Ginger Rogers

Storm Warning (1951, Stuart Heisler)

One of Storm Warning’s failings is its attempt to carefully navigate the story content so I’m just going to be lead-footed and get right to things, which probably would’ve helped the movie though not the ending.

Storm Warning is about Ginger Rogers visiting sister Doris Day and witnessing the Ku Klux Klan murdering someone. Rogers sees it before she even lets Day know she’s in town for a visit. Rogers is a fashion model who travels the country modeling clothes at buyers’ meetings. For a while it seems like Storm Warning might be a de facto strong woman picture, just because Rogers is clearly the protagonist and she’s also “of a certain age,” which probably meant over twenty-four in 1951 but Rogers is late thirties. Sadly, no. I expected way too much when I saw Richard Brooks on the screenwriting credit; I always forget the reason Daniel Fuchs stands out is because I’ve seen The Thing too many times and not because he’s a good writer.

Anyway.

Warning has a short present action (twenty-five hours or so) and a fine pace. So right away Rogers finds out Day’s husband, who she’s never met and Day has moved to this small town to be with and, oh, Day’s pregnant—the husband (Steve Cochran in an arguably fantastic performance) is one of the killers. Rogers saw two of them unmasked, Hugh Sanders is the other. It’s important because just when the movie ought to be about Rogers and Day, or even just Rogers (as it turns out Day’s been going along with the Klan—just like the rest of the town), it’s about Cochran and Sanders. Ronald Reagan and whatever the hell is going on with his oversized suits is second-billed but he turns out to be irrelevant, with less a part to play than even Sanders. He’s the county prosecutor who wants to go after the Klan, even if it means he’s going to lose his re-election campaign. See, the Klan (run by Sanders) has supplanted the rule of law. The guy they kill at the beginning is a reporter who’s close to uncovering the Klan isn’t just supplanting the rule of law, but—and it comes in real quick—Sanders is actually ripping all the dumb racist hicks off because they’re dumb racist hicks. There’s some of the script’s careful navigating—see, while Klan members are showing poor judgment, they’re also victims of income tax evaders.

It’s shocking Storm Warning didn’t cure racism back in 1951 with such a bold statement. Eye roll.

Of course, Warning doesn’t address racism. There are occasional Black people in the film, meaningfully iCocn shots, but they don’t get any lines and there’s no violence against them or even mention of their existence. What’s wrong with the Klan is they’re holding small towns back so people like Ginger Rogers won’t want to visit. As Sanders puts it, if it weren’t for the Klan, Rogers wouldn’t be able to walk the streets at night. Sanders isn’t worried about the phantom Black male attacking her it turns out; it’s his men. You need the Klan to stop racist hick men from assaulting women en masse or so Sanders says. And the film agrees with him, which should throw off its internal philosophy but doesn’t because holy crap the ending is nuts morality play….

It’s a mess.

But for a while, it’s not and it’s rather good, even if it’s a little neutered. Rogers is really good, even when the film doesn’t have anything for her to do. Director Heisler will give Rogers these reaction shots—where she’s reacting to things she’s observing—and she does a great job with them. Shame the shots all seem forced in (or Clarence Kolster just does a terrible job editing). Day’s okay. She’s got a couple rather good scenes, but also a number of weak ones. It’s hard to buy her and Cochran, who’s always a bastard of one kind or another. Though the film also tries its darnedest to imply Day’s a little bit dumb, which throws a wrench in that pro-woman message I’d foolishly assumed would be a factor since… it’s about Rogers standing up to the Klan, right? But Day’s possible dullness is just another excuse for her inaction.

Storm Warning really likes giving White people an excuse to be inactive. Including Reagan’s parents, who didn’t used to think his silly liberal politics (in this case, thinking the Klan shouldn’t be allowed to kidnap and murder people) were good, but they’re grown on them since Reagan’s such a profound legal orator.

He’s not. He’s really not. The courtroom scene is terribly written.

Reagan’s fine overall. His suits are dumb, he’s got no personality, but he’s kind of banally charming. He really, really, really, really, really never should’ve been given lead roles. Someone seemed to think he was Jimmy Stewart.

He’s not.

