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Honor Among Lovers (1931) - Romantic melodrama from Paramount Pictures and director Dorothy Arzner. Claudette Colbert stars as Julia Traynor, secretary to wealthy business mogul Jerry Stafford (Fredric March). The two work great together, but when Jerry reveals that he has romantic feelings for her, Julia states that she has a boyfriend, Philip (Monroe Owsley), and that they are to be married. After some time in drunken commiseration with his dissolute pal Monty (Charlie Ruggles), Jerry comes to accept the union of Julia and Philip, and even allows Philip to invest money for him, which leads to problems for everyone. Also featuring Ginger Rogers, Pat O'Brien (in his feature debut), Ralph Morgan, Avonne Taylor, Janet McLeary, John Kearney, and Leonard Carey.

 

This is light on plot and style, and its appeal rests with the performers, all of whom are good, although Owsley makes one wonder what Colbert saw in him. Rogers is amusing as a dim-bulb chippy companion of Ruggles. This marked one of the first appearances of March's mustache.   6/10

 

Source: YouTube, in 14 parts and of dubious quality.

 

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The Mad Genius (1931) - Lurid, Svengali-esque tale from Warner Brothers and director Michael Curtiz. John Barrymore stars as Vladimar Tsarakov, a crippled dance enthusiast who runs a traveling marionette show with his partner Karimsky (Charles Butterworth). After a show in Central Europe, they notice a young boy (Frankie Darro) being chased by his abusive father, with the boy displaying strength and grace of movement. Tsarakov smuggles the child away, and raises him to adulthood. Named Fedor (Donald Cook), the young man has become perhaps the greatest name in ballet, but his life is completely dominated by Tsarakov, who does everything in his power to make sure the young man stays focused, even if it means chasing away his new beloved Nana (Marian Marsh). Also featuring Luis Alberni, Carmel Myers, Andre Luguet, and Boris Karloff.

 

Barrymore gets to go wild-eyed and over-the-top, while Cook makes for a leaden leading man. Butterworth's comic relief is amusing but seems out of place. Karloff has a small, unbilled role as the young Fedor's abusive father. I liked how Tsarakov maintains control over manic director Alberni by plying him with cocaine.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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Man of the World (1931) - Romance in Paris from Paramount Pictures and director Richard Wallace. William Powell stars as Michael Trevor, an American expatriate living in Paris and secretly running a blackmail ring. He and his two cohorts target rich tourists and put them in compromising situations, threatening to reveal their indiscretions if a payout isn't made. After targeting one such unsuspecting dupe (Guy Kibbee), Michael meets his beautiful daughter Mary (Carole Lombard) and promptly falls for her. Although his new love makes him reconsider his lifestyle, will his sordid past make a brighter future impossible? Also featuring Wynne Gibson, Lawrence Gray, George Chandler, and Tom Ricketts.

 

Powell brings his best world-weary elegance and charm, while Lombard looks classy and gorgeous. Gibson is also good as Trevor's partner-in-crime. The plot is light on developments, and the 74 minute running time keeps things from getting too in-depth, but the script from Herman Mankiewicz has good dialogue, and an atypical ending.   7/10

 

Source: Universal DVD, part of the Carole Lombard Glamour Collection.

 

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Mata Hari (1931) - Fictionalized story following the exploits of the notorious WW1 spy, from MGM and director George Fitzmaurice. Greta Garbo stars as the title lady, an exotic dancer who enthralls all who see her perform, allowing her to gain access to valuable intelligence which she relays to her aloof handler Andriani (Lewis Stone). Among Mata Hari's conquests are General Shubin (Lionel Barrymore) and young ace pilot Alexis Rosanoff (Ramon Novarro). Also featuring C. Henry Gordon, Karen Morley, Alec B. Francis, Blanche Friderici, Helen Jerome Eddy, and Mischa Auer.

 

When historians roll their eyes at the mention of Hollywood history lessons, this is the kind of film they are thinking about. The truth only remains as far as it makes the leads look attractive and dramatic. who naturally bears little resemblance to the real Mata Hari, gets to wear some outrageous costumes and perform a lurid, pre-code dance with a giant statue of the goddess Shiva. Barrymore hams it up, and Navarro makes for an unconvincing Russian. Despite the sloppy script, there's some good set design and camerawork, and the appeal of the leads, particularly Garbo at the height of her stardom, helped make this one of the top ten biggest box office hits of the year, and the biggest for MGM.   6/10

 

Source: archive.org. The print is pristine but there are Portuguese subtitles embedded.

