Myrna Loy

Another Thin Man (1939, W.S. Van Dyke)

Another Thin Man is a peculiar blend of old dark house mystery and the Thin Man style of murder mystery. Most of the first half of the film is the old dark house mystery, with healthy doses of humor thrown.

Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s screenplay brings William Powell and Myrna Loy to New York from elsewhere, stopping off in the city long enough to establish them having a baby and to set up some events for the finish, before sending them out to Long Island. Once there, Powell gets roped into helping C. Aubrey Smith, who’s had some murder threats against him.

The film has three distinct phases. That first phase, the continuation of the Thin Man series, emphasizing the relationship between Powell and Loy, then that old dark house phase. Once the final phase comes around–when the action moves back to New York–the film starts to feel a little long. Supporting cast members haven’t just been dropping like flies, new ones keep getting introduced.

Director Van Dyke doesn’t really make an effort to unify the film’s tone. In the city, it feels one way, on Long Island, it feels like an entirely different picture. The script hurries events too much, never taking time to develop anything.

Sadly, the primary supporting cast lacks standouts–Harry Bellaver, Abner Biberman and Marjorie Main are the strongest and they’re in small parts.

Weak editing from Fredrick Y. Smith too.

More of the film works out than not; its missed opportunities are easily forgotten.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on a story by Dashiell Hammett; directors of photography, William H. Daniels and Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Fredrick Y. Smith; music by Edward Ward; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick), Myrna Loy (Nora), Virginia Grey (Lois), Otto Kruger (Van Slack), C. Aubrey Smith (Colonel MacFay), Ruth Hussey (Dorothy Waters), Nat Pendleton (Lieutenant Guild), Patric Knowles (Dudley Horn), Tom Neal (Freddie), Phyllis Gordon (Mrs. Bellam), Sheldon Leonard (Phil Church), Don Costello (‘Diamond Back’ Vogel), Harry Bellaver (‘Creeps’), Muriel Hutchison (Smitty), Abner Biberman (‘Dum-Dum’), Marjorie Main (Mrs. Dolley) and William A. Poulsen (Nickie Jr.).


After the Thin Man (1936, W.S. Van Dyke)

There is very little economy to After the Thin Man; instead, screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and director W.S. Van Dyke act with rampant abandon. The first twenty or so minutes of the film is just audience gratification–it’s a sequel to a popular film and the filmmakers are giving the audience what they want. They’re doing it well, sure, but it doesn’t have much to do with the eventual narrative.

Instead, Goodrich, Hackett and Van Dyke stage massive comedic set pieces, whether it’s William Powell and Myrna Loy getting home to a surprise party in their honor where no one notices them or Asta the dog’s rather amusing (and beautifully staged) domestic problems.

The murder mystery itself doesn’t start until about a half hour in. The plotting of the film is significant too–it’s a direct sequel to the previous movie and the first sixty-seven minutes are continuous. Once Powell and Loy finally get to go to sleep, there are only about forty minutes left. Strangely enough, the only time the film plods is during those forty minutes. The last twenty minutes breeze by, but some of the investigating is too full of exposition to move well.

Lots of great supporting performances–Joseph Calleia, Elissa Landi, James Stewart, Jessie Ralph, Levine, Penny Singleton. The script gives the supporting cast lots to do.

Technically, Van Dyke and editor Robert Kern do have problems with disconcerting cuts to close-ups–and then not cutting to Loy in the finale–but otherwise, the film’s a fantastic time.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from a story by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Robert Kern; music by Herbert Stothart and Edward Ward; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora), James Stewart (David), Elissa Landi (Selma), Joseph Calleia (“Dancer”), Jessie Ralph (Aunt Katherine), Alan Marshall (Robert), Teddy Hart (Casper), Sam Levene (Abrams), Penny Singleton (Polly), William Law (Lum Kee), George Zucco (Dr. Kammer) and Paul Fix (Phil).


The Thin Man (1934, W.S. Van Dyke)

While enough cannot be said about the efficiency of W.S. Van Dyke’s direction of the The Thin Man, the efficiency of the script deserves an equal amount of praise. Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich get in so much little character stuff for the supporting cast, it’s hard to imagine how the film could possibly function without it. Robert Kern’s editing is essential for it to work too–the pace of reaction shots is fabulous.