Cochran’s terrifying. Even after the movie takes a few hits—the courtroom stuff is exceptionally problematic, plot-wise—Cochran’s still reliably foreboding. All the tension comes from him, even if his scenes with Sanders are dramatically inert nonsense.

Sanders isn’t bad, but he’s never good. He’s a one dimensional Mr. Big.

Great photography from Carl E. Guthrie; the exterior night time shots are fantastic (right up until the end when Heisler can’t figure out how to frame the climax and Guthrie can’t figure out how to light what Heisler goes with). Too much music from Daniele Amfitheatrof but not bad. Just too much.

Storm Warning could’ve been good. It could’ve given Rogers a great role, could’ve given Day a great role, could’ve given Reagan… well, maybe could’ve not wasted the time Reagan’s onscreen. It starts strong and seems sturdy but nope. And not even because of all the hoops it jumps through to avoid really talking about the Klan.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Heisler; written by Daniel Fuchs and Richard Brooks; director of photography, Carl E. Guthrie; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by Daniele Amfitheatrof; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ginger Rogers (Marsha Mitchell), Steve Cochran (Hank Rice), Doris Day (Lucy Rice), Hugh Sanders (Charlie Barr), Lloyd Gough (Cliff Rummel), Raymond Greenleaf (Faulkner), and Ronald Reagan (Burt Rainey).


Primrose Path (1940, Gregory La Cava)

Primrose Path gets fun fast. Given the film opens with nine year-old Joan Carroll stealing a neighbor’s tamales (instead of buying them) for her and her grandmother, Queenie Vassar, it sort of needs to be fun. Vassar’s the maternal grandmother, not related to despondently alcoholic dad Miles Mander. Ginger Rogers is the older daughter, who we soon find out has forced herself into a kind of functional naïveté about her family’s situation. See, Mander’s a drunk because wife Marjorie Rambeau is out as a professional mistress. But he can’t work because he’s a complete drunk. Vassar trying to break the two up doesn’t do any good for their relationship either. Meanwhile Rambeau lives in a somewhat forced naïveté of her own, at least as far as Mander’s concerned.

Path opens about this family barely surviving—with Carroll apparently already lost, Vassar poisoning all the fresh water—and then there’s Rogers, who’s figured out a way to navigate herself through it. Until she takes a ride from kindly and silly old man Henry Travers when she’s on her way down to the beach. Path takes place in a small city (or large town) on the California coast. Closer to San Francisco than L.A. The contrast between Travers’s beachfront hamburger diner and Rogers’s regular life is striking inside and out. But definitely out. Path’s first half is full of fantastic location shooting, with director La Cava and cinematographer Joseph H. August delivering some fantastic scenes.

So once Travers and Rogers start bantering and she realizes he’s not an old pervert, she agrees to let him forward her a lunch. Once in the diner, she meets banter-master Joel McCrea, who works the counter. Except Rogers doesn’t like McCrea’s banter so he tries to get a rise out of her, which continues for a sequence of scenes, culminating in McCrea kissing Rogers. Well, once he’s kissed her, she’s smitten, leading to her telling a few small lies to get out of her life and into his.

For a while Rogers is able to avoid her past, but it’s not too far away, just on the “other side of town.” There’s never a “wrong side of the tracks” remark, but there are a couple audible train whistles. La Cava can be subtle and La Cava can be obvious. He can also be subtly obvious. He saves the straight obvious for the romance between McCrea and Rogers. It doesn’t take long for him to get just as smitten.

Unfortunately, neither character is being entirely honest. While Rogers’s lies don’t have any further repercussions after she and McCrea are joined at the hip, McCrea’s kind of been on holiday. Path gets away with a lot during the Production Code—there’s adultery, there’s sex work, there’s drunken Mander, there’s the thieving kid, whatever—but it’s most impressive moves are with Rogers and McCrea. They never get their big blowout scene, which is simultaneously disappointing and understandable–Path has got to keep light on its feet before the realness can grab it. Vassar’s downright evil at times and McCrea’s got a hideous mean streak. The film plays the former almost for laughs (as well as keeping Vassar’s understandable despondence and her unforgivable cruelty separate) while the latter just sets up La Cava’s third act commentary on people. The film’s very focused on the family. Rogers shares time with McCrea more than he gets the time to himself. Same goes for Travers. It’s a long time before he gets anything to do separate from Rogers (and then it’s just to talk about her with McCrea). It’s Rogers’s movie. Then Rambeau’s. Then Vassar’s. Then McCrea’s. McCrea still gets a full character arc, he just doesn’t get it on screen. So when La Cava opens things up—pretty much for the first time (the diner scenes are all about Rogers and McCrea’s salad days)—it’s for the finale. And the finale is really subtle and amusing, but it also informs some earlier plot points. Allan Scott and La Cava’s script is incredibly patient. The film’s a stage adaptation but never feels stagy; quite the opposite. It’s hard to imagine the story told any other way.

