Paul Harvey

The Whole Town’s Talking (1935, John Ford)

The Whole Town’s Talking has some peculiar third act problems, but it also has this extraordinary first act set over three scenes and twenty-some minutes, which evens things out.

Some of the problem might stem from Town’s plot–mild-mannered office clerk Edward G. Robinson just happens to look like a famous gangster and is falsely arrested. The actual gangster shows up and Robinson gets to act off Robinson. The second half of the picture is often just Robinson. He can carry it–and cinematographer Joseph H. August excels at the process photography (though not the projection shots)–it’s just odd.

Also, the gangster doesn’t come into the film until the second act; he’s not a predicted permanent fixture. Not like Jean Arthur, the omnipresent love interest whose vanishes signals the awkward finish. She and Robinson are great together; director Ford introduces most of the main cast quickly and then uses repetition to establish them. No one has a deep back story but they’re all fully drawn.

As for Ford’s directing of a gangster spoof–he does really well with the actors. Robinson, Arthur, Arthur Byron, Donald Meek–Edward Brophy is good in a small part. Ford does okay with the backlot shooting, but he’s a little unsure with the mellow scenes. Lots of people standing.

Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin’s script is strong, though they do forget a joke.

The finale also redeems itself with Ford letting Robinson eschew the comedy for moral complexity.

Town’s unique and good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin, based on a story by W.R. Burnett; director of photography, Joseph H. August; edited by Viola Lawrence; produced by Ford and Lester Cowan; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Edward G. Robinson (Arthur Ferguson Jones), Jean Arthur (Miss Clark), Arthur Hohl (Detective Sergeant Boyle), James Donlan (Detective Sergeant Howe), Arthur Byron (Spencer), Wallace Ford (Healy), Donald Meek (Hoyt), Etienne Girardot (Seaver), Edward Brophy (‘Slugs’ Martin) and Paul Harvey (‘J.G.’ Carpenter).


Father of the Bride (1950, Vincente Minnelli)

Father of the Bride is such a constant delight, it’s practically over before its problems become clear. First off, it’s definitely about the titular Father–a wonderful Spencer Tracy–who not only narrates but is in almost every scene. The wedding reception, when he’s chasing around daughter Elizabeth Taylor to say goodbye, is about the only time he’s not running a scene.

The reception is also where the problems show. Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett write a great script, no question, but their situational comedy is so strong… things get lost. Joan Bennett, as Tracy’s wife and Taylor’s mother, gets shortchanged in the second half. She’s around, she has some good scenes, but nothing compared to her first half ones.

There are also a number of plot threads left unresolved or forgotten or just plain dismissed. Goodrich, Hackett and director Minnelli go for the best laugh they can get out of a scene. Some of these laughs do have narrative consequences and no one seems to have much interest in acknowledging them. It’s too bad.

But Bride’s problems don’t hurt the film’s ability to entertain. Tracy and Bennett are great–he’s so energetic, it’s very impressive she can hold her own. Goodrich and Hackett’s masterful script actively works his narration into scenes.

Taylor’s very likable as the daughter, though she doesn’t have a lot to do. Leo G. Carroll has a great part too.

Minnelli does well too. The settings are confined, but he never lets Bride get claustrophobic.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Vincente Minnelli; screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, based on the novel by Edward Streeter; director of photography, John Alton; edited by Ferris Wheeler; music by Adolph Deutsch; produced by Pandro S. Berman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Stanley T. Banks), Joan Bennett (Ellie Banks), Elizabeth Taylor (Kay Banks), Don Taylor (Buckley Dunstan), Billie Burke (Doris Dunstan), Leo G. Carroll (Mr. Massoula), Moroni Olsen (Herbert Dunstan), Melville Cooper (Mr. Tringle), Taylor Holmes (Warner), Paul Harvey (Rev. A.I. Galsworthy), Frank Orth (Joe), Russ Tamblyn (Tommy Banks), Tom Irish (Ben Banks) and Marietta Canty (Delilah).


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).


Stanley and Livingstone (1939, Henry King)

There are some beautiful sequences in Stanley and Livingstone, unfortunately, they’re mostly the second unit work from Africa. These sequences–the endless line of men trekking across great expanses–reveal the landscape and wild life of the continent with fervor. Later on, they’re even incorporated into a great rear projection. Spencer Tracy walks from the right of the frame, in front of the screen, to the left, into a physical set. It’s a nice move, probably the best one in the film (but none of the rear projection is shabbily incorporated).

It’s unfortunate the rest of the film comes off so disjointed. Henry King either didn’t shoot enough coverage or editor Barbara McLean simply ignored it for some reason. King’s fine when he’s shooting long shots or unfolding the matter-of-fact narrative (reporter Stanley’s search for Livingstone), but he has real problems when he’s trying to do the tacked-on unrequited romance angle. Or, almost as bad, the awkward, Walter Brennan fueled comedy relief. Brennan’s an American frontier scout in Africa. It’s as funny as it sounds.

The romance, however, reveals the film’s most significant problem. It’s not really about Spencer Tracy. He’s in ninety-five percent of the scenes, but the film tries to explore his personal growth, which isn’t part of the narrative journey. One moment he’s one way, the next he’s different. It’s a revolutionary, absolute and immediate change. The film culminates in a hearing scene–but really a courtroom scene, as it gives Tracy a lengthy monologue–and it’s boring. The climax has a strong dose of deus ex machina and the film visibly strains to bring Tracy into the narrative. He’s been on the sidelines for ten minutes, even though he’s been on screen. It’s a wrong move for the ending; maybe it’s just because the story left Africa, where it was most compelling.

Tracy’s performance is excellent. The script fails him–most of his changes occur during voiceover narration–but he’s still great. As the romantic interest, Nancy Kelly is ineffective. Charles Coburn’s fine as the bad guy, Richard Greene’s amiable as his good-hearted son. Cedric Hardwicke gives a strange performance as the titular Livingstone. He’s going for something and he doesn’t get it, but the failure isn’t absolute and it is interesting to watch. There are a couple moments where he really lets loose and they’re wonderful. Henry Travers is wasted in a manner similar to Brennan.

Some of the film’s problems come from trying to ignore it’s all white man’s burden. In a strange move, the film–in the script–by-passes the evangelical component and promotes the importance of geography… but then concludes with “Onward, Christian Soldiers” playing over Tracy’s African exploration montage.

While the film’s compelling at times–and the production is generally of fine quality–it’s strangely empty and shouldn’t be. It coasts quite a while on the initial good idea before Tracy can’t keep it going on his own anymore.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Henry King; screenplay by Philip Dunne and Julien Josephson, based on historical research and a story by Hal Long and Sam Hellman; director of photography, George Barnes; edited by Barbara McLean; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Spencer Tracy (Henry M. Stanley), Nancy Kelly (Eve Kingsley), Richard Greene (Gareth Tyce), Walter Brennan (Jeff Slocum), Charles Coburn (Lord Tyce), Cedric Hardwicke (Dr. David Livingstone), Henry Hull (James Gordon Bennett Jr.), Henry Travers (John Kingsley), Miles Mander (Sir John Gresham), David Torrence (Mr. Cranston), Holmes Herbert (Sir Frederick Holcomb), C. Montague Shaw (Sir Oliver French), Brandon Hurst (Sir Henry Forrester), Hassan Said (Hassan), Paul Harvey (Col. Grimes), Russell Hicks (Peace Commissioner) and Frank Dae (Peace Commissioner).


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