August 4, 2015


Bebe Daniels was a born performer. She debuted on film at the age of nine as Dorothy Gale in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910, a Selig Polyscope short), and went on to a long and varied career, from co-starring in Harold Lloyd comedy shorts to headlining Cecil B. Demille bodice rippers, before settling in England as a popular radio personality. In 1928 she was in the middle of an interesting run at Paramount/Famous Players Lasky, making subversive comedies in which she was taking on traditionally male roles (as Fritzi Kramer has noted at Movies Silently). She was the lead in Miss Brewster’s Millions (1926), re-booting the George Barr McCutcheon novel with a female lead,  a Zorro-figure in Senorita (1927), and takes on a Valentino-esque persona in She’s a Sheik (1927). In 1928 the cast of She’s a Sheik (Daniels, Richard Arlen, and William Powell) was brought back together for Feel My Pulse (1928), a madcap hypochondriac comedy directed by the up and coming Gregory La Cava. La Cava was a cartoonist who was hired by William Randolph Hearst’s International Film Service to oversee their animations. After that business went kaput, he entered live action two-reelers and features, finally making his way to Bebe Daniels and Feel My Pulse.  Anthology Film Archives recently screened a beautiful print preserved by the Library of Congress, which is 63 minutes of gags, a showcase for Daniels’ effervescent personality and La Cava’s comic strip punchlines.


The story is prime nonsense. Barbara Manning (Daniels) is the heir to a family fortune, but her late, wildly eccentric father stipulated in his will that she be kept in a germ-free environment until she was 21. Her mild-mannered Uncle Edgar (George Irving) is to watch over her until that day. As the movie begins, Barbara could be knocked over by a feather, constantly ministered to by a flock of nurses. At the slightest cough she needs to lubricate her larynx with various tonics. But the destined birthday is around the corner, at which point her Texan Uncle Wilberforce (Melbourne MacDowell) is to take over the guardianship. Wilberforce is a cigar chomping Yosemite Sam type who tries to shock Barbara out of her passivity by shooting off his revolver into the ceiling. In order to escape this uncouth germ carrier, Barbara decides to decamp to an island sanitarium that is to be part of her inheritance. But the nuthouse has been taken over by a gang of rum runners led by Todd (William Powell) and his new protege Wallace Roberts (Richard Arlen). They spend their days battling hijackers and shuffling casks of booze in and out of the former rest home. Wanting to keep their operation a secret from Barbara, they pretend to be running the sanitarium, with Todd the head doctor and the other gang members acting as patients. The absurdities build up as they desperately keep their illegal secret, and as Barbara hides out from her Uncle.

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The basic setup for Daniels’ performance is that Barbara believes herself to be a delicate flower, when in reality she has a physical prowess that reveals itself in moments of high stress. When Wilberforce shoots off his revolvers, she leaps to the ground with alacrity, and when her medicines fall out of a speeding car, she hurls herself down to the road and chases after them with the spring of an Olympic vaulter. She doesn’t know the power of her own body, or how to relate to the world outside. Most of the gags are built off of her alienation from the world. She doesn’t know how cars work, and drinks rum as if it were a new healing tonic. One of the funniest bits involves her sitting with an old drunk, trading belts of hooch, while they mangle the lyrics to “Sweet Adeline” (i.e. “You are the hower of my flart”).


While at first Todd seems like a lovable kind of criminal, he reveals himself to be a ruthless and abusive operator. William Powell, in a fetching curly moptop and bushy ‘stache, uses his natural charisma to hide the grim calculus going on inside his head. On one late night, under the ruse of a regular checkup of Barbara’s health, he proves himself to be a predator, Powell raising his lips to reveal his incisors in a vulture-like grin. Barbara has not yet recognized her own physical strength, so she lets Wallace bail her out of that threatening situation. Wallace is the sympathetic rum runner, with a gentle All-American corn-fed handsomeness (he has a Tom Brady thing going on).

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The film builds to a fever pitch when hijackers attack the sanitarium just as Barbara realizes the truth about her hosts. An enormous brawl of non-stop pratfalls erupts, as if the Keystone Kops were drafted into Upstate New York bootlegging wars. It is here, finally, where the body and mind of Barbara align, and she begins to realize her own power. In the aftermath of the fight, Barbara is being chased by the remnants of Todd’s gang, whereupon she flips out. Her body turns into a weapon, a flailing, whirling dervish of pain that knocks out the entire rum gang. She knocks them out with their own barrels of booze, as well as a handy bottle of chloroform she finds on a shelf. In the most brilliant gag in the film, she smashes the chloroform on Todd’s head, and La Cava uses extreme slow-motion to represent the gang’s slow descent into oblivion. It is so slow that is acts as an analytic breakdown of a pratfall, as each man collapses in a ballet of unconsciousness. One man does a header towards the camera, while Powell does a controlled, slow slide down, suave even while blacked out.