The music from Werner R. Heymann’s excellent. Sound is important in Primrose Path and La Cava and editor William Hamilton are careful how they reinforce the narrative with it. The film’s full of echoed moments, with only one of them being at all obvious. La Cava keeps the rest of them submerged and they more reverberate than sound off. So Heymann’s music has to fit perfectly and it always does, not just the scenes content but in place among the echoes. Path runs just over ninety minutes but it never skimps, never rushes. La Cava, in direction and script, is casually deliberate. He does excellent work here.

Great performances from Rogers and McCrea. He doesn’t get the lead role but he does have some breakout moments. For a while it seems like he’s going to be most successful for his toxic male behavior stuff but it turns out there’s going to be more to his character arc and McCrea keeps excelling. Meanwhile Rogers has to keep a lot mildly submerged too and she gets to go full bloom at finish to great success as well. The parts are good. Better than than the showier ones like Mander or Vassar. Vassar’s character is just a little too hurtful for the performance, but she’s still good. Mander is great. Rambeau is great. Rambeau’s part is far less showy as the film progresses.

Primrose Path is an outstandingly nimble romantic drama. La Cava, Rogers, and McCrea can keep it loose enough for sincere and affable romance, while still getting into the hard family drama stuff. It can’t go either way fully because, well, it wouldn’t be a vehicle for Rogers and McCrea then, but La Cava finds an ideal balance.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Gregory La Cava; screenplay by Allan Scott and La Cava, based on the play by Robert L. Buckner and Walter Hart; director of photography, Joseph H. August; edited by William Hamilton; music by Werner R. Heymann; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ginger Rogers (Ellie May Adams), Joel McCrea (Ed Wallace), Marjorie Rambeau (Mamie), Miles Mander (Homer), Queenie Vassar (Grandma), Joan Carroll (Honeybell), and Henry Travers (Gramp).


Vivacious Lady (1938, George Stevens)

Vivacious Lady strengths easily outweigh its weaknesses, but those weaknesses have a way of compounding on each other as the film moves to its conclusion. The most obvious–and usually forgiveable–problem is how the film can’t decide what to do with Ginger Rogers, the Vivacious Lady. Not the film, sorry, the script. Director Stevens, photographer Robert De Grasse, costume designer Irene, Rogers’s costars, they can all work with Rogers to great success. The script just can’t figure out how to make her “vivacious” and sweet simultaneously. Unless it’s opposite leading man James Stewart, because the film is able to sail over any troubled scenes on their chemistry alone. It’s how the rest of the world treats Rogers where there are problems. Read: how the script has the rest of the world treat her.

And it’s not Code consideration because Vivacious Lady establishes very clearly early on Rogers and Stewart are anxious get a bed of their own. It’s the film’s most vibrant theme, no less.

The film starts with New England college professor–associate professor–Stewart in New York City trying to collect his ne’er-do-well, womanizing cousin, James Ellison. Ellison has fallen in love with nightclub performer Rogers, though she hasn’t fallen for him. One look into her eyes and Stewart falls for her too. Turns out the feelings mutual and after spending the night out on the town, they elope and head back to Stewart’s home town.

Only he hasn’t told his overbearing father (and boss) Charles Coburn about it. College president Coburn’s got big plans for Stewart, so long as he stays in line, which means marrying harpy blueblood Frances Mercer. When they arrive in town, Ellison–very affable for a jilted suitor–entertains Rogers while Stewart tries to figure out how to tell dad Coburn and mom Beulah Bondi about the marriage. And to break off his existing engagement to Mercer (who he forgot to tell Rogers about).

