mother to some of the children, who shows up with her latest husband to check on the kids.  6/10

 

Source: archive.org.

 

The-Marriage-Playground-1.jpg


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#17 LawrenceA

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Posted 05 September 2017 - 11:20 PM

Paris Bound (1929) - Pre-Code marital problems from Pathe and director Edward H. Griffith, based on the play by Philip Barry. Jim (Fredric March) and Mary (Ann Harding) get married, although they claim to have a modern, cosmopolitan attitude toward the institution. After several years together, during which they have a son, Jim takes a business trip to Europe where he runs into Noel (Carmelita Geraghty), who used to pine for him. Meanwhile, back in the US, Mary's composer friend Richard (Leslie Parrish), who has been in love with Mary for years, hopes to make things more intimate while Jim is away. Can Jim and Mary's "modern marriage" withstand these extramarital developments? Also featuring George Irving, Charlotte Walker, Hallam Cooley, Juliette Crosby, and Ilka Chase.

 

This marked Ann Harding's big screen debut after years as a stage star. March, too, was making his mark in the new talkies. Having appeared in a handful of silent films in uncredited bit parts. 1929 saw him in seven features, this being the fourth. The Pre-Code elements are self-evident, with the extramarital shenanigans, but this is never racy, really, and maintains an air of sophistication. The leads are both good, but there isn't much depth to the proceedings. Still, it's a classy diversion. The print I saw had terrible sound.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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#18 LawrenceA

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 06:04 PM

Mexicali Rose (1929) - Minor Pre-Code melodrama from Columbia enlivened by early Barbara Stanwyck. Sam Hardy stars as Happy Manning, an American who runs a gambling den south of the border. Stanwyck plays Mexicali Rose, Happy's no-good girlfriend who gets caught having an affair. After Happy sends her packing, she tracks down Happy's college-student ward Bob (William Janney) and gets her hooks into him. Happy is more than a little angry when Bob and Rose show up at his casino to spend their honeymoon. Also featuring Louis Natheaux, Arthur Rankin, Harry J. Vejar, Louis King, Jerry Miley, and Dorothy Gulliver.

 

Director Erle C. Kenton doesn't bring much style or pace to the film, and Hardy makes for a less than thrilling leading man. Janney lays on the naive school-boy shtick a bit too thick, but Stanwyck saves this from being a complete waste. She's completely amoral, jumping on every other guy she meets, and she takes glee in the pain she causes. The ending doesn't make much sense, but it can be interpreted a few different ways for viewers who wish to read between the lines. Stanwyck also gets to show off a few slinky evening gowns and, as it's a Pre-Code, bare more skin than in her later films.   6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

mexicalirose.jpg


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#19 LawrenceA

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 12:08 PM

The Locked Door (1929) - Melodrama from United Artists, director George Fitzmaurice, and producers Joe Schenck and Joe Kennedy. Barbara Stanwyck stars as Ann Carter, recently married to Lawrence Reagan (William Boyd). Their matrimonial bliss is disturbed by the appearance of Frank Devereaux (Rod La Rocque), a sleazy cad and serial womanizer who shared an embarrassing incident with Ann a year ago. When Ann learns that Devereaux has designs on Lawrence's young sister Helen (Betty Bronson), she decides to meet with Devereaux and try to keep him away from the young girl. This leads to scandal and tragedy. Also featuring Harry Stubbs, Harry Mestayer, Mack Swain, and Zasu Pitts.

 

Stanwyck was only 22 here, and this is her first starring role (she appeared as an uncredited showgirl in 1927's Broadway Nights). She's cute with dark hair and a baby face, and she's already exhibiting her star appeal. The Pre-Code story elements include traveling to an offshore "rum boat" (where a young Paulette Goddard is supposedly among the extras), implied forced sex, and Stanwyck spending a bit of screentime in a torn dress. La Rocque steals the film, though, as the dapper skirt-chaser who stays one step ahead of the cuckolded husbands left in his wake. He's detestable and funny at the same time.  6/10

 

Source: TCM by way of YouTube (the uploaded copy was ripped from a TCM airing, complete with the now-discontinued intro that featured sunlight dappling through overhead train tracks).

 

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d0e4bb20789cf7a5ee395a6659450793--barbar


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