1935

The Mystery Man (1935, Ray McCarey)

I hope Robert Armstrong got paid well for The Mystery Man, because it doesn’t do him any other good. While it’s nice to see Armstrong in a lead role, the film’s so incompetently produced, it’s sometimes painful. Armstrong acts well but director McCarey doesn’t know how to compose shots. You’ll get what should be a close-up as a medium shot. Of course, the script’s bad too so Armstrong’s working against it too.

The plot isn’t terrible—Armstrong’s a newspaper reporter with more ego than sense who finds himself broke after a week-long bender. He meets Maxine Doyle, who’s in similar financial straits. The problem with the film is mostly Doyle. If she were any good, the film might be charming, regardless of technical merits and writing. But she’s awful—just painfully bad.

But so’s the rest of the supporting cast. Armstrong’s sidekicks, played by James P. Burtis, Monte Collins and Sam Lufkin, all awful. His bosses—Henry Kolker and James Burke—awful. Guy Usher turns in the closest thing to a decent performance, but he’s not good by any stretch.

Meanwhile, there’s Armstrong moving through these inept actors, trying to do what he can with the bad dialogue, on the incredibly cheap sets (the hotel suite appears to be the newspaper editor’s office too, based on the wall design)… and he maintains some dignity.

The concept isn’t bad; it could have been a good leading man vehicle for Armstrong… instead of an unfortunate, disappointing entry in his filmography.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ray McCarey; screenplay by John W. Krafft and Rollo Lloyd, based on a story by Tate Finn and an adaptation by William A. Johnston; director of photography, Harry Neumann; edited by Carl Pierson; released by Monogram Pictures.

Starring Robert Armstrong (Larry Doyle), Maxine Doyle (Anne Ogilvie), Henry Kolker (Jo-Jo), LeRoy Mason (The Eel), James Burke (Managing Editor Marvin), Guy Usher (District Attorney Johnson), James P. Burtis (Whalen), Monte Collins (Dunn), Sam Lufkin (Weeks), Otto Fries (Nate), Norman Houston (T. Fulton Whistler), Dell Henderson (Mr. Clark), Lee Shumway (Plainclothes Man) and Sam Flint (Jerome Roberts).


Lucrezia Borgia (1935, Abel Gance)

Gance has a real problem with Lucrezia Borgia… none of his characters are likable. Even Antonin Artaud, playing a friar who rallies against the Borgia regime, is unlikable and he’s the film’s closest thing to a good guy. Gance shoots Artaud like a lunatic.

It’s also not a film about Lucrezia Borgia, it’s a film about the Borgias. Edwige Feuillère’s Lucrezia is a far second behind Gabriel Gabrio’s César. Feuillère isn’t bad, but she’s playing an impossible role. She’s not supposed to be likable or even sympathetic, but still tragic.

As for Gabrio, he seems to model his performance on a wild boar. He’s not even interesting to watch because being so evil all the time is boring. Especially since he’s in most of the film.

The film also concerns Machiavelli (played by Aimé Clariond) and his influence on Gabrio’s César. If Gance had structured the film from Clariond’s perspective, it might have been a little better. It certainly couldn’t have been a worse approach.

Gance jumps around–a month here, a year there, a decade or two… there’s no accounting of the time as it passes. With its ninety-some minute run time, one has to wonder if Lucrezia Borgia wasn’t supposed to be much, much longer. Like three hours.

The film’s at its strongest in the first half, before it becomes clear Gance is operating on a severely restricted budget (people talk about locations instead of visiting them).

Lucrezia Borgia isn’t terrible, but there’s nothing to recommend it.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Abel Gance; screenplay by Gance, Léopold Marchand and Henri Vendresse, based on a novel by Alfred Schirokauer; director of photography, Roger Hubert; edited by Roger Mercanton; music by Marcel Lattès; production designers, Henri Ménessier and René Renoux; released by Héraut Film.

Starring Edwige Feuillère (Lucrezia Borgia), Gabriel Gabrio (César Borgia), Maurice Escande (Jean Borgia, Duke of Gandie), Roger Karl (Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI), Aimé Clariond (Niccollo Machiavelli), Philippe Hériat (Filippo, sculptor-lover), Jacques Dumesnil (Giannino Sforza, Duke of Milano), Max Michel (Alfonse de Aragon), Louis Eymond (Capt. Mario, officer-lover), Jean Fay (Tybald), René Bergeron (Pietro), Gaston Modot (Fracassa), Antonin Artaud (Girolamo Savonarola), Marcel Chabrier (Un moine – l’envoyé de Savonarole), Georges Prieur (Baron de Villeneuve), Louis Perdoux (Carlo), Yvonne Drines (Flamette), Mona Dol (La Vespa), Jeannine Fromentin (La Malatesta), Josette Day (Sancia, Lucrezia’s companion) and Daniel Mendaille (Micheletto, chief henchman).