Vivacious Lady runs ninety minutes. It takes about twenty minutes to get Rogers, Stewart, and Ellison from New York to the town–Old Sharon. The next half hour is gentle screwball comedy of errors with Stewart trying to tell his parents, but Mercer screws it up or Coburn is such a verbally abusive blowhard–aggrevating Bondi into heart problems–it just never happens. It culminates in Rogers and Mercer getting into a fight. Those thirty or so minutes, ending in the fight, all happen in the first day.

I think the movie takes place over three days. Maybe three and a half.

Anyway. The next portion of the film has Rogers pretending to be a college student so she can spend time with Stewart, who’s now not telling Coburn about their marriage because of the fight. Stewart’s always got some reason for not telling Coburn–a couple times it’s Bondi’s heart condition–it’s mostly just contrived fear of Coburn. Only there’s no way for Stewart and Rogers not to moon at one another, beautifully lighted by De Grasse; their scenes are the best in the film, they radiate infectous chemistry.

But everyone else just whistles at Rogers (she’s vivacious after all), which just draws attention to how little character development she’s had around Stewart. She has more character development with Ellison, Mercer, and Bondi throughout the film than with Stewart. Even during their whirlwind courtship, as Stewart–the film points out–never shuts up about himself. That radiant infectous chemistry covers up for a lot of it, but it’s still a major script deficit.

The other major problems in the script are structure and Coburn’s character. P.J. Wolfson and Ernest Pagano’s script frontloads one supporting cast member and shortchanges another, only to flip their positions in the last third. Wouldn’t be a problem if the movie’s conclusion didn’t rely on that character with the increased presence so much. It works out–pretty well–because the cast’s great, the direction’s great, and the script is (scene by scene) excellent. But the narrative structure is disjointed.

And Coburn. Coburn’s an unlovable bastard. He’s such an unlovable bastard you forget he’s Charles Coburn and he’s (probably) secretly going to turn out to be a lovable bastard. But he’s a bad guy, who gets worse–the script doesn’t imagine anything about these characters before the first scene–and no one seems to acknowledge the level of internal disfunction. And it’d definitely have external effects.

Stewart would be so browbeaten he couldn’t order a meal without consulting Coburn, much less be sent to New York to fetch Ellison; Coburn wouldn’t trust him to do it.

So problems. The film has some big problems. And they’re script problems (though Stevens also produced so he’s not off the hook). But Vivacious Lady is still an outstanding romantic comedy. Rogers and Stewart are glorious together. Separate, Rogers is better. She gets good material on her own. Stewart doesn’t. He’s still funny and charming, but the material’s nothing special. Rogers’s material–whether it’s showing down with Mercer or teaching Bondi to dance–is dynamic.

Ellison’s the film’s secret weapon. He’s a little annoying at the start, but once Vivacious Lady is in its second act and Stewart abandons Rogers for mean Coburn and Mercer (and suffering Bondi), it’s Ellison who provides the picture its affability. The script shortchanges him, but it shortchanges everyone at one point or another.

Bondi’s phenomenal. As wondrous as Rogers and Stewart’s chemistry is onscreen, when Bondi and Rogers get a scene together here and there, they’re able to do so much with the material. Their performances compliment each other beautifully.

Mercer’s fine. It’s a lousy part. Ditto Coburn. He’s a caricature of himself playing a caricature of himself.

Some good comedic bit parts–Phyllis Kennedy as the maid, Franklin Pangborn as an apartment manager. Willie Best is good as the Pullman porter, but the part is gross.

Vivacious Lady is a definite success. However, Rogers, Stewart, Bondi, and Ellison deserve to be a resounding one.

It almost recoups all (or most all) with the final gag. Then tries to one up itself and loses that ground. It’s particularly frustrating.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by George Stevens; screenplay by P.J. Wolfson and Ernest Pagano, based on a story I.A.R. Wylie; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Henry Berman; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ginger Rogers (Francey Brent), James Stewart (Peter Morgan Jr.), Charles Coburn (Peter Morgan Sr.), James Ellison (Keith Morgan), Frances Mercer (Helen), Beulah Bondi (Martha Morgan), Phyllis Kennedy (Jenny), Franklin Pangborn (Apartment Manager), Willie Best (Train Porter), and Grady Sutton (Culpepper).