Of course, the script’s structure is also peculiar. Until their second big scene–their first one alone–William Powell and Myrna Loy aren’t the leads of the story. Instead, it’s Maureen O’Sullivan. She starts out the film and it then moves to introduce various people into her story. Even at the end, after O’Sullivan has long since given up the primary supporting role to Nat Pendleton’s police inspector, she’s still integral.

From Powell and Loy’s first scene, their chemistry commands the film. The script has the banter, but it’s the way the actors play off each other (under Van Dyke’s able direction). Also wonderful is how the intercuts of their dog enhances the scenes. Van Dyke cuts to these reaction shots of Asta the terrier and it makes the viewer feel part of this peculiar family.

It’s important too, since much of the film takes place in Powell and Loy’s hotel suite.

The leads are great, the supporting cast is excellent–Edward Brophy, Harold Huber, Minna Gombell, Porter Hall being the standouts.

The Thin Man’s a masterpiece; it’s brilliant filmmaking.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, James Wong Howe; edited by Robert Kern; music by William Axt; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick), Myrna Loy (Nora), Maureen O’Sullivan (Dorothy), Nat Pendleton (Guild), Minna Gombell (Mimi), Porter Hall (MacCaulay), Henry Wadsworth (Tommy), William Henry (Gilbertt), Harold Huber (Nunheim), Cesar Romero (Chris), Natalie Moorhead (Julia Wolf), Edward Brophy (Morelli), Cyril Thornton (Tanner) and Edward Ellis (Clyde Wynant).


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 Rains Came (1939, Clarence Brown)

I was expecting The Rains Came to be a standard soap–with some ethnic flair, of course (Tyrone Power’s an Indian doctor, Myrna Loy’s a British lady). Instead, it’s a little like… Maugham-lite. Neither Loy nor Power is the lead (in fact, Power’s in it so little he should get a “special guest star” credit). The lead is actually George Brent (who gets third-billing).

He opens the movie and he carries it for quite a while. Loy doesn’t show up for a while and, even when she does, Brent’s around the entire time. His troubles with missionary’s daughter Brenda Joyce, for example, take up the screen time when Power should be getting his own backstory. Brent’s the bored Englishman on self-imposed exile in India (hence, Maugham-lite) and he drinks and threatens to cavort. He makes Rains a joy to watch, even when it’s going through it’s more melodramatic sections.

As it turns out, Loy is not a stoic, upstanding British woman as I expected. She’s a bit of a tramp, frequently stepping out on her odious husband–played by Nigel Bruce, whose death scene is played for laughs. It makes Loy a little bit less than likable (elevating the initially annoying Joyce to that position) and quite tragic once she discovers selflessness–again, Maugham-lite.

Additionally, there are great special effects, harmless direction from Brown and some fine supporting performances–Maria Ouspenskaya in particular.

The Rains Came has some excellent moments; they overshadow the mediocre ones.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clarence Brown; screenplay by Philip Dunne and Julien Josephson, based on the novel by Louis Bromfield; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; edited by Barbara McLean; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Myrna Loy (Lady Edwina Esketh), Tyrone Power (Maj. Rama Safti), George Brent (Tom Ransome), Brenda Joyce (Fern Simon), Nigel Bruce (Lord Albert Esketh), Maria Ouspenskaya (Maharani), Joseph Schildkraut (Mr. Bannerjee), Mary Nash (Miss MacDaid), Jane Darwell (Mrs. Smiley), Marjorie Rambeau (Mrs. Simon), Henry Travers (Rev. Homer Smiley), H.B. Warner (Maharajah), Laura Hope Crews (Lily Hoggett-Egburry), William Royle (Raschid Ali Khan), C. Montague Shaw (Gen. Keith), Harry Hayden (Rev. Elmer Simon), Herbert Evans (Bates), Abner Biberman (John, the Baptist), Mara Alexander (Mrs. Bannerjee) and William Edmunds (Mr. Das).


Love Crazy (1941, Jack Conway)

Love Crazy has to be the worst film William Powell and Myrna Loy ever made together. Powell started his career in silents, so it’s possible it’s not his worst film, but I’m pretty sure it’s Loy’s. Love Crazy starts incredibly lazy. It doesn’t bother defining either character–they’re just Powell and Loy playing a couple, Powell’s charming, Loy’s enchanting. They’re playing caricatures, not people–Love Crazy would have been much more amusing if it’d been different actors impersonating Powell and Loy, David Niven and Maggie Smith really should have remade it.