 

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The Miracle Woman (1931) - Frank Capra directed this look at phony evangelists, from Columbia Pictures. A slick conman (Sam Hardy) convinces preacher's daughter Florence (Barbara Stanwyck) to be the figurehead of a evangelical religious program carried over the radio. They are wildly successful, utilizing a series of fake "cripples" to be miraculously healed. But when blind former pilot John Carson (David Manners) comes to hear her in person, his genuine affection and belief make Florence reassess her life. Also featuring Beryl Mercer, Russell Hopton, Eddie Boland, Thelma Hill, Mary Doran, Dennis O'Keefe, and Charles Middleton.

 

This lacks the bite of the later Elmer Gantry, but it still takes a hard look at greedy religious phonies. Stanwyck is good, with a few big scenes to show off with. I actually liked Manners here, too, and Mercer has a good supporting role as Manners's landlady.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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My Sin (1931) - Melodrama that seems like other, more successful, films stitched together, from Paramount Pictures and writer-director George Abbott. Tallulah Bankhead stars as Carlotta, a "disreputable" lady in Panama. When she kills a creep trying to strong-arm her, it's up to drunken attorney Richard Grady (Fredric March) to clean up his act and defend her in court. Years later, with a new life and identity in NYC as an interior decorator, Carlotta falls for a young rich lug (Scott Kolk), but will their romantic bliss be ruined by the revelation of her sordid past? Also featuring Harry Davenport, Anne Sutherland, Margaret Adams, Jay Fassett, Lily Cahill, Berton Churchill, Eric Blore, and Joseph Calleia.

 

Bankhead was the closest American actress to the screen personas of Garbo and Dietrich: unconventional sexuality mixed with a jaded cynicism and glamorous fashions. The script (based on a play) seems like a rehash of The LetterRain and A Free Soul, with little to help it stand out other than the two leads. And they are both good, with Bankhead having a few good opportunities to shine, and March excelling at playing drunkards.   6/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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The Sin Ship (1931) - Louis Wolheim stars in and directed this regrettable melodrama from RKO. Wolheim stars as Captain Sam McVey, a drunken, angry slob of a sea captain who agrees to provide transport on his ship to a supposedly moral and religious duo: Smiley Marsden (Ian Keith) and Frisco Kitty (Mary Astor). If the names haven't clued you in, the duo are actually crooks on the lam, but Kitty plays her pious ruse so well that Captain McVey decides to turn his own life around, quitting drinking and cleaning up his ship. What will happen when he learns the truth? Also featuring Hugh Herbert (who also scripted this), Russ Powell, and Alan Roscoe.

 

This was Wolheim's one and only directorial effort, and he stinks at it. The acting is either stiff or too florid, the camera set-ups dull and uninvolving, and the pace stagnant. Wolheim himself hated the process and swore never to repeat it, although he never had the chance, as he died before the film was released. TCM host Ben Mankiewicz was really amused by the character name Frisco Kitty.   4/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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Street Scene (1931) - Slice-of-New-York-life from producer Samuel Goldwyn and director King Vidor, based on Elmer Rice's Pulitzer prize-winning play. An assortment of NYC residents talk, gossip and complain to each other over the course of a hot summer day and night. Sensitive young man Sam (William Collier Jr.) pines for beautiful young woman Rose (Sylvia Sidney), while Rose's lonely mother Anna (Estelle Taylor) is having an affair with the milkman (Russell Hopton), although Rose's overworked father (David Landau) may be getting wise. Various other tenants watch and offer commentary. Also featuring Beulah Bondi (her debut), John Qualen (his debut), Matt McHugh (his debut), Greta Granstedt, Eleanor Wesselhoeft, Allen Fox, Nora Cecil, Max Montor, and Walter Miller.

