1937

Young and Innocent (1937, Alfred Hitchcock)

Young and Innocent is about Nova Pilbeam (Young) and Derrick De Marney (Innocent). She’s a county police constable’s daughter, he’s an escaped murder suspect. They first meet during his interrogation, when he faints at discovering he’s not just accused of murdering a woman, but that woman has also left him some money. Pilbeam nurses De Marney back to consciousness, rather amusingly. Young and Innocent occasionally has some humor; it pops up irregularly.

Pilbeam’s age is never mentioned–she was seventeen at the time of filming (De Marney was thirty-one), but she’s old enough to have her own car and take care of her five little brothers. She comes off as a lot more thoughtful and aware than De Marney, who’s extremely impulsive. But the Young part of the title doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as the Innocent part. Once on the run, De Marney comes across Pilbeam and convinces her to help him for a while. Then a while longer. Then she’s finally all in.

The film runs a mostly speedy eighty minutes; Pilbeam and De Marney need to go various places to figure out how to prove his innocence. Considering how he gets railroaded by Scotland Yard and, presumably, Pilbeam’s dad (Percy Marmont), it seems unlikely De Marney’s scheme would actually result in the police clearing him. They go all over the English countryside around the small, costal town where the murder’s committed, eventually all the way to the big city in their pursuit of evidence.

The first act, after setting up the murder–the audience knows De Marney is in the clear from the start–and then De Marney’s escape, is Pilbeam’s. It’s about her encountering the fugitive, then deciding to help him. The second act is their mission to find the evidence. Much of Young and Innocent, at least for the first half, is a road movie. Pilbeam and De Marney drive around in Pilbeam’s car, accompanied by her faithful dog, running down some rather contrived leads.

Young and Innocent’s script isn’t ever bad, sometimes far from it, but it’s clearly more interested in playing up the charm between its leads than anything else. De Marney’s got a much flashier role, while Pilbeam’s got to take everything in and react without much expression. She’s fantastic. It’s a performance deserving of a better film. Because it’s an enthralling thriller, but there’s not much ambition to it. There’s none to the script, there’s not much from director Hitchcock. He’s got a couple outstanding shots and some rather inventive sequences–the miniature car chase sequence is brillantly edited by Charles Frend–but he’s concentrating on keeping the brisk pace. The film takes place over something more than forty-eight hours and probably less than seventy-two. The prologue setting up the murder is (presumably) the night before the murder. The detectives railroad De Marney so fast, there are no details of the actual crime. Then there’s the first day, which ends with De Marney and Pilbeam passing out–separately–exhausted from their day. The next day is much faster, with coincidence all of a sudden going against De Marney and Pilbeam instead of always for them.

There are some great sequences. The third act has an extended, sort of intricate (at least in terms of pacing and editing) reveal of the real murderer. That sequence is well-executed. There’s also Pilbeam and De Marney getting stuck at her young cousin’s birthday party. Mary Clare plays her suspicious aunt, Basil Radford the understanding uncle. He just thinks they’re a couple kids in love.

And there the growing tenderness between Pilbeam and De Marney, which is kind of creepy given where their age difference falls on a timeline, but it’s well-done. It humanizes De Marney, who’s sympathetic but a tad cocky. Hitchcock directs their romance, growing out of Pilbeam’s concern and confidence in De Marney’s innocence, rather well. Even with the flashier moments in the film, it’s probably the most successful work Hitchcock does in Young and Innocent. Thanks in no small part to Knowles’s photography and Frend’s editing. Not to mention Pilbeam and De Marney; mostly Pilbeam.

Good supporting performances include J.H. Roberts as De Marney’s bumpkin solicitor and Edward Rigby as a homeless man who figures into the case. Marmont’s good, but his part’s super thin. Hitchcock is able to imply a whole lot about Pilbeam’s home life just around a single luncheon. And Clare could be better. It keeps seeming like she’s about to get better and then she never does; Radford’s rather fun though. Even though it’s technically well-executed, that whole cousin’s party interlude is narratively problematic.

Young and Innocent is an excellent, charming thriller. No heavy lifting requested or required.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, Anthony Armstrong, and Gerald Savory, based on a novel by Josephine Tey; director of photography, Bernard Knowles; edited by Charles Frend; produced by Edward Black; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring Nova Pilbeam (Erica Burgoyne), Derrick De Marney (Robert Tisdall), Percy Marmont (Col. Burgoyne), Edward Rigby (Old Will), Mary Clare (Aunt Margaret), Basil Radford (Uncle Basil), John Longden (Det. Insp. Kent), George Curzon (Guy), Pamela Carme (Christine Clay), George Merritt (Det. Sgt. Miller), and J.H. Roberts (Mr. Briggs).