Whipsaw (1935, Sam Wood)

Whipsaw takes some detours, but eventually reveals itself as an unlikely road picture… albeit one with limited stops.

The first few scenes are in London, with a lot of exposition introducing Myrna Loy and Harvey Stephens as jewel thieves. There are some other jewel thieves who want in on their score. At this point, Whipsaw seems like it’s going to take place entirely at sea.

But then it skips to New York, three weeks later, with both the cops and the rival crooks staking out Loy in hopes of finding Stephens.

At this point, there are about eight characters to remember–all of whom might end up being significant to the plot.

Then Spencer Tracy shows up as an undercover cop. Even after he does, it still takes Whipsaw another twenty minutes to finally define itself. While Howard Emmett Rogers’s script is messy and often meanders, there’s a lot of enthusiasm to it. The structure’s odd, since Tracy’s deceiving Loy, who he assumes is deceiving him; it doesn’t work for the first act, but once the couple is on the road… Whipsaw gets good.

Loy and Tracy are both fantastic. Their characters have to respect the other’s intellect, try to outsmart the other one and constantly lie. It creates a lot of personal conflict, which the actors essay beautifully.

Wood’s direction–aided by James Wong Howe’s wondrous photography–has some sublime moments but not enough. Basil Wrangell’s editing is weak.

The earnest ending misfires. Loy and Tracy weather it ably.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Wood; screenplay by Howard Emmett Rogers, based on a story by James Edward Grant; director of photography, James Wong Howe; edited by Basil Wrangell; music by William Axt; produced by Wood and Harry Rapf; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Myrna Loy (Vivian Palmer), Spencer Tracy (Ross McBride), Harvey Stephens (Ed Dexter), William Harrigan (‘Doc’ Evans), Clay Clement (Harry Ames), Robert Gleckler (Steve Arnold), Robert Warwick (Robert W. Wadsworth), Georges Renavent (Monetta), Paul Stanton (Justice Department Chief Hughes), Wade Boteler (Detective Humphries), Don Rowan (Curley), John Qualen (Will Dabson), Irene Franklin (Madame Marie), Lillian Leighton (Aunt Jane), J. Anthony Hughes (Justice Department Agent Bailey), William Ingersoll (Dr. Williams) and Charles Irwin (Larry King).


The Tin Man (1935, James Parrott)

I’m wondering if all the Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly shorts–the team being one of Hal Roach’s attempts at a female Laurel and hardy–are as bad as The Tin Man. For a while, it seems like Todd is much worse than Kelly, but once Kelly’s acting opposite someone else… she’s much worse than Todd.

Tin Man features a mad scientist who hates women and wants to punish the gender. So he builds a robot (it looks like a bad Karloff Frankenstein monster Halloween costume) to destroy women. Setting it loose on Todd and Kelly proves a disaster… and the short ends with the scientist trying to save their lives.

Clarence Wilson isn’t terrible as the mad scientist, but making the murderous villain likable is just one of Tin Man‘s stupider moves.

Parrott’s direction and Jack Ogilvie’s editing are both awful.

It’s an atrocious two reels of film.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by James Parrott; written by Jack Jevne and William H. Terhune; director of photography, Art Lloyd; edited by Jack Ogilvie; music by Leroy Shield; produced by Hal Roach; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Thelma Todd (Miss Todd), Patsy Kelly (Miss Kelly), Matthew Betz (Blackie Burke), Clarence Wilson (Mad Scientist) and Billy Bletcher & Cy Slocum (The Tin Man).


Balloon Land (1935, Ub Iwerks)

For lack of a better word, Balloon Land is disturbed. It’s a cartoon about a magical place where everyone is a living balloon. Not just people, but plants too. Objects are solid though.

The new balloon people–Iwerks opens showing the reproductive process–are made through one creature’s snot and then inflated. We later learn balloons can be made but not immediately inflated and the snot can also be used as a gooey weapon.

It’s a happy place with a happy song, except outside the gate there’s the Pincushion Man, who murders balloon people with his infinite pin supply. Since he’s been cast out, he’s had to settle for killing the balloon plant life.

Two newborns head out of the protected area and piss him off and Balloon Land‘s narrative gets underway.

The animation’s fine and all that, but it’s a freaky cartoon once one gives it any thought.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Ub Iwerks; music by Carl W. Stalling; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.


How to Sleep (1935, Nick Grinde)

How to Sleep isn’t just a funny little short featuring a man who can’t get to sleep, mostly because he keeps doing stupid things, but it’s also an interesting look at how a personality works on film.

Robert Benchley wrote the film, he hosts the bookends as though it’s a serious scientific exploration and he appears as the model sleeper. During the tossing and turning and snack eating and so on, Benchley comments on his own actions. However, he’s not commenting in the first person, but in the third—the narrator and the protagonist, though played by the same person, are different characters.