But the script’s weakness doesn’t have much to do with the shallow characters. Like I said, Powell’s charming, Loy’s enchanting, they’re certainly actors one can spend ninety minutes with, even if there’s not much of a story. Love Crazy, unfortunately, has a story–and it’s a bad one. The film’s construction is incompetent. The first forty minutes or so take place over one evening, Powell and Loy’s four-year wedding anniversary. The four-year anniversary, according to Wikipedia, is linen or silk. Neither of these play a part in the film, I just got curious. The tradition–according to the expository dialogue–is for Powell and Loy to walk four miles into the country, get on a boat, then have a late dinner. Powell suggests they do it backwards, which sounds like a diverting enough premise for a picture. But they don’t do any of these backwards activities. Instead, Loy’s mother shows up and the evening goes to pot. While Loy’s off running an errand for her now injured mother–at this point, Love Crazy seems like it could be a mix of The Man Who Came to Dinner and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, told over one evening–Powell all of a sudden decides to skip off with ex-girlfriend Gail Patrick.

Here’s where Love Crazy flushes itself out to sea. Loy thinks Powell’s running around with Patrick, Powell protests his innocence, Loy doesn’t believe him and sets out to divorce him, viewer is supposed to believe Powell–even though the evidence is against him–because he’s William Powell; there must be a reasonable explanation. He and Myrna Loy are movie married after all. What Love Crazy never acknowledges is Powell’s character running out on his ailing mother-in-law (she’s annoying) to hang out with ex-girlfriend Patrick after Loy’s made it clear she doesn’t want him seeing her. It’s such a strange scene where Powell decides to scurry out with Patrick, it’s a ludicrous move just to get something going in the plot. Regardless of Powell’s innocence in terms of fidelity, he’s still a heel who ran out because he was inconvenienced by his mother-in-law. It’s lame.

There’s a lot of slapstick and it’s lame too. A scene where Powell gets his neck stuck in an elevator door implies he might get some brain damage, but it’s never explored. It’d be a far better way for the film to have gone. All of Love Crazy suffers similarly–it always could make a better narrative choice and never does.

Conway’s direction is fine. It’s not his fault. Powell and Loy are both fine. Florence Bates is okay as Loy’s mother. She occasionally overplays the annoying mother-in-law, but not often. She’s usually the good guy compared to Powell. Jack Carson’s good as Loy’s new suitor (a terribly underwritten part, in a film of underwritten parts). Patrick’s bad. Vladimir Sokoloff is awesome in a small role.

It’s a terrible film. I’d never seen it before–Evelyn Prentice instead being the worst Loy and Powell pairing I’d seen–and I wish I never did.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Conway; screenplay by William Ludwig, Charles Lederer and David Hertz, based on a story by Hertz and Ludwig; director of photography, Ray June; edited by Ben Lewis; music by David Snell; produced by Pandro S. Berman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Steve Ireland), Myrna Loy (Susan Ireland), Gail Patrick (Isobel Kimble Grayson), Jack Carson (Ward Willoughby), Florence Bates (Mrs. Cooper), Sidney Blackmer (Lawyer George Renny), Sig Ruman (Doctor Wuthering), Vladimir Sokoloff (Dr. David Klugle), Donald MacBride (‘Pinky’ Grayson), Sara Haden (Miss Cecilia Landis), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs. Bristol), Fern Emmett (Martha), Joseph Crehan (Judge), George Meeker (Lawyer DeWest), Clarence Muse (Robert) and Elisha Cook Jr. (Joe).


Double Wedding (1937, Richard Thorpe)

Much of Double Wedding–around two-thirds of it–is a supreme comedy. It might feature William Powell’s best comedic performance, just because of the limitless opportunity it offers him. It’s hard to top Powell in a fur coat and a fake wig… with a German accent (and a walking stick). Or Powell going through a big demonstration of how sidekick John Beal should win back his fiancée (who’s now in love with Powell). A crowd gathers to watch Powell and Beal and it’s the most natural thing–who wouldn’t want to watch Powell in this film.

The script gives him a lot of freedom–his character is revealed (a little) throughout, so there’s very little constraint on him. For whatever reason, I wouldn’t have thought Powell could have done the Peter Pan bohemian painter but he does it great. Double Wedding even makes a joke at expense of the dignified characters he more often portrayed in a spectacular little scene.

There’s a lot of dialogue in Double Wedding, which is probably not from the source play (given it was probably written in Hungarian). The actors have some lengthy deliveries–starting with Myrna Loy’s hilarious explanation of how she’s related to Beal. It’s so confusing, it’s hard not to see the connections drawing out in the mind’s eye… just to keep up with Loy, whose delivery is wonderful. But Beal and Powell also have some long monologues and both are a joy to watch.