The Thirteenth Guest (1932, Albert Ray)

The Thirteenth Guest has a lot of problems, but its biggest failing is Frances Hyland’s script. Hyland doesn’t just have a lot of logic problems, he also has a bunch of lousy humor. There’s Paul Hurst’s moronic police detective, who Hyland relies on for Guest‘s version of comic relief. Hurst whines a lot and annoys J. Farrell MacDonald, who should be a lot better as his superior. Why isn’t MacDonald better? Because Hyland writes in a bunch of jokes about MacDonald being upset about eccentric wealthy people.

But the dumbest part of Hyland’s script has to be protagonist Lyle Talbot’s passionate anti-murder position. He just can’t stand murder… as opposed to being pro-murder. But Hyland also decides to make the dapper Talbot a reluctant genius detective. So, while Talbot can’t stand murder, he apparently can’t stand having to solve murder cases even more.

Still, Talbot gives a strong performance and, at times, he nearly makes Guest worthwhile. There are some other good supporting performances from James Eagles and Frances Rich. In the other lead role, Ginger Rogers is somewhat ineffective. She’s a lot better in her first scene than she is in the rest of the picture.

Ray’s direction isn’t bad, but Leete Renick Brown’s editing is terrible. The low budget hurts Guest quite a bit. Ray isn’t able to establish any settings. It all looks too cheap in daylight.

Guest should have a compelling narrative, but the budget keeps those involved from taking advantage of it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Ray; screenplay by Frances Hyland, based on the novel by Armitage Trail; directors of photography, Tom Galligan and Harry Neumann; edited by Leete Renick Brown; produced by M.H. Hoffman; released by Monogram Pictures.

Starring Lyle Talbot (Phil Winston), Ginger Rogers (Marie Morgan), J. Farrell MacDonald (Police Capt. Ryan), Paul Hurst (Detective Grump), Erville Alderson (Uncle John Adams), Ethel Wales (Aunt Jane Thornton), James Eagles (Harold ‘Bud’ Morgan), Crauford Kent (Dr. Sherwood), Eddie Phillips (Thor Jensen), Frances Rich (Marjorie Thornton) and Phillips Smalley (Uncle Dick Thornton).


Bachelor Mother (1939, Garson Kanin)

I’ve seen Bachelor Mother at least twice before but didn’t remember the most salient feature of the film. I even forgot what a big part Donald Duck plays in it (though I did remember David Niven’s watching the clock to wait to say “good afternoon” as opposed to “good morning”).

No, what I forgot was the romance between Niven and Ginger Rogers. It’s the most important thing in Bachelor Mother. The baby Rogers gets stuck with through the bullheadedness and “altruism” of others is secondary.

It’s a lovely romance mostly because it’s so unexpected to the characters. Niven and Rogers are, at best, friends when they go out and discover their attraction. Their friendship scenes are also wonderful, as Niven tries to help Rogers raise this baby he’s unknowingly saddled her with.

He gets his comeuppance at the end (the third act is mostly about him identifying, avoiding, then wanting than comeuppance) and it’s just fantastic.

Kanin’s direction starts off incredible–the first shot is outstanding–then it runs into some problems as it becomes clear he didn’t have enough coverage for editors Henry Berman and Robert Wise (or they just did a terrible job of it). It eventually resolves itself, with the shots matching a lot better after about twenty minutes.

Rogers and Niven are both great, Charles Coburn is hilarious as Niven’s father and Frank Albertson is good.

The film has a brilliant narrative structure (the present action is a few days) and it moves fluidly.

Simply wonderful.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Garson Kanin; screenplay by Norman Krasna, based on a story by Felix Jackson; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Henry Berman and Robert Wise; music by Roy Webb; produced by Buddy G. DeSylva; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ginger Rogers (Polly Parrish), David Niven (David Merlin), Charles Coburn (J.B. Merlin), Frank Albertson (Freddie Miller), E.E. Clive (Butler), Elbert Coplen Jr. (Johnnie), Ferike Boros (Mrs. Weiss), Ernest Truex (Investigator), Leonard Penn (Jerome Weiss), Paul Stanton (Hargraves), Frank M. Thomas (Doctor), Edna Holland (Matron), Dennie Moore (Mary), June Wilkins (Louise King) and Donald Duck (Himself).


