3 movies I just watched…
One really fun precode plus two interesting romantic triangles centered on Loretta Young in this week’s episode.
GUILTY HANDS – Ok this one I read about at Karen’s Shadows&Satin, and was positive I had and recently watched, but her post on the plot wasn’t ringing any bells, so later the very same day I dug it out of my boxes and watched it. Turns out I never saw it. This is one of those films you definitely are allowed to unfriend someone in real life, possibly even harm, if they spoil the ending for you. Yes it’s kind of a gimmick, but a very cool and entirely forgivable one because it’s so cosmic, foreshadowed even, and worth it, if only for the great reaction-acting, by I won’t say which two actors because that would be spoiling. William Bakewell was as handsome a young matinee idol as they made them back then, like a Leyendecker illustration for an Arrow shirt ad come to life, a profile all jaw and starch and clean lines, and why in the world Madge Evans would pass him up for the cad she picks (more on him in a minute) is a bigger mystery than the murder. And nobody, but nobody seethed like Kay Francis, I mean, her seething has some kind of range; she seethes over a harp, under a lampshade, bitterly, jealously, forlornly seething and staring daggers. I loved the start of this movie, first I was kind of bummed at how all there is are voices, how dark everything is, thinking it must be the poor film quality, but then the train pulls out of that tunnel. Lionel Barrymore keeps on talking about no, it wouldn’t be hard for him at all, as a seasoned seen-it-all prosecutor, to distill everything he’s learned and stage the perfect murder (Strangers on a Train?) and you can’t help but get all excited for the rest of the story. He soon gets his chance, because his client and predatory slimebag Alan Mowbray—who rips apart photos of his past conquests just to make it clear how disposable he considers them, announces he’s marrying Barrymore’s daughter Madge Evans. All together now: blechh! Barrymore is all, “I’m going to murder you, and get away with it,” and Mowbray is like, “I’d like to see you try it,” and Barrymore says “just you watch me,” and Mowbray comes back with “even if you did, I’d get you back!” and so on like that. At just over an hour, this movie’s short and sweet, like all the best precodes, and just moves along like Maxwell the Geico piglet on the zip-line. Plus, it has C. Aubrey Smith (Whistling Cecilia Sisson would approve) and I’m not breaking my no-spoiling commandment by telling you Barrymore really does kill Mowbray. The suspense comes from how Barrymore, so sure of himself and pretty darn clever to boot, sets up his alibi, gets back in time, is found out, and how he deals with it; if you’re like me, you will think of this or that little thing that might give him away, but you’ll be so, so pathetically wrong, and I laugh in your general direction. There’s also one sad-funny revelation that makes Barrymore realize he might have done it all for naught. Funny thing is, after I thanked her for the recommendation on Guilty Hands, Karen says she got this movie from me! Apparently I never watched it and put it away after passing it on to her, but I’m glad I did because then who would’ve urged me to watch it? My brain hurts a little now. Great stuff (and I made you say, Wheeeeeeeee, didn’t I? 😉
THREE BLIND MICE – Loretta Young’s on the farm with two sisters, is sick of the incessant chicken cackle and gambles a recent inheritance on a trip to Cali, where the plan is to pose as a wealthy socialite and land a rich husband, with her two sisters in tow (Marjorie Weaver and Pauline Moore), posing as her assistants. You can guess she’ll fall for the man with no dough, and you’re right. His name is Joel McCrea, who’s also fortune hunting for a rich lady to pay his debts. Despite being crazy in love with each other, they try to deny their attraction and keep their sights set on moneyed targets. She settles on super-rich David Niven, charming and suave as always, especially loveable here, not hard at all to settle for, and you’d think the story ends there but things really get interesting when Niven takes her to his ranch, where there’s MOR CHIKIN! Being treated to the sight of Niven on a ranch, replete with horse and cowboy getup is reward enough-now is the time when we juxtapose! He has a zany club-hopping sister, Binnie Barnes, who stays out all night and brings home men, and eventually one of them is Joel McCrea! Oh and can’t forget Stuart Erwin in a pivotal role, working at the hotel, who falls for one of the sisters but vows to ruin their plans when he discovers Young is a fortune-hunter, something he hates. There’s a fun twist involving him at the end, too, and another romantic shift, and of course befitting rom-com everything works out as it should. Very cute, and a must if you like all these actors. Thanks Laura!
WIFE, DOCTOR AND NURSE – Loretta Young again in a movie released the year before Mice. This time she’s a socialite who falls off a horse and gets her shoulder fixed up by popular-with-the-ladies doctor Warner Baxter, though this time she’s not really actively hunting, and he does all the pursuing. Trouble is, after the whirlwind romance he impulsively marries Young, not realizing that his faithful nurse Virginia Bruce is madly in love with him. Things get complicated and come to a head when Young figures out nurse “Steve” is actually a woman and confronts Bruce about her feelings, which makes Bruce confront her own feelings, like we didn’t already realize them from the first. Seems nobody can deal with the triangle, so first Bruce kisses Baxter and runs away to play checkers in the country,which makes Baxter miserable, then Young leaves, which makes Baxter miserable. Seems he can’t live without either. The women’s solution, preceded by some envy that they can’t just duel it out like gentlemen, and followed by an identical realization by Baxter, arrived at with shrugs all around, is so easy and convenient, that you (or I, anyhow) say, what just happened though? Is this totally unbelievable or some risque joke? Indeed, some reviewers at the time marveled that such an arrangement even got past the powers-that-be overseeing the Code. It’s not like they weren’t looking, because Joseph Breen did have major objections to the delayed wedding night scene between Young and Baxter, and over Darryl Zanuck’s vociferous complaints got some bits of that section cut out. A fun movie with good work from all three actors plus Jane Darwell as Baxter’s housekeeper, and Elisha Cook, Jr. as an intern (he was also in Three Blind Mice). Right before making this movie, Virginia Bruce was being considered to replace the suddenly departed Jean Harlow in Saratoga, opposite Clark Gable, but MGM got so much mail from Harlow’s fans, they decided on cutting in doubles with what footage they already had. Thanks Laura! (some info came from this great Virginia Bruce book)