Barbara’s Uncles then come rumbling up the stairs with some cops, only to encounter Barbara’s still roiling defense mechanisms. After she has expended her energies smashing a few officers, the film gets down to business of wrapping up the Barbara-Wallace romance and send the audience home happy (which I most certainly was). What would make me happier was greater access to Bebe Daniels’ silents. Also in 1928 she acted in The Fifty-Fifty Girl, which the New York Times wrote involved a man and woman jointly owning a mine, and as “Kathleen has ideas about the equality of woman with man, so our two friends make an agreement that she is to do the leading, he is to follow with all ‘the courtesies’ ordinarily given to the fairer sex.” Though this feature is said to end with the man regaining control, Bebe Daniels is clearly cultivating an image of New Womanhood in this period, testing boundaries before bowing to the conventions of the period. Along with Colleen Moore and Louise Brooks, Daniels was redefining the image of women onscreen in the 1920s.


December 23, 2014


Let the proliferation of year-end lists wash over you with a resigned calm. And let me add another one to the ocean of opinion. Today I’m presenting my top ten new-to-me movies of 2014. That is, older films that I have seen for the first time. They are the backbone of any movie-going year, whether it’s catching up to acknowledged classics (for me, The Best Years of Our Lives) or going trawling for obscure auteurist gems (Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby, Edward L. Cahn’s Redhead).  It’s a way to draw attention to a wider range of filmgoing possibilities, so you don’t have to read about Boyhood for the bazillionth time (though, if you do, my appreciation is over here). All credit goes to prodigious blogger Brian Saur from Rupert Pupkin Speaks, who collects “Favorite Film Discoveries” from writers, programmers and filmmakers every year, and asked me to contribute once upon a time. I found the exercise invigorating, more so than the usual end-of-year recycling, so you have him to thank or blame.

The films are presented in alphabetical order


The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, directed by William Wyler)

I had been indoctrinated in aversion to Wyler, from half-remembered slams by Andrew Sarris. This is not Sarris’ fault but my own, as he was a persistent re-evaulator, trying to undermine his own biases. But now that I’m here, my goodness what a movie. Wyler was a serviceman for three years, and knew who these men were and how they lived. The deep focus cinematography by Gregg Toland is justly famous, but it’s the gestures inside of it that make it work so beautifully. The orchestration of glances as the family silently reacts to Homer’s amputation isolates him even as he’s surrounded by well-wishers.

On Blu-ray from Warner Brothers


Broken Lullaby (1932, directed by Ernst Lubtisch)

Lubitsch’s only non-comic sound film is a post-traumatic post-WWI drama about a shellshocked vet who seeks penance for bayoneting a German soldier in the trenches. He travels to atone to his victim’s parents, but when he arrives, he can’t bring himself to admit his guilt. Instead he falls in love with their daughter. Like in many of Lubitsch’s comedies, it’s about a man who fakes his life so beautifully he almost makes it come true. It opens with a blast of dialectical montage, cutting rhythmically between a Paris belfry’s bells and a battlefield cannon, the drums of the soldier’s homecoming parade sliced in with a wounded vet’s screams. It is as potent a three minutes as anything Eisenstein concocted. But then, a stylstic shift into daring long takes and a subdued, declamatory kind of acting. There is an unbroken two-minute take of two mothers grieving over their sons that is devastating in its quietude.

Unavailable on home video or VOD


Carnival of Souls (1962, directed by Herk Harvey)

This miraculous motion picture is a dip into the Midwestern uncanny, ghosts haunting the long flat highways and abandoned amusements. It’s one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, undoubtedly aided by viewing it on July 4th weekend, where bottle rockets were popping off behind my head every five minutes. I was too gripped to turn around and look at the firecracking kids outside, for fear I would see that face reflected in the window.

