FAST WORKERS (1933)

It is interesting to look at a  Directors work  when they move out of there comfortable  genre hence we  look at Tod Browning  FAST WORKERS  from 1933. Mr Browning was known for his work with Lon Chaney Sr in the silent cinema. He primarily worked  the  best within the  “circus’ or  ‘sideshow” world of  which  he  was from in an early part of his life.   Tod Browning’s made this picture after  doing his misunderstood  masterpiece is FREAKS (1932) which one  could say was  the mixture  of  revulsion and  revenge.       FAST WORKERS  takes  him out of  the  comfort zone  and  into  still  an enclosed world  of the construction worker on a  high rise building yet with still the same theme of   revenge on a lower  scale.

 

FAST WORKERS  features silent matinee idol John Gilbert as  Gunner Smith  Riveter  and  a  “Man’s man” in  an  tough occupation.  Robert Armstrong of  KING KONG (1933) fame is  his buddy Bucker  Reilly.    The  vastly underrated Mae Clarke plays Mary;  the love interest that comes  between the  two friends which  results  in the  rather  odd  ending. Mae Clarke’s  Mary  supports herself  by taking money from  men  that  she  can play  for yet she  still marries Bucker.   Mary is often bitter  and  cynical yet loves  the money under  that  sweet exterior  that  breaks  during an argument  scene with Bucker.

Tod Browning and  James Whale both share the  trait of  an underlying sense  of  cruelty in their  films.   The James Whale Directed  SHOWBOAT (1933)  has  a image of  a  crying lost child inserted  into  a  song sequence.   Tod  Browning for some reason puts armadillos in  Dracula’s  crypt  in  the  DRACULA (1931).  FAST WORKERS (1933) features  characters  that do  cruel things to  each other like Gunner  Smith  tossing a  dime  on the ground so a  woman  Bucker is interested in will pick it  up. Socially  that action means  you think the  woman is  cheap and will do anything for a   dime.   This  happens  twice in the  film each time making sure Bucker is  never  going to be happy.  What sort of  friend  does  that to another?  This  act  also  sets the  stage  for Bucker  doing what he  does  on the  job site  to Gunner once  again bring the  revenge aspect forward.

John Gilbert talks in this picture contrary to belief  that his  voice was  not  suitable for the  new media.   Gilbert was  also the on screen and off screen lover  of  Greta  Garbo and a  few other along with a  prolific  career  at MGM in a variety of  roles. Various  stories  came out regarding why Gilbert’s career  failed the most prevalent being  that he  upset  Louie B  Mayer  who ran MGM like a  fiefdom with his continued  affairs and  disregard  for  following  rules.  Mayer   in an act of  revenge that he  apparently did before   sped  up  Gilbert’s  voice  recordings and  told  the  press  he  was unfit  for  talking film. John Gilbert died  of  a  heart attack resulting from  alcoholism  in 1936 never  again to be a  star he once  was.  Mirroring the  plot of  FAST WORKER: Mayer’s  revenge  was complete.

Keep in mind Mayer  was  the head of MGM  who was called  first when Paul Bern was  found  dead after  wedding Jean Harlow.  Mayer re arranged the  crime  scene before the police  were called  supposedly planting  the  suicide  note. This  is all conjecture of course  but the  studios  all has  Fixers  and MGM’s  was one  hard nosed  Eddie Mannix.

 

FAST WORKER (1933) is a   quirky film filled with people all with bitter past  that takes its  toll.  It is  actually  from a play called  “RIVETS” with  Tod Browning  as  the  film’s  producer  and  director.  John Gilbert’s  image has  already been destroyed in the public  eye  as he  was  thought of  as  not  being a  talking tough  guy so  he was  given this rough role  to change  it yet  many say he was miscast in.   I  tend  to agree  with that to an extent since  it  could have  been a  Clark Gable  role  as  he was on same lot.    FAST WORKERS   is  still a  good  watch   for  the character  dynamics  and  the presence of  Mae  Clark  the other   supporting actors  including  young  Sterling Holloway.   FAST WORKERS  perhaps  refers  to people  getting what they want by pulling  a  ‘fast one”.