Parabola (1937, Mary Ellen Bute and Ted Nemeth)

Parábola is a series of objects, usually with parabola shapes (a U), shot at different angles, made with different materials, moving and interacting, with lighting and editing making the objects move or interact in one way or another. The objects are sculptures by Rutherford Boyd; they’re sometimes art deco, sometimes just appear art deco because of directors Bute and Nemeth’s lighting effects.

The short is set to an excerpt from Darius Milhaud’s ballet, La Création du monde. There’s no change in intensity throughout, no suggestion of narrative at all. Examined objects will show up, then disappear, but there’s nothing sequential about the film. There are occasional moments where the music matches perfectly, but there’s always so much movement, of course it will.

There are some exceptional shots in the film, usually with how Bute and Nemeth’s lighting effects or stop motion make the objects “move” onscreen. It’s unclear if the objects themselves are moving or if it’s the camera moving. Doesn’t really matter.

It runs just under nine minutes, going through a whole bunch of objects, which create a whole bunch of different visuals. Even though the parabola shape is in nearly all of them, the objects are often very different.

There’s some really beautiful stuff in Parábola. Bute and Nemeth (and Boyd) command attention.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Mary Ellen Bute and Ted Nemeth; sculptures by Rutherford Boyd.


Captains Courageous (1937, Victor Fleming)

As Captains Courageous enters its third act, Spencer Tracy (as a Portugese fisherman) reminds Freddie Bartholomew (a spoiled blue blood kid Tracy rescues after he falls overboard from an ocean liner) it’s almost time to go home to his regular life. It’s a shock for Bartholomew, but also for the viewer. Even though the first act is mostly Bartholomew and his regular life–bribing his teachers, threatening his classmates, whining a lot about how his rich dad (Melvyn Douglas) will exact his vengeance–it’s been forever since the film has been anywhere but a fishing boat. Just when the film is sailing its best, Tracy comes along to ring the bell and announce its going to be wrapping up.

Fleming’s direction is strong throughout, but most of the fishing boat scenes are contrained. The transition from second to third acts is when Captains really gets out on the water. Franz Waxman’s score is phenomenal during those sequences; the film’s enraptured with the fishing life. Bartholomew’s on board with it, this obnoxious ten-year-old who–shockingly–becomes a part of the crew.

While setting up Bartholomew’s backstory, screenwriters John Lee Mahin, Marc Connelly, and Dale Van Every keep the film’s focus moving. Sometimes it’s on Bartholomew, sometimes it’s on Douglas, sometimes it’s on tertiary supporting cast members. Fleming handles it fine, but Bartholomew’s always got to be the biggest jerk possible. He’s intentionally unsympathetic. And the film keeps that approach for quite a while once he’s onboard the fishing boat.

The boat’s got this great cast–Lionel Barrymore’s the captain, John Carradine’s a fisherman who can’t stand Bartholomew, Mickey Rooney’s Barrymore’s son and a proven teen fisherman–and Bartholomew clashes with everyone to some degree. Even if he’s not being a complete jerk, there’s a clash. The script starts getting a lot more nuanced in how it positions the characters; another reason it’s become so separated from the boarding school and Bartholomew’s rich kid life. But the film never tries to force a redemption arc on Bartholomew, it’s all character development, it’s all part of his arc.

It works because the acting is so strong, especially in how the actors work off one another. Barrymore’s kind of gruff, but also kind of cuddly. He doesn’t have time to get worked up about Bartholomew being a little jerk, whereas Carradine rages beautifully on it. Even though Rooney’s closest in age to Bartholomew, their relationship never forgets the difference of experiences–something the film brings in beautifully in the third act. Bartholomew and Tracy are wonderful together. Fleming knows it too; he’ll fill the frame with their faces, with the lovely Harold Rosson photography, and the film becomes very heavy and very quiet in this deep, soulful way.

Tracy’s got a strong part and his performance is incredibly measured. He never goes too far with it, never pushes at it. There’s a give and take with the other actors–principally Bartholomew, but also Carradine; Tracy never seems reserved or guarded or even indulgent to his costars. He just keeps the right temperment throughout, which isn’t easy given a lack of both melodrama and action for much of the second act. The film’s tension comes from Tracy’s muted exasperation. It’s awesome. And his curled hair looks great.