 

Besides the actors listed above, this was also the feature debut for composer Alfred Newman, whose score for this has been heard countless times since. Despite the limited setting (actually filmed on an artificial street section constructed in the studio), director Vidor uses interesting camera set-ups to keep things lively. The performances are all good, with Bondi the big stand-out as a mean-spirited gossip. The film has the kind of working-class ethnic realism that I usually associate with 1950's cinema, with emphasis on character and the problems of the working poor. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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Ten Cents a Dance (1931) - Romantic melodrama from Columbia Pictures and director Lionel Barrymore. Barbara Stanwyck stars as Barbara O'Neill, a taxi dancer who hates her job. Wealthy businessman Bradley Carlton (Ricardo Cortez) loves her, but her heart belongs to Eddie Miller (Monroe Owsley), a poor young man with few prospects. When Eddie learns of Barbara's work, he makes her quit and the two get married. But wedded bliss is not to be, as Eddie turns out to be a crook as well as a wet blanket. When he gets into a real jam, what will Barbara be forced to do to get him out of it? Also featuring Sally Blane, Blanche Friderici, Phyllis Crane, Olive Tell, Victor Potel, Al Hill, and Martha Sleeper.

 

I haven't seen many films that say they were based on a song, but here's one. Stanwyck does the suffering routine, while Cortez comes across as less sleazy than usual. Owsley seems to have specialized in playing sensitive losers who somehow keep landing leading ladies like Colbert and Stanwyck. This is passable entertainment, but not groundbreaking or very memorable.  6/10

 

Source: TCM by way of YouTube.

 

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Tonight or Never (1931) - Samuel Goldwyn tries to emulate Ernst Lubitsch and largely succeeds in this Continental romance from director Mervyn LeRoy. Gloria Swanson stars as famous opera singer Nella Vago, the toast of the European music scene who is just finishing a smashing engagement in Vienna. However, some view her style as too technical and lacking real emotion, and so the elusive American market is closed to her. Although engaged to the foppish Count Albert (Warburton Gamble), Nella notices a mysterious male figure that seems to be following her. When Nella heads off to Budapest, she finds that the man, Jim Fletcher (Melvyn Douglas) is on the same train. When she decides to confront him, it may just lead to her finding the emotional footing that she needs. Also featuring Alison Skipworth, Ferdinand Gottschalk, Robert Greig, Greta Meyer, Boris Karloff, and J. Carrol Naish.

 

Lubitsch had been very successful with a string of European-set romances featuring nobility, artistes, and sophisticates. Sam Goldwyn copies that formula, and while it doesn't all work, enough does to make this worthwhile. Swanson seems an odd casting choice for an opera diva, and thankfully her performances are heard and not seen. Douglas, making his film debut, was carried over from the stage version, and he's perfect. I actually watched this for Karloff, though, who ably plays a small role as a waiter. He was in 14(!!!) movies in 1931, the year of his breakout role in Frankenstein. I've now seen 7 of them.   7/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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Grand Hotel (1932) - All-star melodrama from MGM and director Edmund Goulding. The film tracks the lives and loves of a quintet of characters staying at the title Berlin locale. Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) is a meek bookkeeper who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, so he's decided to spend his life savings by living his final days extravagantly. Preysing (Wallace Beery) is a blustery industry magnate working on a business merger that, if not successful, will mean his failure. Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) is a young secretary hired to work for Preysing at the hotel, and she's not above using her looks and affections to pay the bills. Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo) is a Russian ballerina with a moody temperament. And Baron Geigren (John Barrymore), secretly on the verge of the poorhouse, has made a deal with shady characters to try and rob the ballerina of her valuable jewels. Also featuring Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt, Robert McWade, Purnell Pratt, Ferdinand Gottschalk, and Tully Marshall.

 

This was a re-watch for me, part of my rewatching of the Best Picture Oscar winners. I liked the film more this time, although it's not without some faults. The movie's big selling point was the stars, and they end up being very good, with one exception. I personally think Lionel Barrymore and Joan Crawford have some of their best roles here, and they are both endearing, with Crawford assaying the most realistic and natural performance in the film. John Barrymore is suave and tragic, and Beery is perfectly cast. Garbo, however, is rather terrible, coming across as phony and showy. Despite this being one of her signature roles ("I want to be alone!"), I find her to be grating. Along with winning the Best Picture Oscar, Grand Hotel holds the dubious distinction of being the only winner not to earn a single nomination in any other category. That seems absurd, and the production designer certainly deserved a nomination, at the very least. This movie remains one of the prime examples of Old Hollywood, studio-era glamour and filmmaking. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: Warner Brothers Blu Ray.