Beal’s character, quiet and reserved, gets these great situations–often when he’s got to explain why he’s acting passive, but the ones where he nears his boiling point are funny too. He has good chemistry with the object of his affections, played by Florence Rice. So it’s too bad when she disappears a third into the film, since Powell’s got Loy to romance, not her. It’s hard to even remember Rice is around, especially during some of the sequences with Sidney Toler, as Loy’s dimwitted butler who fancies himself a detective and spies on Powell for her. Powell gets the aforementioned beard from Toler, who’s trailing him in disguise.

The various absurdities in Double Wedding–along with a couple convenient revelations–create a fanciful atmosphere. It’s like the film anticipates what the viewer wants to see happen and delivers. Loy and Powell, for instance, have a romantic scene in the forest and it turns comedic at just the right moment–and then the film doesn’t stick with it too long, director Thorpe gets out at the ideal moment.

I’m sure I’ve seen other films of Thorpe’s before, but his direction here is very impressive. He knows how to use the actors well, even when it’s as simple as walking across a room or glancing into a mirror. And Thorpe manages to keep the rather large and out of control conclusion together, which is a significant feat.

The ending is where Double Wedding falls apart. It relies on standard comedy pacing instead of doing its own thing, it follows the standards instead of writing them–the first two-thirds is unlike anything else and the last third is extremely comfortable. The film stops before the story’s done, but also before the viewer is ready for it to be over. The tedious final act, with its paltry pay-off, is okay… however, the film raised expectations much higher.

And I can’t forget Loy. The third act really fails her, in terms of material. She becomes a fifth wheel in her own film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Thorpe; screenplay by Jo Swerling, based on a play by Ferenc Molnár; director of photography, William H. Daniels; edited by Frank Sullivan; music by Edward Ward; produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Charlie Lodge), Myrna Loy (Margit Agnew), Florence Rice (Irene Agnew), John Beal (Waldo Beaver), Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Kensington-Bly), Edgar Kennedy (Spike), Sidney Toler (Mr. Keough), Mary Gordon (Mrs. Keough), Barnett Parker (Mr. Flint), Katharine Alexander (Claire Lodge), Priscilla Lawson (Felice) and Bert Roach (Shrank).


The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933, W.S. Van Dyke)

The Prizefighter and the Lady mixes a couple genres–the philandering husband whose wife can’t stop loving him standard and, additionally, stunt casting. Heavyweight contender Max Baer stars as a heavyweight contender, who fights the champ, played by champ Primo Carnera. Myrna Loy plays the suffering wife, while Walter Huston and Otto Kruger finish the supporting cast. There are boxing and wrestling cameos–the biggest being Jack Dempsey.

The film culminates with the fight between Baer and Carnera. Loy’s supposed to be cheering for Baer’s defeat, while Huston–Baer’s boxer is an almost unparalleled narcissist–I can’t remember a feature with a more despicable protagonist who the viewer is supposed to adore and admire–is quietly cheering his fighter on. Kruger sort of stands around, looking doe-eyed, as former love Loy can’t resist the manliness of Baer.

What’s strangest about the scene is the film’s relationship with the viewer–it certainly appears the audience is supposed to be cheering Baer win, after spending forty minutes of him acting like a complete jerk and however much time before with him acting like a moderate jerk. The film opens strong because of Huston, whose performance as a broken down, drunken boxing manager who gets another shot, is utterly fantastic. Every line Huston delivers is perfect. He’s marvelous.

The big fight isn’t even directed with an emphasis on the exhibition. Instead, the film cuts between fight shots and reactions in the crowd and among the main cast. The sequence has great sound, with the background rumble overpowering everything else. Van Dyke has some excellent shots here, but the emotional impact is obviously more important.

Except it’s not, because Baer’s a jerk. The conclusion’s even ambiguous as to the future of his philandering. Whatever lesson Baer’s supposed to have learned through the running time, whatever change he’s going to make to his life, whatever development… the film’s indifferent. He’s a hero because he’s a real-life boxer; he’s not accountable for his actions.

Van Dyke’s got some great shots and some fine moments throughout the picture. Kruger’s gangster with a heart of gold is okay–he and Loy have some good scenes together. She’s fine, if completely unbelievable in the role as it gets towards the end. Like I said before, Huston’s superb. There’s some nice work from Vince Barnett and Robert McWade. Carnera shows more charisma in his practically wordless performance than Baer does as the protagonist.