A Shriek in the Night (1933, Albert Ray)

For the first twenty minutes or so–it runs just over an hour–A Shriek in the Night seems like it might be a decent, b mystery. Ginger Rogers is appealing as the reporter undercover as a murder victim’s secretary and Purnell Pratt is great as the police inspector on the case.

Unfortunately, it isn’t about the two of them solving the case, which would have been amusing. Instead, Lyle Talbot is playing her newspaper rival slash boyfriend and it’s about him and Rogers on the case. Only there’s not much of a case. I can’t really think of a less interesting mystery than Shriek, as it has none of the genre’s compelling components. There isn’t a large cast of suspects, the motive for the murder is lame and the killer’s method is lame too.

Maybe the film could have still succeeded, even with those three strikes (I’m actually not sure–a mystery without any suspects seems a little handicapped) but it’s also got Talbot to contend with. I’m not sure what’s worse–Talbot’s performance in general or his lack of chemistry with Rogers in particular. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more mismatched couple–and this film was their second as a pair, so someone must have thought they got along well onscreen; that someone was wrong.

The rest of the cast is weak too. Arthur Hoyt and Harvey Clark, in particular, are awful.

The film seems to be unable to decide if it’s a farce or a serious mystery.

But, who cares?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Albert Ray; screenplay by Frances Hyland, based on a story by Kurt Kempler; directors of photography, Tom Galligan and Harry Neumann; edited by Leete Renick Brown; released by Allied Pictures Corporation.

Starring Ginger Rogers (Pat Morgan), Lyle Talbot (Ted Kord), Harvey Clark (Peterson, the janitor), Purnell Pratt (Police Insp. Russell), Lillian Harmer (Augusta, the housekeeper), Arthur Hoyt (Wilfred), Louise Beavers (Maid) and Clarence Wilson (Editor Perkins).


Don’t Bet On Love (1933, Murray Roth)

Ayres is a degenerate gambler (who cleans up nice) and Rogers is the girl who loves him, despite herself, of course, in this breezy melodrama. In terms of particulars, it has almost nothing to recommend it. Ayres is a little bit too believable as the callous lead, who purposely eschews all advice as he lucks into horse win after horse win (at least if he’d had a system, it might seem purposeful, but apparently, he just guesses well). It makes for problems with making him sympathetic. He doesn’t deserve a happy ending, much less one where Rogers saves him from homelessness.

As for Rogers, she’s a little bit better than Ayres, but she’s uneven in this regular girl role. It’s unbelievable she’d wait ten minutes for Ayres, much less two or three years.

The best acting is from Charley Grapewin as Ayres’s father and Tom Dugan as his sidekick. Grapewin masterfully combines the knowing elder with the concerned parent, with a dash of the disapproving parent thrown in. His performance might be the film’s showiest in some ways, but it’s also the truest. Dugan’s just the faithful sidekick, who only has to be sturdy when Ayres’s acting like a gambling addict moron, which comes up a lot in the second half. And Dugan does have the film’s only funny sequence.

Roth’s direction isn’t flashy–he does move the camera for dramatic effect quite a bit, sometimes to good effect–but it’s solid.

Don’t Bet on Love‘s almost a decent hour.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Murray Roth; written by Howard Emmett Rogers, Roth and Ben Ryan; director of photography, Jackson Rose; edited by Robert Carlisle; music by David Klatzkin; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lew Ayres (Bill McCaffery), Ginger Rogers (Molly Gilbert), Charley Grapewin (Pop McCaffery), Shirley Grey (Goldie Williams), Tom Dugan (Scotty), Merna Kennedy (Ruby ‘Babe’ Norton), Lucile Gleason (Mrs. Gilbert) and Robert Emmett O’Connor (Edward Shelton).


Upperworld (1934, Roy Del Ruth)

Upperworld starts incredibly strong–Warren William and his son (I knew I’d seen Dickie Moore’s name in credits before–he’s in Out of the Past) feeling abandoned by Mary Astor, who’s more interested in throwing costume parties than spending time with her husband and son. The scenes with William and Moore are great throughout, even after the change I’ll get to in a second… but it’s the whole film for the beginning. The scenes with William and Andy Devine are fantastic, even the scenes with William going to work are great. Upperworld sets itself up as a traditional story–successful businessman becomes unhappy with his disaffected life–and does it real well.