 

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Grand Hotel (1932) - All-star melodrama from MGM and director Edmund Goulding. The film tracks the lives and loves of a quintet of characters staying at the title Berlin locale. Otto Kringelein (Lionel Barrymore) is a meek bookkeeper who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, so he's decided to spend his life savings by living his final days extravagantly. Preysing (Wallace Beery) is a blustery industry magnate working on a business merger that, if not successful, will mean his failure. Flaemmchen (Joan Crawford) is a young secretary hired to work for Preysing at the hotel, and she's not above using her looks and affections to pay the bills. Grusinskaya (Greta Garbo) is a Russian ballerina with a moody temperament. And Baron Geigren (John Barrymore), secretly on the verge of the poorhouse, has made a deal with shady characters to try and rob the ballerina of her valuable jewels. Also featuring Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt, Robert McWade, Purnell Pratt, Ferdinand Gottschalk, and Tully Marshall.

 

This was a re-watch for me, part of my rewatching of the Best Picture Oscar winners. I liked the film more this time, although it's not without some faults. The movie's big selling point was the stars, and they end up being very good, with one exception. I personally think Lionel Barrymore and Joan Crawford have some of their best roles here, and they are both endearing, with Crawford assaying the most realistic and natural performance in the film. John Barrymore is suave and tragic, and Beery is perfectly cast. Garbo, however, is rather terrible, coming across as phony and showy. Despite this being one of her signature roles ("I want to be alone!"), I find her to be grating. Along with winning the Best Picture Oscar, Grand Hotel holds the dubious distinction of being the only winner not to earn a single nomination in any other category. That seems absurd, and the production designer certainly deserved a nomination, at the very least. This movie remains one of the prime examples of Old Hollywood, studio-era glamour and filmmaking. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: Warner Brothers Blu Ray.

 

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Love the poster in which Crawford is the center of attention

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American Madness (1932) - Depression-era bank worries fuel this Pre-Code melodrama from Columbia Pictures and director Frank Capra. Walter Huston stars as Thomas Dickson, a hard-charging bank president who runs his business with an eye towards growth and the future, much to the annoyance of his more conservative board members. His workload forces him to neglect his wife Phyllis (Kay Johnson), who looks for comfort in the arms of sketchy bank employee Cyril (Gavin Gordon). Meanwhile, another employee, Matt (Pat O'Brien) is romancing a secretary, Helen (Constance Cummings). When a terrible crime is committed, it causes a run on the bank, and everyone may lose everything. Also featuring Arthur Hoyt, Robert Emmett O'Connor, Berton Churchill, Robert Ellis, Charley Grapewin, Edwin Maxwell, Harry Todd, Polly Walters, and Sterling Holloway.

 

For some reason I was expecting a look at backroom banking machinations that lead to the financial collapse of the Great Depression, but instead this is largely a soap-opera level melodrama about infidelity, gambling debts, and mob mentality. Huston is in full alpha-male motor-mouth mode, threatening to steamroll over anyone sharing a scene. Johnson seems to have trouble with inattentive husbands (I watched her in Madam Satan yesterday). Gordon looks odd with his overly-manicured, pencil-thin eyebrows. This isn't bad, it's just fluff.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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Big City Blues (1932) - Uneven comedy/crime drama from Warner Brothers and director Mervyn LeRoy. Eric Linden stars as Bud Reeves, a naive small-town Indiana boy who's arrived in NYC to make a name for himself. He gets taken in by his unscrupulous cousin Gibby (Walter Catlett) who tries to work the kid for every cent he's got, while Bud falls in love with showgirl Vida (Joan Blondell). However, when things take a dark turn, Bud may be left holding the bag and on his way to the hot seat. Also featuring Ned Sparks, Jobyna Howland, Guy Kibbee, Grant Mitchell, Lyle Talbot, Humphrey Bogart, Inez Courtney, Thomas E. Jackson, Josephine Dunn, Sheila Terry, Betty Gillette, Clarence Muse, J. Carrol Naish, and Evalyn Knapp.

 

This starts out as a rather broad comedy, with Linden playing his out-of-town Bud as a complete rube. Then it seems to switch gears and become a sweet romance between Linden and Blondell, before taking an unexpected turn and becoming deadly serious. These tonal shifts are jarring, and the movie may have worked better if it had chosen one and stuck with it. Blondell is cute and likable as always. I watched this for Bogart, who isn't even credited, although his role was a little bigger than I expected, playing a shady party-goer.   6/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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A Bill of Divorcement (1932) - Family drama from RKO and director George Cukor. It has been 15 years since Hilary Fairfield (John Barrymore) was put into a mental asylum for WWI-related "shell-shock". His wife Margaret (Billie Burke) is looking to move on with a new fiancee (Paul Cavanagh), while his daughter Sydney (Katharine Hepburn) has grown to adulthood and largely forgotten him. She, too, is looking forward to future wedded bliss with Kit (David Manners), but when Hilary suddenly turns up on the front step, having left the asylum, Sydney learns the truth about his hospital stay, which has implications for everyone. Also featuring Henry Stephenson, Gayle Evers, and Elizabeth Patterson.