The barrier breaks when the protagonist starts yelling at the narrator. But more amusing is the narrator’s charge the protagonist is only having so many problems because he drinks so much—something the audience never sees and has to take the narrator’s word for….

It’s rather smart.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Nick Grinde; written by Robert Benchley; produced by Jack Chertok; produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Benchley.


Hollywood Extra Girl (1935, Herbert Moulton)

At the surface, Hollywood Extra Girl is just a promotional tie-in to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Crusades. The short’s lead, Suzanne Emery, was an extra in The Crusades and the short suggests she might make it in Hollywood just because of that inclusion.

According to IMDb, she did not.

But the short also serves to let DeMille—who has the most dialogue in the short’s eleven minutes (mostly read from cue card)—foist his ego about. His acting’s hideous, which puts that whole idea of directors making good actors into severe doubt.

The film ends not on DeMille, however, but as an advertisement for young women to come out to Hollywood and try being a star. If they fail, they can always go back home. This ending suggestion is awkward after the film showed the misery of longtime extras.

Moulton’s got some nice camera moves, but it’s DeMille’s show.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Herbert Moulton; screenplay by Herman Hoffman, based on a story by John Flory; director of photography, Harry Fischbeck; produced by William H. Pine; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Cecil B. DeMille (Himself), Ann Sheridan (Genevieve), Suzanne Emery (Herself) and Clara Kimball Young (Grace).


Remember Last Night? (1935, James Whale)

I wish I knew if Remember Last Night? is supposed to be a knock-off of The Thin Man or if it’s just a highly coincidental release, coming a year later, with a similarly intoxicated, ritzy couple solving crimes as they get more intoxicated (Robert Young and Constance Cummings play the couple in this film). Remember Last Night? is based on a novel, which suggests the latter.

The film’s about a bunch of facile rich party animals getting involved with murder–imagine “Sex and the City” with couples, set in the thirties, with murder investigation thrown in.

It’s a nearly unbearable film. While completely unsuited for comedy, Whale does have some amazing crane shots, just beautiful work, but then he’s got these terrible inserts and all of his close-ups look somewhat off. His direction of the actors is also problematic, but some of those failures might just be the script.

The script’s entirely contrived–when they need a detective, they call one (Edward Arnold), who isn’t supposed to be investigating, mind you, just helping them out. The same goes for a psychic (Gustav von Seyffertitz). It’s never explained why socialite alcoholic Young knows detective Arnold.

The acting’s not bad. Young has his moments and Cummings is excellent. Sally Eilers, Robert Armstrong and Reginald Denny are all strong, though the script gives out on them all eventually (well, except Armstrong, only because he’s barely in it).

The film misuses Edward Brophy, which I hadn’t believed possible before seeing this one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Whale; screenplay by Harry Clork, Doris Malloy and Dan Totheroh, based on a novel by Adam Hobhouse; director of photography, Joseph A. Valentine; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Whale and Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Edward Arnold (Danny Harrison), Robert Young (Tony Milburn), Constance Cummings (Carlotta Milburn), George Meeker (Vic Huling), Sally Eilers (Bette Huling), Reginald Denny (Jake Whitridge), Louise Henry (Penny Whitridge), Robert Armstrong (Flannagan), Gregory Ratoff (Faronea), Monroe Owsley (Billy Arliss), Jack La Rue (Baptiste Bouclier), Edward Brophy (Maxie), Gustav von Seyffertitz (Professor Karl Jones) and Arthur Treacher (Clarence Phelps).


Wings in the Dark (1935, James Flood)

Wings in the Dark is three-quarters overwrought melodrama with the remainder squandered potential. The film opens with Myrna Loy as the protagonist, an aviatrix (never thought I’d get to type that word) whose flying abilities can’t compensate–in terms of professional opportunities–for her lack of male gender. This part of the film, with Loy trying to make a living when she can’t do much more than stunt flying, is interesting. It reminded me, Amelia Earhart or no Amelia Earhart, I don’t think I’ve ever flown on a flight with a female pilot (or even a female member of the flight crew).

But the film quickly turns Loy into a standard melodramatic female role with the appearance of Cary Grant. Grant’s a successful pilot–who doesn’t even have to time to acknowledge fliers like Loy–and Loy seems to love him for it. It’s excusable at this point, part of the narrative; it isn’t until later the melodramatic syrup clogs the whole film down.