On DVD from Criterion (I watched it on Hulu Plus)


The Clockmaker of St. Paul (1974, directed by Bertrand Tavernier)

Tavernier’s debut feature is a subdued adaptation of a Simenon novel about a habit-minded watchmaker whose estranged son is wanted for murder. Shot in Tavernier’s hometown of Lyon, it traces the father’s ritualized walks through his city as he grapples with this rupture in his life. The outdoor photography is hushed and autumnal,the death of summer framing the father’s unspoken struggle over his son’s situation, which rouses the communist factory workers at which his son worked, as well as the accusatory owners. The father’s motivations and inner being are kept opaque, his inner workings as unfathomable as his clocks are understandable. So when his decision arrives, it is with the gathering force of a thunderbolt.

On Region 2 DVD from Optimum



Forgotten Faces (1928, directed by Victor Schertzinger)

The undisputed highlight of this year’s Capitolfest in Rome, NY, this is a visually extravagant crime melodrama. The story is a convoluted stew  involving gentlemen thieves, orphaned daughters, scheming mothers, and a devoted sidekick named Froggy (William Powell). Not memorable material, but the clarity and elegance of its late silent film style are often overwhelming. There are elegant tracking shots, provocative use of off-screen space, and complicated spiraling sets that are split in half and filmed in a Wes Anderson-esque dollhouse style. It’s enough to make one shake a fist at the sky and rue the coming of sound.

Unavailable on home video or VOD

Annex - Cooper, Gary (Good Sam)_NRFPT_08

Good Sam (1948, directed by Leo McCarey)

I am morally obligated to write about every Leo McCarey movie someday, so this year it was Good Sam, a complicated moral fable about the unintended consequences of doing good. Gary Cooper is Sam, an inveterate do-gooder whose charity consistently leads to troubles, whether its debt, permanent visitors or missing cars. The film’s central theme is the impossibility of saintliness in a consumer society – one in which Sam becomes an object of ridicule (by his boss, his wife and the world at large), rather than lauded for his selflessness. Cooper is appropriately skittish and perpetually aghast, but the real star is Ann Sheridan as his put upon wife. Her acerbic realism cuts the sweetness of Sam’s saintliness, and she provides the greatest laughs in the film – especially when she busts out cackling at Sam as he uncharacteristically runs down a neighbor (who happens to be sitting right behind him).

On Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films


The Long Day Closes (1992, directed by Terence Davies)

Note perfect reminiscence about growing up lonely and growing up in the movies, usually the same thing.

On DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection



Mongo’s Back in Town (1971, directed by Marvin J. Chomsky)

A relentlessly downbeat telefilm noir starring Joe Don Baker as the titular Mongo. Mongo is a beast intent on destroying his hometown. His milquetoast brother summons him back to San Pedro, CA in order to knock off a local competitor, but instead Mongo brings the whole criminal edifice down around everyone’s heads. Baker is gruff and relentless, an analogue to Lee Marvin’s Walker in Point Blank (1967). Nothing will sway Mongo from his own disgust. The rest of the cast includes Telly Savalas, Martin Sheen and Sally Field, all dumb witnesses to Mongo’s clumsy, bloody vengeance.

On MOD-DVD from CBS Films


Redhead (1941, directed by Edward L. Cahn)

I am contractually obligated to write about 10-12 Edward L. Cahn movies this year, and this one was my favorite (When the Clock Strikes finishing a close second). It’s a downbeat suicide comedy about a pair of mismatched lovers(one rich, one poor) who meet each other both on the precipice of leaping off a cliff. They save each other instead, opening a roadside diner and learning how to live on modest means. It’s death-driven, class-conscious comedy only possible in the dark, delightful world of Cahn.

Available to stream on Amazon Instant Video



A Touch of Zen/The Valiant Ones (1969/1975, both directed by King Hu)

One of the major events in NYC was the BAM Cinematek’s King Hu retrospective. I was only able to make it to these two, but they are jaw dropping spectacles. I preferred the relentless logic of The Valiant Ones, in which the intricately choreographed battles are mapped out on chess boards, and each faction is eliminated with unforgiving procession. The earlier Touch of Zen is more inside the head than the hands, a Buddhist fable of enlightenment in which blood turns into told and only through self-abnegation can come glory.

Both are out of print on DVD


Utamaro and his Five Women (1946, directed by Kenji Mizoguchi)

Wherein the life of an artist (here woodblock print portratist Utamaro) is presented as one of continuous battle, in which everyone suffers, his models most of all.