 

Hepburn makes her screen debut here, and she's good, even if the material is a bit moldy and dull. The idea of inherited mental illness is an interesting concept suitable for exploration but the writers here only draw forth lethargic melodrama. Barrymore has a few wild-eyed moments but he surprisingly plays it rather low key despite the material seeming to give him a free reign to go big. I think one issue with the film is the casting of Burke, making her talkie debut. A stronger dramatic actress would have added more weight to the proceedings. This had been filmed in Britain ten years earlier, and another version, starring Adolphe Menjou and Maureen O'Hara, was released in 1940.   6/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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Cynara (1932) - Romantic drama based on a book by R. Gore Brown, from producer Samuel Goldwyn and director King Vidor. English barrister Jim Warlock (Ronald Colman) is a happily married man, looking forward to celebrating his anniversary with wife Clemency (Kay Francis). However, Clemency has to travel to Venice with her sister Garla (Florinne McKinney), and Jim goes out to dinner with colleague John (Henry Stephenson), where Jim meets Doris (Phyllis Barry). Doris comes on strong, and despite his better judgment, Jim succumbs and has a short affair with her. The consequences for his decision will change everyone's lives forever. Also featuring Viva Tattersall, Clarissa Selwynne, George Kirby, Halliwell Hobbes, and Paul Porcasi.

 

With a classy, sophisticated veneer, this polished affair ends up being a much gentler version of the later Fatal Attraction. Barry never stoops to boiling bunny rabbits, but her refusal to let the affair go has a dire impact, nonetheless. Unfortunately, she's also the weakest part of the film, giving a largely terrible performance. Colman, however, gives one of his best acting jobs, displaying subtlety and inner conflict very well. Francis is also good, and she uses her dark eyes to good effect.   7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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Downstairs (1932) - Excellent drama from MGM and director Monta Bell, from a story by John Gilbert. Gilbert stars as Karl Schneider, an amoral manipulator and all-around bad guy who gets hired on as the new chauffeur of the Baron (Reginald Owen) and Baroness (Olga Baclanova). He arrives on the same day as the wedding of Albert (Paul Lukas), the Baron's loyal butler, to Anna (Virginia Bruce), a maid also in their employ. Karl immediately sets to causing trouble, from blackmailing the Baroness to causing strife in Albert and Anna's marriage, to cruelly using an older cook (Bodil Rosing). How much can Karl get away with before someone has enough? Also featuring Hedda Hopper, Otto Hoffman, Lucien Littlefield, Marion Lessing, and Karen Morley.

 

This was greenlit as a favor by Irving Thalberg for Gilbert, whose fortunes had started to fade due to the star's long-simmering feud with studio head Louis B. Mayer. Gilbert was hoping to demonstrate that he was capable of diverse characterizations, and he succeeds. I thought he was terrific as a detestable cad. His character first seems as if he'll be a charming rogue that serves to puncture the stuffed-shirts of the Baron's household, but he ends up being a darker, malignant presence, one that the audience hopes to see brought low. That makes the ending all the more memorable. I personally would have nominated Gilbert for an Oscar for this. Bruce, who Gilbert would marry in real life shortly after filming, is also good, and this is perhaps the best role that I've seen from Lukas. Recommended.   8/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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Love Affair (1932) - Very minor romantic melodrama from Columbia Pictures and director Thornton Freeland. Dorothy Mackaill stars as Carol Owen, a wealthy socialite and adventure-seeker who is secretly living beyond her means: she lost almost everything in the stock market crash, and only continues on in her lifestyle thanks to money from wealthy suitor Bruce Hardy (Hale Hamilton). Carol isn't interested in Bruce romantically, though, as she has her sights set on aeronautical engineer Jim Leonard (Humphrey Bogart). Jim has just designed a breakthrough aircraft engine and hopes to start his own company to manufacture them but he can't secure the financing. Carol will do anything to make Jim happy, even if it means sacrificing her own happiness. Also featuring Halliwell Hobbes, Astrid Allwyn, Jack Kennedy, Bradley Page, Barbara Leonard, Harold Minjir, and Dennis O'Keefe.