Even the scenes with William and Ginger Rogers are excellent, because neither of them play it as a romance until, obviously, the script forces them to do so and then Upperworld turns in to something else entirely. It turns in to a goofy movie with William running around trying to destroy evidence, pursued by angry ex-traffic cop Sidney Toler. Toler’s performance is ludicrous, but so is his dialogue; it might not be all his fault.

Where Upperworld was interesting and unique was the friendship between Rogers and William… the resulting changes to both characters (she all of a sudden has a seedy boyfriend, played by a fun J. Carrol Naish, while William becomes a villain–except for the scenes with Moore) do irreparable harm to the film. I also was expecting, from the opening titles, Mary Astor to either have a big part or a glorified cameo. Either would have worked well, but they went for in between and, while she’s quite good, her role’s dumb and unbelievable.

The first half was so solid, I thought I’d be more depressed by end of Upperworld (the last half’s badness simmering itself), but the film closes with Andy Devine and he closes it well.

Del Ruth does a real nice job directing too, which might have made the second half more palatable than it would have been without him.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Roy Del Ruth; screenplay by Ben Markson, based on a story by Ben Hecht; director of photography, Tony Gaudio; edited by Owen Marks; music by Bernhard Kaun; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Warren William (Allexander Stream), Mary Astor (Mrs. Hettie Stream), Ginger Rogers (Lilly Linda), Andy Devine (Oscar), Dickie Moore (Tommy Stream), Ferdinand Gottschalk (Marcus), J. Carrol Naish (Lou Colima) and Sidney Toler (Officer Moran).


Lucky Partners (1940, Lewis Milestone)

Any movie with a Somerset Maugham reference like this one (to The Moon and Sixpence) is going to get me to go a little soft on it, but given how late the reference fully realizes, Lucky Partners was already reasonably safe. When I saw Lewis Milestone directed it, I knew there’d at least be some nice camerawork and Ginger Rogers RKO comedies are also generally decent. I just realized, thinking about it, Lucky Partners is only the second film I’ve seen starring Ronald Colman, which is a mistake. Colman glides through the film. Most of it is his scenes and he carries the whole thing with geniality. From the fourth shot–the film has a nice Milestone opening, so I can remember the shots–Colman’s the whole thing… which is amusing, but also problematic, because Ginger Rogers and Jack Carson’s characters suffer so Colman can remain the protagonist.

The film makes a number of assertions and changes them to keep the film moving. First, Rogers is likable. Then, she isn’t. Then, she is. Then, she isn’t. First, Carson is a jerk. Then, he’s not. Then, he’s an even bigger jerk. First, the film’s set up as a wonderful neighborhood piece with a great supporting cast. Then it becomes a road picture. Then it becomes a slightly mystical romance. Then it becomes a courtroom comedy. The first act of the film moves fast–twenty-five minutes went by in a snap–but the end of the second act drags, as the film desperately tries to tie itself up. The opening is strong and I kept hoping the film would regain some of that quality as it moved through its ninety-degree squiggles–and the film kept showing potential for said recovery–but it never did. The film’s lowest point was just before it declared itself a charming and mediocre comedy. Harry Davenport as the judge, who’s enamored with Rogers, clangs that change.

Given the excellent quality of Ginger Rogers’s other RKO features, Lucky Partners should be a bigger disappointment, but it’s such a pleasant viewing experience, it’s hard to get particularly upset. In fact, I think the film’s a major achievement. Though he’s a wonderful director, Milestone rarely made good films. And Lucky Partners is so close to good, it counts.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Milestone; screenplay by Allan Scott and John Van Druten, based on a story by Sacha Guitry; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Henry Berman; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; produced by George Haight; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ronald Colman (David Grant), Ginger Rogers (Jean Newton), Jack Carson (Frederick Harper), Spring Byington (Aunt Lucy), Cecilia Loftus (Mrs. Alice Sylvester) and Harry Davenport (Judge).


Scroll to Top