The third act has some high points and some lower ones. Captains doesn’t run out of ideas, it runs out of patience for sturdily linking them together. It’s like Fleming knows he can get away with it, thanks to the actors, thanks to Waxman, thanks to Rosson. The script sets up opportunities and the film ignores them, rushing to the end.

Fleming’s right–he can get away with it–especially since the third act gives Barrymore his best moments in the film. As sort of implied, Barrymore’s been sage all along. Only he hasn’t had the motivation, time, or space to reveal it. Barrymore’s always good, but in the third act, he’s phenomenal. It’s a shame the rest of the third act isn’t as successful.

Nice or great performances throughout, strong script, great pace from director Fleming, Captains Courageous almost sails through. It gets bogged down at the finish. It could’ve been better, but it’s still quite good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Victor Fleming; screenplay by John Lee Mahin, Marc Connelly, and Dale Van Every, based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling; director of photography, Harold Rosson; edited by Elmo Veron; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Louis D. Lighton; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Freddie Bartholomew (Harvey), Spencer Tracy (Manuel), Lionel Barrymore (Disko), Mickey Rooney (Dan), Melvyn Douglas (Mr. Cheyne), Charley Grapewin (Uncle Salters), John Carradine (Long Jack), Sam McDaniel (Doc), and Oscar O’Shea (Cushman).


A Day at the Races (1937, Sam Wood)

Until the halfway point or so, A Day at the Races moves quite well. Sure, it gets off to a slow start–introducing Chico as sidekick to Maureen O’Sullivan and setting up her problems (her sanitarium is going out of business), which isn’t funny stuff. I think Allan Jones even shows up as her nightclub singing beau before the other Marx Brothers make an appearance. But once they do, Races gets in gear.

There are a series of excellent sequences, all utilizing the Marx Brothers. Whether it’s Harpo doing physical comedy, Groucho and Chico doing a banter bit–with Harpo joining them in another one a few minutes later–Races uses them to wonderful effect. Director Wood even gets in a fine instrument playing number for Harpo and Chico.

And the supporting cast–O’Sullivan, Margaret Dumont, Leonard Ceeley, Douglass Dumbrille–is strong. Jones is an exception; his performance is broad, but he’s likable enough.

Until the second half, when the film should be giving him more to do acting-wise and doesn’t, instead giving him a long musical number. That long musical number, which leads to Harpo recruiting the nearby poor black workers into the number, kills Races’s pace. The previous musical interlude, with a lengthy (and gorgeous) ballet sequence, is about all it could handle. Maybe because there was great Marx Brothers comedy immediately following.

After the second musical sequence? Uninspired situation comedy. Races manages a satisfactory recovery in the finish, but it can’t make up the time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Wood; screenplay by Robert Pirosh, George Seaton and George Oppenheimer, based on a story by Pirosh and Seaton; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by Frank E. Hull; music by Franz Waxman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Groucho Marx (Dr. Hackenbush), Chico Marx (Tony), Harpo Marx (Stuffy), Allan Jones (Gil), Maureen O’Sullivan (Judy), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Upjohn), Leonard Ceeley (Whitmore), Douglass Dumbrille (Morgan), Esther Muir (‘Flo’), Robert Middlemass (Sheriff), Vivien Fay (Dancer), Ivie Anderson (Vocalist) and Sig Ruman (Dr. Steinberg).


Uncle Tom’s Bungalow (1937, Tex Avery)

Uncle Tom's Bungalow manages to be both appallingly racist and a little progressive. Director Avery turning the slave trader into the devil, poking a little fun at the angelic white girl, general mocking of Southern cultural all around….

But Bungalow just isn't a good cartoon. Ben Harrison's script–with Tedd Pierce obnoxiously narrating–doesn't even include a bungalow. It's just for the title. The first two or three minutes is setting up the characters and setting up the characters is the cartoon being both racist (with the black characters) and condescending (of the Southerners). The wrap-up even has the cartoon taking inexplicable pot shots at social security, which make it more significant historically than anything else about it.

The gags are trite and predictable. The slave trader turning into a snake and getting electrocuted felt way too familiar.

I kept expecting it to be worse, but it could never be any better.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Tex Avery; written by Ben Harrison; animated by Virgil Ross and Sidney Sutherland; edited by Treg Brown; music by Carl W. Stalling; produced by Leon Schlesinger; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Tex Avery (Uncle Tom), Mel Blanc (Hound), Billy Bletcher (Simon Simon Legree), Bernice Hansen (Little Eva) and Lillian Randolph (Topsy / Eliza); narrated by Tedd Pierce.