Available on Region 2 DVD from Artificial Eye


November 15, 2011

dieterle watch

The previously hazy career of William Dieterle is slowly being brought into focus, as the Warner Archive and repertory screenings grant incrementally wider access to this neglected German-American filmmaker. The Archive has just released Fashions of 1934 (’34) and Juarez (1939), while the 92Y Tribeca recently screened a gorgeous new print of Love Letters (1945, scheduled to air on Jan. 21st at 10PM on TCM). The Warner Archive discs display opposite poles of his career, the dynamic fantasist and the staid historical dramatist, while the hallucinatory Love Letters lies somewhere in between.

Fashions of 1934 reunites Dieterle with William Powell, whom he had worked with two years earlier on Jewel Robbery (which I wrote about earlier this year). Powell again plays a suave member of the criminal class, but instead of a dapper thief he’s con-man Sherwood Nash, dealing knock-off couture gowns to department stores around town. Along to help him are Bette Davis as the eager fashion designer Lynn and Frank McHugh as his trusty dissembler Snap. In order to keep ahead of the trends, they fly to Paris to spy on the elite fashion housesAs the cops and the real designers close in on them, it’s up to Sherwood to lie his way out once again. Like Jewel Robbery, Fashions is a fairy tale of criminality, only focused through a male POV this time. Both define thievery and pirating as a kind of harder working entrepreneurship that leads straight to our preferred dream life.

It seems like the entire budget was funneled into the Busby Berkeley-directed musical number towards the end of the feature, but Dieterle makes the most of the drab office sets at his disposal. He focuses on Powell’s posture, his leans over the desks and chairs indicating the relative state of his pocketbook and love life. The dialogue is rolled out in an unvaryingly speedy pace, with the only indication of an emotional shift present in Powell’s relationship to furniture. Even when urging Lynn to marry another man, his voice betrays nothing – it is his body that gives him away. In seduction mode, he tilts forwardas if heading into an oncoming wind, offering his body to his suitably awed targets. It works with the store owners who agree to stock his knock-offs, as well as the vamp who bamboozles a French designer. With Lynn though, he always stands ramrod straight, often in group shots with Snap. It is only when he kneels down at the end in supplication that he can win her hand.

Davis was not happy with the film, saying that she “was glamorized beyond recognition”, and she does seem uncomfortable, never quite locking in to the screwball tempo set by Powell. Despite her reservations, the film was fairly well received, with positive notices from influential gossip columnist Louella Parsons (“very excellent”) and the New York Times: “The story is lively, the gowns are interesting and the Busby Berkeley spectacles with Hollywood dancing girls are impressive. ” The Berkeley musical, wrenched in as part of Sherwood’s plot to increase demand for ostrich feathers, is suitably insane, turning the female models into mutating patterns of harps, flowers and oarsmen. The harp-women are fun and disturbing, but it is Sherwood’s demonic energy in conjuring his dreams into reality that lingers.

Juarez (1939), a dramatization of the Mexican Revolution, lacks the speed and physical expressiveness of Fashions, collapsing under the weight of its ambition. This was a major project for Warner Brothers, and Dieterle assuredly didn’t have the freedom as on his previous quickies. The AFI Catalog lists the massive amounts of resources poured into the feature:

The picture represented Warner Bros. most ambitious project to date. According to the production files, every detail was exhaustively researched for historical accuracy. The files contained long lists of reference books in both English and Spanish. Press releases refer to the film’s extensive research. According to modern sources, the writers had a bibliography of 372 volumes, documents and period photographs. Art director Anton Grot drew 3,643 sketches from which engineers prepared 7,360 blueprints for the exteriors and interiors of the settings. A complete Mexican village was built on the Warner Ranch in Calabasas, CA.

Dieterle did not excel in the realist mode, with his light touch being weighed down with the anvil of historical “truth”, at least that according to studio researchers. It’s no surprise that the result is leaden and monotonously expository, which is not aided by Paul Muni’s grotesque makeup job as Benito Juarez, looking like he got a jumbo Botox injection. Every character states their motivation and provides historical context within the same sentence. The saving graces occur in the prissy arrogance of Claude Rains as Napoleon III, and the sensitive handling of Carlotta’s (Bette Davis) descent into madness, which rekindles for a moment Dieterle’s skill at eliciting hyper-real, dreamlike performances.

This skill is on full display in Love Letters (1945), a delirious romantic melodrama that Dieterle made when he was a freelancer, taking on short-term deals with studios. Producer Hal Wallis tapped him to direct the treatment, starting a professional relationship that would last until 1953. According to Bernard F. Dick’s biography of Wallis,  the producer purchased the rights to Chris Massie’s novel, Pity My Simplicity, in 1944, for $35,000, and was adapted for the screen by Ayn Rand (whose novel Fountainhead was released in ’43). It tells the story of Quinton (Joseph Cotten), an army man who ghost writes love letters for his friend while at the front. Although they have never met, Quinton falls in love with the woman he is writing them to, Victoria Morland (Jennifer Jones). After a tragic murder, Victoria is struck with amnesia, whereupon Quinton finally meets her, and falls desperately in love. But what will happen when she remembers her past?