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THE NAUGHTY FLIRT (1931)

 

THE NAUGHTY FLIRT is  a  fun little  diversion a picture  best known for  early role of Myrna Loy who  now  broke out of her roles of  ‘Asians’  and  other exotic folk.  MGM still did not  know how to use Myrna Loy but they would find out  as well all  know with the advent of  the   “THIN MAN”  series.  Another component of  this  film is the neglected performance, all be it  dated  of  Alice  White.

Alice White following in the ranks  somewhere between  Jean Harlow,  Clara Bow  and Colleen Moore.  Moore  was  a contemporary  of  Alice White in  that they shared  subject matter of   film plus a  shared  bobbed  hair  style influenced by Louise Brooks  and  the  ‘Flapper’ look.

 

 

The Directing chair  was  inhabited  by Edward Cline who had  done work with Buster Keaton during the  early 1920’s so  the comedy, pace and camera  angles are in good hands. Still learning to  direct with dialogue at this time in Hollywood often made scenes  seem static as if on the stage.

THE NAUGHTY FLIRT is  your  typical film of that nature as a rich party girl  Katherine Constance “Kay” Elliott (Alice  White) sets her  sights of  straight laced  lawyer  type Alan Joseph Ward played  by Paul Page.   You get the  band of  eccentric characters  in the  “gang’   all making  fun of the police  and  authority figures.  This   is a pre-code picture so there  is a  lot of thumbing their collective noses  and  sometimes wrinkling them at the   aspect of  work and responsibility.

Pictures like these  often will  have an attempt at  redemption or  some  type of  ‘moral message’.   In  Colleen Moore  film WHY BE GOOD (1929) which was silent was the message of  the  ‘good  time” for the  shop girl trapped in a  clerk  job and  ‘wanting to live” similar  to  THE  NAUGHTY FLIRT.

Alice  White’s character  did not have a job but  rich lawyer  father paying the way and   finding out that she had  ‘gone to far’  when arrested   In true  tradition Kay finds  she must change so  she  goes to work for Alan  with disastrous results.  Ward  even gets here to clean his inkwell. Kay is  sought after and has the  reputation of  being engaged  to a  man after knowing him for only 30 mins.   This  was a  talking film so  you got plenty of examples of “Flapper’  slang and games. One  game  was  a  ‘Cinderella” dance where the  shoes of all the women are  tossed on the  floor and the men scramble to get them  then  find  the  girl they fit.

In the end  Kay does get her lawyer man with a bit of  chicanery from others including her  father. Myrna Loy is  quite wonderful as  the  scheming Linda Gregory.  Gregory  does her best to try and  get Alan (Or does  she?) with  a late night  bedroom door  sequence similar to farce the night  before  Kay’s  wedding very well handled  for the  time by Edward  Cline’s  direction.  Like it or  not this is an Alice  White  picture  and Loy’s star  had not  yet risen.

Alice  White  has  been thought of a  second rate  Clara Bow with her  style, her  voice yet i  beg to differ in that opinion.   White brings an almost whimsical quality as  she moves,  dances,  wiggles her nose plus the  added  feature of  dialogue.   White was also an early advocate of  Fitness for  screen stars and along with a few others took part in diet, exercise and massage  routines supplied  by one of the  first fitness  gurus  Sylvia of Hollywood.  Alice White  wanted  to improve so  she took time away to learn acting in 1931. White’s career  was  derailed when she  returned in 1933  with  scandal of an affair with  boyfriend actor Jack Warburton and  another man screenwriter Sy Bartlett who would be  her  future husband.  Unfortunately  unlike her  character of  Kay in the film, she would not fair to well as  she relegated to bit roles and  leaving all together to be a  secretary.  Alice White passed away  in 1983  at  the  age of 78 from stroke complications.

Her performances   live on  along with other such as  THE NAUGHTY FLIRT  which is a  time piece  of the “flapper”  age like so many of  them were  this one with dialogue. Good  fun, good performances and an emerging  Myrna Loy.  Champagne and  responsibility flowed  freely.

