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A fool for Stamboul Quest (1934)


slaytonf
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This movie must've got in under the code enforcement wire.  Or--maybe it didn't.  Myrna Loy plays a great German spy during the Great War.  She's successful, by her lights, because she doesn't fall in love.  Then on a mission to Istanbul--she falls in love.  Of course, nothing good comes of it.  In fact, something really horrible does.  Through her own machinations, one of the most shocking plot twists in movies, of any time, happens.  Something that would challenge the blackest noir for honesttogoodness gut punches.

And this is why I think it maybe didn't escape the falling curtain of censorship, because bracketing this hard edged nugget of a movie is this dreamy, wishy-pishy, romantic Hollywood happy ending bit of business of the spy in a mental asylum, to make the Bad Thing go away.

But don't despair.  One can easily avoid the brackets and enjoy all the nihilism of this terrific downer of a movie.  One of my favorite of Myrna Loy's.

On tonite, or tomorrow at 12:30 a.m. Pacific. 

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I saw this a long time ago and remembering now how much I liked it. I was able to jog my memory a bit by reading the synopsis on Wiki. I remember taking screen shots. Myrna in the restaurant drinking coffee with that hat and noticing a man (George Brent) looking at her. She freezes slightly looking back at him with the cup to her mouth, the brim of her hat covering one eye as she returns the glance. Very cool. I'm no expert on the era but I remembering thinking, here is a "serious" film, in the sense that so many of the pre=codes were outlandishly exploiting sex and such. This movie was released about a month and half after the code was enacted but I doubt that it would have been any different if it were without the strictures.  I don't have TCM so I will not see this it this time but I hope I can find it somewhere, I want to see it again.

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The way Helene Bohlen aka Fraulein Doktor aka K-6 executes her little stratagem to "have your cake and eat it too", to coin a phrase, is thrilling plot. She strives to be no Mata Hari, fate-wise. She pulls it off though she doesn't get to celebrate right away. I wish this was remade about 10 years later (maybe it was for all I know) with maybe Michael Curtiz directing, and a couple of other actors of the period in the two main roles. It might have been interesting too. I hate to disapprove of dear Myrna in any way because above all others she seems to be everyone's sweetheart (including mine) but I sometimes worried about her. And I like George Brent probably above average (I don't call him wooden or dull) but the comic element was too much, he might have been in a screwball comedy (or maybe that was idea,) But after allowances are made it's still damn good and Myrna looked fabulous. Another film she made about this period was The Barbarian with Ramon Novarro, A gritty tale from 1933 that probably would not have made the cut, Code-wise, if it had been released when Stamboul was.

Slaytonf, thanks for the info and for being so thorough.

ps . I was bestirred to look up Mata Hari. Her Wiki page is like a novel. What a woman and what a life !!!

 

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Myrna has style to spare in this film but I recall thinking that Brent's character, once he was in love, acted like an impulsive bullheaded chucklehead, which got on my nerves.

The film is worth a look, if only for Loy and her outfits. Dramatically, though, it left me a little cold. I just couldn't take it seriously, primarily because I couldn't care less what happened to the Brent character. I will concede, though, it's been a couple of years since I saw the film and my memories of it are a little vague.

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2 hours ago, TomJH said:

Myrna has style to spare in this film but I recall thinking that Brent's character, once he was in love, acted like an impulsive bullheaded chucklehead, which got on my nerves.

The film is worth a look, if only for Loy and her outfits. Dramatically, though, it left me a little cold. I just couldn't take it seriously, primarily because I couldn't care less what happened to the Brent character. I will concede, though, it's been a couple of years since I saw the film and my memories of it are a little vague.

I agree with ya Tom.  Generally, I like George Brent, but I found his character to be quite annoying in this film.  He keeps showing up like a bad penny!  I guess it speaks to his acting ability to be able to play a character that way, but it sort of turned me off, much like Michael Redgrave in "The Lady Vanishes", most anything Walter Brennan was in, and Jack Lemmon (pre-1970).  For "Stamboul Quest", I think the story took a bit of a hit because it had a happy ending.  Without it, I'd give it a solid 3 or 3.5 out of 4-star rating.  With it, it sunk to 2.5...but, to each his own, I guess.

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21 minutes ago, midwestan said:

I agree with ya Tom.  Generally, I like George Brent, but I found his character to be quite annoying in this film.  He keeps showing up like a bad penny!  I guess it speaks to his acting ability to be able to play a character that way, but it sort of turned me off, much like Michael Redgrave in "The Lady Vanishes", most anything Walter Brennan was in, and Jack Lemmon (pre-1970).  For "Stamboul Quest", I think the story took a bit of a hit because it had a happy ending.  Without it, I'd give it a solid 3 or 3.5 out of 4-star rating.  With it, it sunk to 2.5...but, to each his own, I guess.

Generally speaking I enjoy films (particularly from the '30s) that have any kind of "exotic" setting. This film clearly qualifies as such and I was fully prepared to like it. The title alone I liked. 

Brent's character was the anchor that sank this one for me. As the film developed I found him to be more than annoying. Myrna, on the other hand, looks like a million bucks and she, along with the film's atmosphere through sets and costumes, are the film's saving graces.

But it's not enough.

Sorry, slaytonf, this film (which few know about) is obviously a pet favourite of your's, so by all means spread the word about it. It's just that from my perspective I can fully understand why few will be inclined to talk about the film after seeing it. I don't dislike George Brent as an actor but he was damn irritating in this one.

But there are other posters here who say they liked the film, too, so, who knows, for all I know, my opinion is in the minority.

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