Grant ends up blind–but not really blind, there’s the chance he’ll get his sight back–and the film becomes an advertisement for anti-blindness. It’s too bad there isn’t a word for it, as it’s difficult to describe the film’s hostility towards the blind. Where they could make distinctions between Grant’s character’s situation and those of blind people, they make generalizations. It’s stunning–being blind, according to Wings in the Dark, is worse than being a leper. It really is a burden on friends and family and the world at large. Plus, Grant might awkwardly bump into things, you know, to show off how he can’t see after just having an argument about people deceiving him because he can’t see. All it needs is a laugh track.

Grant and Loy do have a lot of chemistry, which keeps it going through some of the worse scripted scenes. There’s a walk through the woods, for instance, and it’s beautifully done. James Flood’s a fine director, but he can’t do much with the content.

Just before the worst of the poor blind Grant scenes, there’s some more fine Loy as the female flier material. The film’s trying to put way too much into seventy-five minutes and without the screenwriters to pull it off. Both leads have individual story lines deserving of attention and the film’s attempt to tie them together fails.

It doesn’t help the supporting cast is phoning in their performances. Hobert Cavanaugh’s direction was apparently to have a loud Scottish accent and he does, even if it’s shaky at times. Roscoe Karns, who should be lovable as Loy’s thoughtlessly ambitious manager, is not. Any time he comes on the screen, it’s unbelievable Loy would associate with such a snake. Dean Jagger’s good, but he’s only in it at the beginning and end.

There’s some nice aerial photography and there’s a fine effects sequence at the end, but the movie stops early. That effects sequence earns it some more consideration and instead of playing it all out, it ends at the first possible moment following. Going a little longer and concluding some of the story lines wouldn’t have helped a lot, but it would have helped some. Especially since Loy spends the last quarter of the film alone in a cockpit, not the most interesting place for an actor to be….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Flood; screenplay by Jack Kirkland and Frank Partos, based on an adaptation by Dale Van Every and E.H. Robinson and a story by Philip D. Hurn and Neil Shipman; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by William Shea; music by Heinz Roemheld; produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Myrna Loy (Sheila Mason), Cary Grant (Ken Gordon), Roscoe Karns (Nick Williams), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mac), Dean Jagger (Top Harmon), Russell Hopton (Jake Brashear), Matt McHugh (Mechanic) and Graham McNamee (Radio Announcer).


Toni (1935, Jean Renoir)

In its opening, Toni is established as an immigrant’s story. Foreign workers (Spanish and Italian) go to the south of France to work the quarries. The opening “prologue”–it’s never announced as a prologue, but there’s an “end of prologue” card–shows the workers’ arrival. The end also shows workers arriving, three years later, after the title character, Toni, has had some adventures. Problematically, he only gets a name after the prologue’s over so it’s hard to recognize him once the first part of the film starts. Toni’s present action is three years, split into one section a year after Toni arrives and has found a place (well, a girlfriend–his landlady) and another, two years later. Because of the split, the film mostly concentrates on melodrama–there’s a love triangle (or quartet, it’s reveal is one of the film’s only decent final act moments)–but never on anything interesting. We never see Toni become friends with the other workers, even though these friendships are incredibly important to the first part of the film. There’s one character–who’s in the entire film–who doesn’t even get a name until the last scene. We also never see Toni and his landlady’s romance, which might have been nice, since–by the time we arrive–he’s a jerk and she’s a nag. There are some moments of the second romance, the one leading into the love triangle, but when the film skips two years… well, it’s just hard for them to have any resonance.

Watching the film, I thought it was one of Renoir’s earliest works, but it’s not, it’s ten years into his career. Some of the shots are the regular, wonderful Renoir shots and I was all set with a sentence about how no one composed for black and white like Renoir did. But there’s a raw element to Toni. The focus is soft when it shouldn’t be and, since it’s filmed on location and some of the actors aren’t actors (there’s a great cutaway from some worker looking straight at the camera, followed by a couple kids who can’t keep a straight face), Toni feels amateurish. None of the lead actors–except Max Dalban as the dimensionless villain–are good, which doesn’t help the film either.

The film has an interesting pace. The opening moves, the middle drags, and the end is somewhere in between. Unfortunately, the perception of the end might be affected by how bad the film is getting. When Renoir ties it into the pretty, “immigrant worker story” bow, Toni flattens, losing anything (not much) it might have been doing. Still, since the quality ranges throughout–getting worse and worse, unfortunately–and starts reasonably high, the film’s not an unpleasant experience. By the end, for example, I’d forgotten I had been expecting a lot more from Renoir.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jean Renoir; screenplay by Renoir, based on a story by Jacques Levert; director of photography, Claude Renoir; edited by Suzanne de Troeye and Marguerite Renoir; music by Paul Bozzi; released by Films Marcel Pagnol.

Starring Celia Montalván (Josefa), Jenny Helia (Marie), Édouard Delmont (Fernand), Max Dalban (Albert), Andrex (Gabi), Michel Kovachevitch (Sebastian) and Charles Blavette (Toni).


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