Nothing Sacred (1937, William A. Wellman)

Nothing Sacred is an idea in search of a script. It’s a little surprisingly they went forward with Ben Hecht’s script, which plays like he wrote it on a bunch of napkins and left director Wellman to piece together a narrative.

Fredric March–who has shockingly little to do in the film–is a newspaper reporter who may or may not have tried to defraud the wealthy of New York with a fake sultan and a donation project. Hecht’s script reveals so little about March, it doesn’t even make that determination. His editor, Walter Connolly, sends him off to investigate a dying girl, played by Carole Lombard.

Turns out Lombard’s not dying and deceives March for a trip to New York. She brings along Charles Winninger as her drunken doctor.

Hilarity does not ensue in New York City. Neither do big comic set pieces. A lot of Sacred feels like Wellman trying to justify the Technicolor expense and not knowing how to do so–he shoots the film almost entirely in medium long shot, with occasional closeups and then he blocks parts of shots for emphasis. It’s strange.

Lombard is wonderful in her role. The script doesn’t give her anything to do–the film runs less than eighty minutes, it might just be there isn’t enough time. March’s okay, but on the shallow end of it. Connolly is wonderful. Winninger is not.

The entire film feels truncated and too small for its concept. Instead of making it feel grandiose, the Technicolor instead makes it feel cramped.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Ben Hecht, based on a story by James H. Street; director of photography, W. Howard Greene; edited by James E. Newcom; music by Oscar Levant; produced by David O. Selznick; released by United Artists.

Starring Carole Lombard (Hazel Flagg), Fredric March (Wally Cook), Charles Winninger (Dr. Enoch Downer), Walter Connolly (Oliver Stone), Sig Ruman (Dr. Emil Eggelhoffer) and Troy Brown Sr. (Ernest Walker).


What Do You Think? (1937, Jacques Tourneur)

Well, What Do You Think? is one bland short film.

There are some definite strengths to it. Tourneur’s direction of the actors is outstanding, especially at the beginning at a Hollywood party, when he’s cutting between various actors. All of Think is told in narration (from Carey Wilson) and so Tourneur has got to make the actors convey without dialogue or music.

And he succeeds.

He even succeeds when Think hits the main plot, involving William Henry’s Hollywood screenwriter going through a near death experience. Tourneur does a fine job with Henry’s investigation of his strange experience, but there’s nothing to do be done about the silliness of the plot after the investigation concludes.

The ending is far too literal for the short, which never sets itself up to be a grand revelation into the paranormal. Or even a minor one.

It’s too bad, as Tourneur’s work is definitely impressive.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; produced by Jack Chertok; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Henry (John Dough); narrated by Carey Wilson.


Sh! The Octopus (1937, William C. McGann)

Sh! The Octopus is a painfully unfunny spoof of the “old dark house” genre. Instead of a house, though, it takes place in a lighthouse on a rocky island. That setting should be enough, but it appears Warner only budgeted for the lighthouse model. The action principally takes place inside the lighthouse, in its large central room.

We hear about other rooms… but we never get to see them.

The film opens with John Eldredge taking possession of the lighthouse. The action then awkwardly moves to Allen Jenkins and Hugh Herbert as two moron detectives. Octopus is in this weird, “make fun of the Irish” comedy style. I’ve never really seen anything like it before….

Anyway, Herbert and Jenkins end up at the lighthouse and countless characters magically appear there too. No one seems to remember it’s supposed to be three miles out to sea.

Most of the acting is bad. Herbert’s endearing, but not good. Jenkins is endearing and mediocre. He’s clearly better than the material.

Eldredge is good. Margaret Irving is absolutely fantastic.

Sadly, she’s not in the film enough and, as Eldredge’s romantic interest, Marcia Ralston is terrible. George Rosener’s awful too.

There’s one amazing special effect at the end (and some good ones throughout involving octopus arms), but there’s nothing else. The most amusing part is this strange section with animals performing tricks.

The plot gets really confusing, which got me hoping the payoff would at least be satisfactory.

Unfortunately, it is not. Not one bit.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William C. McGann; screenplay by George Bricker, based on a play by Ralph Spence and a play by Ralph Murphy and Donald Gallaher; director of photography, Arthur L. Todd; edited by Clarence Kolster; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Hugh Herbert (Kelly), Allen Jenkins (Dempsey), Marcia Ralston (Vesta Vernoff), John Eldredge (Paul Morgan), George Rosener (Capt. Hook), Brandon Tynan (Capt. Cobb), Eric Stanley (Police Commissioner Patrick Aloysious Clancy), Margaret Irving (Polly Crane) and Elspeth Dudgeon (Nanny).