 

I was completely unfamiliar with Mackaill before this. She was a silent film star that made several talkies before her career petered out. She's not bad. Bogart isn't too good here, though, as his screen persona had yet to be honed. He shows some spark near the end of the film (the very end is ludicrous) but for the most part he's as bland as a white bread sandwich. So is the direction from Freeland, ultimately resulting in a forgettable waste of an hour.   5/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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Christopher Strong (1933) - Romantic drama from RKO and director Dorothy Arzner, from a script by Zoe Akins. Lady Cynthia Darrington (Katharine Hepburn) is a daredevil aviatrix who falls in love with respected politician Christopher Strong (Colin Clive). The problem is he's married, and his wife (Billie Burke) and his sensitive daughter (Helen Chandler) may not be able to deal with his infidelity. Also featuring Ralph Forbes, Irene Browne, Jack La Rue, Desmond Roberts, and Margaret Lindsay. 

This came out during an intense period of Anglophilia in American films, with the studios all clamoring to import posh British thespians and tell stories set in Old Blighty. Hepburn, in only her second screen role, cuts a fine figure in a number of memorable gowns and outfits, the most outlandish of which is a shiny form-hugging moth costume. I always find it odd seeing Clive in something that isn't Frankenstein related, and that was exacerbated in this film with the presence of Chandler as his daughter. I recall her most from her co-starring role in that other Universal horror benchmark, Dracula. A scene in this where she reluctantly refuses an alcoholic drink is made more poignant with the knowledge that alcoholism had destroyed her career by the late 1930's. She set herself on fire while in a drunken stupor in 1950, leaving her horribly scarred, but she survived until 1965, when she died at age 59 following stomach ulcer surgery.    (6/10)

Source: TCM.

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Don Quixote (1933) - Director G.W. Pabst's adaptation of the much-lauded novel by Cervantes. Feodor Chaliapin stars as Don Quixote, a mentally unbalanced old man who believes that he's a knight engaged in fantastic, romantic adventures. He's assisted/enabled by his cohort Sancho Panza (George Robey). Also featuring Miles Mander, Oscar Ashe, Rene Donnio, Frank Stanmore, Sidney Fox, Emily Fitzroy, and Renee Valliers.

Pabst filmed multiple versions of this at once, with some cast changes, and the English and French versions are apparently the most widely available. I saw the English version. I've read a lot of good things about this movie for many years and was happy to finally see, but I have to wonder if the praise is for the French version. I must admit that I don't really care for the Don Quixote story, nor any film and TV versions that I've seen. In fact, the musical film Man of La Mancha was one of the most excruciating movie watching experiences of my life. In this version, Chaliapin breaks out into operatic song a few times, which only served to throw my interest to the wind. I appreciated some of the camera tricks Pabst used, but with obnoxious characters, terrible sound, and Chaliapin's mangled English rendering most his dialogue unintelligible, I didn't really care for this at all. Oh, and here's another example of a film with no current genre thread in which it fits. (5/10)

Source: YouTube.

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Hard to Handle (1933) - Manic comedy from Warner Brothers and director Mervyn LeRoy. James Cagney stars as Lefty Merrill, a fast-talking huckster who can sell ice to the Eskimos. Every time his fortunes fade, he comes up with a new angle and a new spin that builds him up even higher than before. Along for the ride are Ruth (Mary Brian) and her gold-digging mother Lil (Ruth Donnelly). Also featuring Allen Jenkins, Claire Dodd, Robert McWade, Berton Churchill, Mary Doran, Douglas Dumbrille, Gavin Gordon, and Sterling Holloway.

The threadbare script tries to rely almost solely on Cagney's motor-mouth charm, but when he doesn't have anything sharp to say, it doesn't prove enough to hold interest. Most of the supporting cast is wasted, while Donnelly annoyed me to no end. I know she was supposed to be funny in her never-ending scheming and loud brashness, but I kept hoping Cagney would find a handy grapefruit nearby and plant it in her kisser.  (5/10)

Source: TCM.