Both Cotten and Jones were loaned out from David O. Selznick, with plenty of strings attached. Jones was negotiated to receive $100,000 for nine weeks of work, and Selznick had final approval over her hairstyle, makeup and wardrobe. He also stipulated that Lee Garmes be hired as director of photography, who had just shot Jones in Since You Went Away (1944). Within these restrictions Dieterle crafts an unsettling love story that equates the spiritual and the ghostly. It begins in the content of his letters, in which he writes he envisions “life as a dream of beauty”, and his friend tells him that Victoria is a “pin-up girl of the spirit”. For Quinton, Victoria is a disembodied vision of love, a Platonic ideal to strive toward.

Then this ideal comes jarringly to earth. After Quinton is wounded in war, framed against the gauzy curtains of the army hospital, he returns home. At a party, the blonde hostess (Ann Richards) tells him “I see things that may happen to you”, with both their faces in a close-up. The world is contracting and shuddering around him. He inherits his Aunt’s cottage, and when he arrives the table is mysteriously set. A ghost servant! No, it is only Mac, a gruff Scottish butler whom Quinton had forgotten, and who he calls “gargoyle”. The border between life and death, and past and present (as Quinton rummages through his childhood toys) seems awfully thin indeed. It is within this atmosphere that he meets Victoria, whose identity has been subsumed inside an amnesiac who calls herself “Singleton”. Singleton has no past or future, an unearthly presence to match the fantasy “spirit” of the letters. Quinton’s great fear is that Victoria will regain her body, and he will again have to re-enter the fraught thicket of memory and psychology that embodiment will bring. He envies her “contagious serenity”, and fervently believes that she has “lost a world, but gained a soul”. This use of Quinton’s fantasy to motor the plot is a similar device to Jewel Robbery, in which Kay Francis’ erotic desire seems to will William Powell’s thief into existence.

The pace is subdued compared to his 30s films, but the deliberation is appropriate to document the slow re-emergence of Victoria and the subtle fissures between worlds. Dieterle instead utilizes elaborate set design and tight compositions to convey the sense of the uncanny. The film is shot entirely on backlots, an artificial world for incomplete people, shot in dramatic chiaroscuro by Garmes. There are endless shots of lamps lit and extinguished, intermittently illuminating a red splotch on a white dress that will end Quinton’s dream and re-start Victoria’s reality.


July 12, 2011

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Kay Francis dreamily asks for your complicit silence. She is about to commit an illicit act, and it would be gentlemanly not to speak of it.   So I shan’t, although I will spill fawning words about the film that encloses her, William Dieterle’s Jewel Robbery (1932). It is screening as part of Film Forum’s Essential Pre-Code series (and airs on TCM on occasion), a near annual festivity of tough-talking immorality that begins this Friday, July 15th. Released the same year as Ernst Lubitsch’s similarly themed Trouble in Paradise (and double-billed with it on August 7/8),  Dieterle’s debonair crime fantasy was necessarily overshadowed, but should be reckoned with as a major work in its own right.

A play by the Hungarian Ladislaus Fodor (“Ekzerrabalas a Vaci-uccaban”, 1931), was purchased by Warner Brothers on February 8th, 1932, with production beginning less than a month later, on March 2nd (credit to Roger Bryant’s biography, William Powell). To lens this sophisticated charmer set in Vienna, the studio tapped their European emigre, the German-born William Dieterle. Dieterle, a prolific actor and director in the Weimar cinema, came to Hollywood to shoot German language versions of WB productions. His first original film for the studio, the Lost Generation drama The Last Flight (1931, which I wrote about here), was a success, and he went on an incredibly creative run throughout the 1930s (I would also recommend 6 Hours To Live (1932) and The Devil in Love (1933)).