 

 

 

ITS ALL CAME TRUE (1940)

 

 

THE  1940  musical/gangster comedy IT ALL CAME TRUE  featuring Ann Sheridan with Humphrey Bogart just on the cusp of  stardom is eclectic piece of  film making.  The picture also features Jeffrey Lynn is a departure from his regular ‘Good guy” roles.

It came from time when musicals were huge and this effort tried to duplicate what what happening at MGM so I watched with  trepidation.    While cliches abound in entertainment of  this sort IT ALL CAME TRUE offered some genuinely  funny moments one of which featured Una O Conner feeding Bogart’s  gangster character in bed. One can imagine Mr Bogart loathing this role yet the  studios made him do this or perhaps he didn’t and had a good laugh.

The story concerns a gangster  Grasselli/Chips Maguire played by you know by now who needs to lay low.  Jeffrey Lynne in a  slight change of pace from his ‘Good Guy/attorney” roles  plays Tommy Taylor who has been working with Maguire.    Taylor agrees reluctantly agrees  due to blackmail to let Maguire stay at his ancestral boarding house home that he hasn’t been to in five years.

The boarding house  features among those eccentric characters  from Jesse Busley as Nora Taylor , Za Su Pitts as Miss Flint  who is  terrorized by Men following her home that she actually enjoys yet too shy to say. Una O Conner does her best as the cynical cook that actually runs the place plus later one you get to see her ‘glammed’ in a good way up for a party scene.  The best if  that  is possible is Felix Bressart as monocled very  formal  THE GREAT BOLDINI who performs magic tricks dressed as  sort of Roman soldier with the add of  trained poodle.

Anne Sheridan plays Sarah Jane Ryan who is a childhood friend of Tommy Taylor and also a boarder.   Sarah and Tommy renew acquaintances and find that have mutual interest and talent for music.  I actually wonder if  it is  Anne Sheridan’s real voice in the sequence.  They make plans to audition as a  duo

Chip Maguire has  ‘eyes” for Sarah that he  views in house talant show featuring the boarders.  When  he  sees  Sarah perform with Timmy he gets the idea to turn the boarding house into an exclusive club that the will manage because  he is bored.

The picture has  some very different musical numbers especially one by  The Elderbloom Chorus features older females  singing this very staid song that launches into the swinging number complete with dancing

The  story again isn’t  important in a picture of this  type as it was meant to fill the screen with song and  dance and that it does in a  novel way.   Humphrey Bogart even does  a  very brief little dance and  quick few lyrics from a song.   This was also clearly a vehicle for  Anne Sheridan to sing, to dance  and  be  the  ‘Oomph Girl’ with that red hair and  wardrobe.

IT ALL CAME TRUE was Directed by Lewis  Seiler and  Producer Mark Hellinger who was later to later help  produce the  brilliant Cagney gangster  picture  THE ROARING TWENTIES.   See Bogart do his best  with a  role he  could walk through.  See Anne Sheridan dazzle as  singer along with  some  good  comedy.  Isn’t that was  the style of  film making is  supposed  to do and this does it  in such a  different way.  Good  fun

 

STRANGE CARGO (1940)

Frank Borzage  directed  this MGM controversial Joan Crawford final pairing with Clark Gable in 1940.

STRANGE CARGO is the  story of  Julia, cafe entertainer  played by Crawford who is fired  for  consorting with prisoner  Verne  who is played  by Gable who breaks into her rooms during an  escape attempt.   Later  along with a  group of fellow convicts  other prisoners including one  who claims to a  “Christ”  figure (Ian Hunter) is called  a  gentle  Cambreau  who has influence on the others. He reads Bible passage to the people  as  they make their escape  along a  treacherous   jungle  trek and  a  open  sea  journey.

Verne scoffs  at the spirituality of  it  all at first   even saves him from drowning in  gale.  in a  rather uncharacteristically  non happy Hollywood ending  but still the one  dictated by the morals code the prisoners  do not make good their escape. In fact they all return to finish there sentences even Crawford’s  character  who has  grown to love  Verne and will wait for him

Why the controversy in the  picture?  Well  the  subject matter of  a  “Christ” like  figure  for one thing that  was  not  all powerful.  The  moments  when  Clark Gable character has  a  real  “acting chops”  moment  as  he  rages  about on deck during  storm.