There’s a lot of filler–musical numbers, mostly, trying to obscure the lack of story. Baer isn’t terrible–he can’t emote, of course–which might have been from Howard Hawks working with him… or not (Hawks was going to direct before MGM signed Baer, then may or may not have stuck around to work with him while Van Dyke finished up a different picture). He can’t make the character likable, which makes the whole premise fail. But he could be worse….

A lot like the film itself. It could be worse–and I had to keep reminding myself of that one.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by John Lee Mahin and John Meehan, based on a story by Frances Marion; director of photography, Lester White; edited by Robert Kern; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Myrna Loy (Belle), Max Baer (Morgan), Primo Carnera (Carnera), Jack Dempsey (Dempsey), Walter Huston (The Professor), Otto Kruger (Willie Ryan), Vince Barnett (Bugsie) and Robert McWade (Sonny).


I Love You Again (1940, W.S. Van Dyke)

I Love You Again is such a confident success–the whole thing rests on William Powell and everything he does in the entire picture is fantastic–it’s hard to think of anything wrong with it. It moves beautifully, its ninety-nine minutes sailing by, the supporting cast is all excellent and every one of its big comic scenes work.

The film’s premise–Powell as a teetotaler who, following a hit on the head, discovers he’s really a con artist–is well-suited as a vehicle for he and Myrna Loy. Loy plays the divorcing wife–bored with the teetotaler–who finds him a changed and intriguing man. I Love You Again comes about seven years after their first pairing and the two work in absolute unison, allowing the narrative to do without added exposition.

Watching Powell pursue Loy–and run afoul of her new beau, played by Donald Douglas (in one of the film’s only weak performances)–is delightful, with their pre-existing film partnership part of the agreed upon amusement. And it’s their filmic relationship, the one playing out in I Love You Again, where the film gets overconfident. It assumes the viewer will take that relationship for granted to a degree; the romance, which becomes the film’s driving force, isn’t the biggest plot foil.

Instead, there’s an elaborate con going on. The con’s good and beautifully handled–it’s a shame Edmund Lowe doesn’t have more scenes, but Frank McHugh’s great as Powell’s sidekick–but it confuses the film’s effectiveness. Loy’s hardly in the film’s last third, just because there’s an elaborate and hilarious set-up for the con involving Powell dressed up as a Boy Scout. Because the sequence is so good–and because Loy and Powell do have a nice scene dealing with the romance plot following it–as the film plays, it isn’t clear how much time Loy’s been off-screen.

The first half of the film, filled with some of its best comic scenes–there’s a great dinner scene with Powell, Loy and Douglas, another scene with Powell and Loy shopping–is heavy on Loy. She’s an integral part of the experience and to put her off-screen because it’s workable is bothersome (I know I’m harping on it, but Loy doesn’t get a very good close).

In some ways, this pairing is more convenient than collaborative. Powell gets to do physical comedy, play two wildly different parts (the teetotaler being completely against type for him) and gets to work with McHugh. He and Powell have a great chemistry and McHugh gets most of the film’s best lines; his character is the only one free of a real narrative.

But the film viewing experience itself is so joyful, it’s hard to identify the shortcuts the filmmakers are taking while watching. The film’s a superior diversion and the slightly less than filling feeling takes a few minutes to set in. During, there are a few moments where it’s clear Van Dyke’s not really giving the direction his all. Some of the camera set-ups are identical–even if they frequently do have some excellent cuts–and he’s not really trying. He doesn’t have to, not with the material, not with the cast, but it’d have been something if he had.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Charles Lederer, George Oppenheimer and Harry Kurnitz, based on a story by Leon Gordon and Maurine Dallas Watkins and the novel by Octavus Roy Cohen; director of photography, Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Gene Ruggiero; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Lawrence Weingarten; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Larry Wilson), Myrna Loy (Kay Wilson), Frank McHugh (Doc Ryan), Edmund Lowe (Duke Sheldon), Donald Douglas (Herbert), Nella Walker (Kay’s mother), Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer (Leonard Harkspur Jr.), Pierre Watkin (Mr. W.H. Sims), Paul Stanton (Mr. Edward Littlejohn Sr.), Morgan Wallace (Mr. Phil Belenson) and Charles Arnt (Mr. Billings).


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).


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