For the leads, he was gifted William Powell and Kay Francis. $100,000 of the $291,039 budget went to Powell, more than a third of the entire cost. Francis received a comparatively paltry $27,000 (reported by Bryant). Powell plays the unnamed “Robber”, a fastidiously well mannered thief. Francis would get a supporting role in Trouble in Paradise later in the year, but here she is the slinky, shallow and slightly bored housewife Baroness Terri. Stuck with the wealthy but gout-ridden Baron Franz (Henry Kolker), she dreams of escape. Her fantasies incarnate when Powell swoops in to the jewelry store to relieve her of the “Excelsior Diamond” which she was about to squeeze out of the Baron. Entranced by his swaggering, well-coiffed masculinity, the robbery turns into a battling flirtation. Powell, equally intrigued, starts a game of break-ins into the Baroness’ quarters, forcing her to make a choice between comfort and passion.

Dieterle instills a martial rhythm, matching the military precision in which Powell’s Robber executes his heists. He cuts when a screen is filled or an action performed – no lingering on atmosphere. During production, reports Bryant, Warner executive Darryl Zanuck showed concerned about this speedy style. On March 26th he wrote producer Lucien Hubbard to, “keep your eye very close on the rushes of Dieterle…as he has a habit of shooting his most important scenes with the camera moving or sweeping around or going back and forth and you miss the most important point of all.” Ever the diplomat, he sang a different tune to Dieterle, on April 5th: “The rushes continue to be very excellent, and I like the manner in which you are continuing to put movement and action in all the scenes … Keep this up. This is very fine.”

In a rapid opening montage, Dieterle shows a series of safe doors shutting and locking. With equal precision, a group of jewelry shop employees scuttle to line up diagonally across the frame. Dieterle repeats this line-up image in the next two sequences.  As soon as the last man enters the frame, he cuts to the pretentious owner bragging about the new security system. Of course, a few seconds later, he is robbed.

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The next lineup occurs in the Baroness’ home, as a who army of maids tromps down a grand staircase to minister to her needs. In the first scene, the line of men was protecting a diamond, in the second, the line is pampering Kay Francis. This jewel/Baroness metaphor continues when one of her helpers carries her into a massage chair to be buffed into beauty – a delicate object cleaned up to be presented to the world.

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Powell’s men form the third line-up, a dapper parade of black-suited shysters. And they are here not to protect, but to steal. As the Baron, Baroness and friends try to escape the store, a group of top-hatted criminals enter from the back, doff their caps in unison, and aim guns at chests. It is this shift in the line-up pattern that that then shifts the narrative. No longer coddled, Baroness Teri is shocked out of her comfort zone, and into one of romantic fantasy.

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Powell’s perfection has an air of unreality about it, a charming, un-threatening adventurer conjured out of Teri’s imagination. After he frisks a revolver out of a lovely pearl-inlaid box, he tells the stunned patrons, “Would you kindly put up your hands”. And then, to calm their troubled nerves, he gives them all some pot to smoke (a joint is later passed to the police department, who fully investigate its possibilities). The idea that this is just a beautiful dream of Teri’s continues when she is whisked away, or willingly kidnapped, to his ornate apartment getaway, which is filled with his ill-gotten gains. As they sit down for dinner, she asks him for his name, and he gently refuses. To admit to a name would pin down his identity, and snuff out the mystery which fuels her desire. He is anything she wants him to be. I don’t think I’ve seen a film that portrays female fantasy with such sensitivity.


The other must-sees, or at least, the titles I’ve been most obsessed with recently, are three early stunners from Raoul Walsh:  Me and My Gal (1932), The Bowery (1933) and Sailor’s Luck (1933). 1932 was a good year. I wrote my first post here at Movie Morlocks on Me and My Gal, and lets see if it embarrasses:

Walsh shot the film in a scant nineteen days, and he doesn’t even mention it in his rakish autobiography, Each Man In His Time.

Perhaps it’s the speed of the schedule that led to its inventive, magpie spirit. Plenty of material needed to be created on the spot (there was obviously little pre-production time), and the film is flooded with ideas (some borrowed, some new) – ideas for pratfalls, camera movements, parodies. The movie contains direct addresses to the camera (by a tight J. Farrell MacDonald), self-reflexive voice-overs, and endless bits of comic business, from Will Stanton’s drunk act to the stinging bon mots flung from Bennett to Tracy.

A little sloppy, but not bad. The movie, as always, astounds. The Bowery is a more personal project for Walsh, revisiting the street that he used to rubberneck at as a curious upper-middle class kid in New York. In his autobiography he writes about how he cast real winos and bums to fill the backgrounds of his shots, in which he experiments with deep focus, a technique he would investigate the rest of his career. Then there’s Sailor’s Luck, which sets a giddy land-speed record for sexual innuendo and bumptious ethnic humor.