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Havana Widows (1933) - Fun, if minor, comedy from First National and director Ray Enright. Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell star as a couple of show girls who decide to head for Havana to try and put some unsuspecting rich guys into compromising positions which will result in a big payday for them. They hone in on befuddled older man Guy Kibbee, but Blondell falls for his handsome (but poor) son Lyle Talbot. Also featuring Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, Ruth Donnelly, Hobart Cavanaugh, Ralph Ince, Luis Alberni, J. Carrol Naish, and Paul Porcasi.

Blondell and Farrell are two of my favorite ladies from this period of film, and I loved seeing them together. McHugh does his perpetual drunk shtick but I still found it funny. The gleefully amoral plot is a definitive example of pre-code inhibition.   (7/10)

Source: TCM.

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The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933) - Effective sports/romance/tearjerker from Warner Brothers and director Archie Mayo. Boxer Jimmy Dolan (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) wins the championship bout, and during a night of celebration, a man is accidentally killed. Others at the party make Dolan look like the guilty party, and when they attempt to get away from the police, they are killed themselves, with Dolan believed to be among the dead. Dolan, unsure that he an prove his own innocence, sets out on the vagabond life, eventually ending up at a Utah ranch for crippled children run by Auntie (Aline MacMahon) and Peggy (Loretta Young). Dolan stays on as a ranchhand and mentor to the kids, but when necessity forces him back into the ring, his identity may be revealed. Also featuring Guy Kibbee, Lyle Talbot, Arthur Hohl, Fifi D'Orsay, Harold Huber, Shirley Grey, Mickey Rooney, Anne Shirley, Edward Arnold, Robert Barrat, Clarence Muse, Sammy Stein, and John Wayne.

I was about half an hour into this before I realized that I had seen the 1939 remake They Made Me a Criminal with John Garfield in the lead. I think I liked that one more, but this earlier film isn't bad at all. Fairbanks is good in an unlikely role, and Young is lovely. Kibbee is a stand out as an old, disgraced cop looking for redemption by tracking down Dolan. Wayne has a small but memorable part as a nervous amateur boxer.   (7/10)

Source: TCM.

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Perfect Understanding  (1933) - Bland, dull "modern" romance drama from United Artists and director Cyril Gardner. Posh British society couple Judy (Gloria Swanson) and Nicholas (Laurence Olivier) decide to get married, but with a "perfect understanding" that they won't tie each other down, and allow the other to maintain their freedom. When Nicholas has a fling with an old flame, Judy spends the night with another man, and their open marriage is sorely tested. Also featuring John Halliday, Nigel Playfair, Michael Farmer, Genevieve Tobin, Charles Cullum, and Nora Swinburne.

By 1933, these "sophisticated open marriage" melodramas were already old-hat, and nothing new is added here. Swanson and Olivier have very little chemistry, and Olivier has yet to develop much screen charisma (plus he looks downright sickly in his swimsuit scene). The obtrusive, bombastic score is also a detriment. This was an expensive failure for Swanson, who also produced. Co-star Farmer was Swanson's husband at the time. Director Gardner was hired as editor but took over directing duties when original pick Rowland V. Lee was fired.   (5/10)

Source: YouTube. The copy was from a Cohen Collection restoration and the movie looks fantastic, one of the best prints that I've ever watched on YouTube.

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The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933) - Boxing/romance with some crime touches, from MGM and director W.S. Van Dyke. Real-life boxer Max Baer stars as Steve Morgan, an affable lug who gets schooled by the Professor (Walter Huston) in the "sweet science". Morgan quickly rises through the ranks of fighters, and a championship bout seems a sure thing, but his marriage to former torch singer Belle (Myrna Loy) may cause complications, either from her former beau, gangster Willie Ryan (Otto Kruger), or through his own philandering. Also featuring Vince Barnett, Robert McWade, Muriel Evans, Jean Howard, Matt McHugh, and both Jack Dempsey and Primo Carnera as themselves.

Howard Hawks was originally set to direct with Clark Gable in the lead, but when the producers insisted on Baer as the star, Hawks walked, replaced by Van Dyke. I'm a fan of Gable, but he would have been awful here, and Max Baer is very good, maybe not the most polished actor, but likable and very authentic. Huston and Kruger are also excellent in support, and Loy is dependably enjoyable. I really liked seeing all of the actual boxing legends, and the anecdote that Baer would defeat Carnera for the world championship a year later is priceless. The lengthy musical dance number in the middle of the film doesn't add anything to the plot, but it's a memorable sight. This earned an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Original Story (Frances Marion).  (7/10)

Source: TCM.

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