Some have  said  that Joan Crawford’s  character of  Julie  was  just a redo Sadie Thompson  from RAIN  that she  did in 1932 which set in motion the other roles  such as Sadie McKee in the the  film of the same name in 1934 even roles in  FLAMINGO ROAD (1949).

Gable got to do something with some substance after  GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) even if  the  role is similar to  RED DUST (1932).

STRANGE CARGO (1940) features a strong cast of supporting players such as  Peter Lorrie, Albert Dekker and Paul Lukas in a slightly off beat  yet satisfying story.   You get to see the  characters have  a type of  redemption as the survivors  return to finish their sentences or  find  love.  One wonders how this got through at  MGM  which also produced the  wholesome ANDY HARDY series of  pictures with Louis B. Mayer still the head of the studio.

DR MONICA (1934)

STARDUST AND SHADOWS has a great affection for  Pre-code dramas as most watchers of these style of pictures have. Classic pre-code period being from 1925 to 1934 produced so deliciously seditious works before  the Hays code came into effect.  DR. MONICA made back in 1934 was  at the end of this cycle has two of the  very best actors in the person of Kay Francis and Warren William.

DR. MONICA: Directed by Warner Brothers work horses William Keighley and  an  uncredited  William Dieterle with an  adapted script by Charles Kenyon who also wrote other  pre-code films  such as OFFICE WIFE (1930) and  PARTY HUSBAND (1931). Kenyon who was apparently good at adapting plays to the  screen  (DR. MONICA was originally a polish stage play) also scripted the  debatable misfire of   the  Warner Brothers  version of A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS  DREAM (1934) with likes of James  Cagney and Mickey Rooney spouting Shakespeare dialogue in a forest in an  attempt to bring “Prestige” to the studio.  William Dieterle  was also in the  Directors  chair  for that picture. Watch it  at  your peril.

The  story is direct and simple  of that  of a  female Obstetrician played  by Kay Francis in the  title role  which of course was limited by 1930’s standards  of  female occupations delivers a child of a patient even as she knows it was was fathered by her husband played  by Warren William in an affair.

Kay Francis literally glides through the opening party scenes with assurance even to the point of adding a  little  “finger waggle” business  to an off screen acquaintance.  Dr Monica Braden is played as being totally devoted to her  husband and  selfless in here medical work often doing long hours.   Warren William who plays  John Braden is a  best selling  globe  trotting author working on a book for  his publisher.   Little does the audience  know of  the  peccadillo   that Warren  William who does  dastardly subtly   well  in both  body language  and  speech pattern until  the  audience meets Mary Hathaway played  by Jean Muir.

Hathaway is  at party at the  Braden residence when she collapses after being asked to play the piano.  Good  Dr. Monica begins to offer her add and  thus  starts the  unraveling of the mystery all in 60 plus minutes.

You can watch Kay Francis change Dr Monica as  she becomes cold  yet  still offers aid  due to her  oath as a physician for  Hathaway.  The  controversy which made this  so censurable to the audience  at the time was that Dr Monica rejects helping Hathaway  and  the  child painting  the Medical world in a bad light. She is  set straight by a literal ‘slap in the face ” by Verree Teasdale  playing  Anna  Littlefield who reminds her of  her  duty.   Dr Monica even demands  that the  child be  “kept out of her  sight” which was unsettling for the 1930’s institution  of Motherhood. The other irony is  that Dr Monica Braden was a  child by her  husband and expresses  it to him.   There is much going on in this picture as  you have a female doctor which was unheard or limited as 1930’s occupations gave females the  choice of  home maker, secretary or  store clerk.  To  top it off we have a  woman rejecting the  act of being a Mother when the  child is  at first abhorred.