My Dear Miss Aldrich (1937, George B. Seitz)

All My Dear Miss Aldrich is missing is a good script. Well, it’s missing some other things, but with a good script, it could have survived.

The film has a lot of events in the first thirty or forty minutes, with the remaining minutes centered on a mystery. But it’s not really a mystery because Aldrich is a comedy at a newspaper. Even when there are crimes committed, no one pays attention, because being held hostage isn’t a crime if the victim’s a newspaper employee apparently.

Maureen O’Sullivan inherits a New York newspaper and heads there (from Nebraska) with her aunt, played by Edna May Oliver. O’Sullivan and Oliver are great together; it’s unfortunate they soon get separated.

The paper’s run by Walter Pidgeon’s sexist editor. He’s so sexist, his all male staff thinks he’s overboard. So the film seems like it’s O’Sullivan out to prove him wrong… only she never does. In fact, she proves his argument—she’s just a silly woman and needs to marry him. Maybe if Pidgeon were charming or in any way appealing, it might be passable as a dated, unfortunately sexist picture.

But Pidgeon’s not appealing. His performance isn’t terrible, but he’s a jerk. Everyone thinks he’s a jerk. It’s hard to see why anyone is supposed to be in his corner.

Seitz’s direction’s merely adequate. He doesn’t get enough coverage and editor William S. Gray has to make some nasty cuts.

O’Sullivan and Oliver almost make Aldrich tolerable… but it’s a losing battle.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by George B. Seitz; written by Herman J. Mankiewicz; director of photography, Charles Lawton Jr.; edited by William S. Gray; music by David Snell; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Edna May Oliver (Mrs. Lou Atherton), Maureen O’Sullivan (Martha Aldrich), Walter Pidgeon (Kenneth ‘Ken’ Morley), Rita Johnson (Ellen Warfield), Janet Beecher (Mrs. Sinclair), Paul Harvey (Mr. Sinclair), Charles Waldron (Mr. Warfield, ex-governor), Walter Kingsford (Mr. Talbot), Roger Converse (Ted Martin), Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams (Red Apple Inn attendant guarding room), Leonid Kinskey (Red Apple Inn waiter), Brent Sargent (Gregory Stone), J. Farrell MacDonald (‘Doc’ Howe) and Robert Greig (Red Apple Inn majordomo).


Non-Stop New York (1937, Robert Stevenson)

I’d almost say Non-Stop New York has to be seen to be believed, but it might imply someone else should suffer through the film’s endless seventy-some minute running time. It’s a completely idiotic British attempt at an American proto-noir.

The film opens in New York, so you have a bunch of British actors not really even bothering hiding their accents. The opening introduces James Pirrie, Anna Lee and Francis L. Sullivan. All three are atrocious, but only Sullivan is at all interesting in his bad performance. He plays the portly villain a little like a flaming Adam West “Batman” villain. However, being interesting doesn’t make his performance any less awful.

Luckily, Pirrie dies quickly, then Lee’s off to England to be falsely accused in a related manner and she has to get back to the States to save an innocent man.

The idiocy of the script manifests most prominently in Pirrie’s murder case. Lee is a witness to the crime and the entire world (literally) is looking for her. Except, of course, John Loder’s Scotland Yard inspector, who dismisses her.

Loder’s bad too.

Particularly annoying is Desmond Tester (who appears in the second half, which is Grand Hotel with intrigue, set on a double decker airplane crossing the Atlantic).

The only passable performances are Athene Seyler and, to a lesser extent, Frank Cellier.

In defense of Stevenson’s weak direction, he seems to think he’s directing an absurdist comedy.

Unfortunately, the joke’s on the audience (I couldn’t resist).

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Stevenson; screenplay by J.O.C. Orton, Roland Pertwee, Curt Siodmak and E.V.H. Emmett, based on a novel by Ken Attiwill; director of photography, Mutz Greenbaum; edited by Al Barnes; music by Hubert Bath, Bretton Byrd and Louis Levy; released by Gaumont British Distributors.

Starring John Loder (Inspector Jim Grant), Anna Lee (Jennie Carr), Francis L. Sullivan (Hugo Brant), Frank Cellier (Sam Pryor), Desmond Tester (Arnold James), Athene Seyler (Aunt Veronica), William Dewhurst (Mortimer), Drusilla Wills (Mrs. Carr), Jerry Verno (Steward), James Pirrie (Billy Cooper), Ellen Pollock (Miss Harvey), Arthur Goullet (Abel), Peter Bull (Spurgeon), Tony Quinn (Harrigan) and H.G. Stoker (Captain).


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