The  ending which puts everything right by Hollywood standard was some what  dramatic   yet it  fit the times.   Through it  all you get flawless performance  from Kay Francis (Brilliant  wardrobe as usual) Warren  William,  Jean Muir, Veree Teasdale, and the others in the small effective cast.  Barbara Stanwyck was to be the Dr. Monica as her star was  rising yet  Kay Francis  does the role justice  as  she had  already played  a female  physician  in MARY STEVEN  M.D (1934) also for  Warner Brothers.

DR. MONICA is  an excellent example of  pre-code women’s  view in the  cinema at that  time.  This of course all changed with the coming of  the  code which made the  screenwriters less direct yet still  risque.  DR MONICA (1934) runs just over 60 mins and is  well worth a look if not just for the acting of  the entire cast.

 

 

 

THE YOUNG DOCTORS (1961)

THE YOUNG DOCTORS made back in 1964 is a  watershed of dramatic talent and performance. None more so then screen veteran Fredric March as aged Head Pathologist Doctor Joseph Pearson who clashes with new ways and  attitudes personified by Ben Gazzara’s character Doctor David Coleman  The  story is  not new yet the way it is handled with  60’s sensitivity is.

In perspective: this was the  ‘Golden Age” of medical television shows such as  BEN CASEY  and  DOCTOR KILDARE both (1961-1966).  DOCTOR KILDARE character has been around for  a while in a series of pictures  in the late  1930  and  40’s.  The 1960’s of course was also the age of ‘The Pill”  and  the beginnings of  Test Tube baby research plus abortion issue.  The  fallout  if  you will  from the  ‘Free Love’ attitude that was  to come.

The script was written by Arthur Hailey and  filmed as  NO DEADLY MEDICINE which was broadcast as  a 1957 television play starring William Shatner in the  Gazzara  role and Lee J Cobb in the  Fredric March part. Hailey also adapted  the script for the 1959 novel “THE FINAL DIAGNOSIS”.

 

Fredric March did intense research in the ways of a pathologist for the role studying procedures and  methods of  dissection. The brain used  in the above clip is an actual human brain that was  substituted at the last moment. Apparently the Director  Phil Karlson made the switch and  whispered the fact to March before filming the scene resulting in an impassioned  subtle moment.

This picture is filled  with wonderful supporting performances such as  romantic interest Ina Balin  a  student  nurse Cathy Hunt who’s conflict becomes central to the plot.

 

You will also find Eddie Albert  as Dr. Charles Dornberger who is close friend of Doctor Joseph Pearson in fact even makes himself the  ‘Peacemaker”  who changes.  Screen veteran Aline MacMahon who has  done so many pictures  from musicals in the  1930’s to  Film Noir in the  1950’s  to  Westerns as  feisty Dr. Lucy Grainger.

The  picture rights  were bought by none other  than Dick Clark best known as host of  ‘American Bandstand” who has a dramatic role as  a young doctor  who’s wife played  by  Phyllis Love is about to have their first child of which they suspect complications.

THE  YOUNG DOCTORS (1961) was  just one of the  1960’s pictures  to look at medicine and the  personal lives of people.   It still handles the somewhat dated  subject matter with  style  and acting skills.

 

The ‘Other King of Hollywood” King Vidor

The style of Director King Vidor has fascinated in the way he handles story and actors. Vidor had  a long career beginning in 1913 all the way up to 1980 in a  variety of  genres yet always with a way of making actors and story fit well against a large backdrop such as  modern society or rural life.  THE  CROWD is a brilliant piece of  film making in general be it  silent or  sound.  The story of a  man and  woman trying to succeed in a  corporate  world   that   influenced  BRAZIL (1985)

Vidor also made  THE BIG PARADE(1928( which was one of  John Gilbert’s  finest performances in what was  one of  cinema’s pivotal War  films.

The  penultimate for many  was  the all black musical Hallelujah (1929)  showcasing  some brilliant song and dance but people  who simply would not have gotten a chance

This is  just a  capsule look at King Vidor’s contribution  to Hollywood.  Seeks his name  out on the  credits it is usually  displayed  well above  the  credits  in posters  and  on screen.   You will be engrossed, entertained  and intrigued  all the same time. Find  his  work  and watch  it  for  flow  and  story.