THE JEFFERY LYNN TYPE

Hollywood was and still is filled with types – be they on the screen or not.  In fact, it was often remarked that you can expect anything to happen on Hollywood Blvd.  I remember making an inquiry in a bookshop only to have a person dressed in a red wool suit with Elvis side burns and glasses standing to my left near the till in over 80 degree heat. There are those that have unmistakable quality of “it,” who can carry a film and enthrall the audience.  Then there are those that, for some reason, are known only to a few.  They somehow do not have that star quality, yet deliver performance after performance, never quite getting there.  I speak of the Lyle Talbots of the world, or, in this case, Mr. Jeffery Lynn.

Jeffrey Lynn was born Ragnar Lynn in 1909 in Auburn, Massachusetts.  He had a BA degree from Bates College in Maine.  The stage beckoned.   He toured in a stage stock company production of the military farce BROTHER RAT that, was a curious foreshadowing of what to come in his life of having stardom allude him. The play BROTHER RAT was brought to Hollywood to be filmed by Warner Brothers without Lynn who was given a role in another short film.

I first saw Jeffrey Lynn in the role of Lloyd Hart in the James Cagney gangster picture THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939).  Lynn played the college man soon to be lawyer who eventually woos Jean Sherman played by blonde, smiley Priscilla Lane away from James Cagney’s character Eddie Barlett, who has been waiting for her to grow older than in the film’s beginning.  Lynn’s role was good solid work for an actor who gets to play a younger version of himself as he grows from a soldier in the trenches to a polished man of the law.

 

The one that really showed his skill in my opinion was the 1939 Lloyd Bacon directed Warner Brothers picture ‘A CHILD IS BORN’.  I have always enjoyed pictures about occupations such as the medical profession, MEN IN WHITE (1934), NIGHT NURSE (1931), steel workers, MEN OF IRON (1935), truck drivers, THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940) and THE VIOLENT ROAD (1958).   Jeffrey Lynn’s role as Jed Sutton, the husband of convicted murderer Grace Sutton (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who is about to give birth is interesting to watch as he fights frustration of not being able to see his pregnant wife.  It was a role that was similar of some early Clark Gable performances, particularly in MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934).     While Lynn’s Jed Sutton is on the right side of the law and Gable’s Blackie Gallagher is a grinning rogue, both show texturing and humor in their brushes with the law with different resolutions.  You could argue that it was a variation on the ‘good guy’ roles Lynn played so well and I would agree. Yet he carried it off so well. He was ably supported by Fitzgerald as his wife and the long neglected Gladys George as a show business dancer whose career in stalled because of a baby.

 

Lynn did go on to bigger roles in FOUR WIVES (1939)  and  FOUR MOTHERS (1941) which featured  expanded part of Felix Dietz that he had  done in the previous  FOUR  DAUGHTERS (1938).  Lynn went on to a huge career ending in 1990 with an appearance on the TV show KNOTS LANDING.  Lynn also has writing credits, music credits and hosting credits, just not the full stardom of having his name above the title which to me is a shame. The lucky actors who don’t mind playing typecast roles could make whole careers out of playing policemen, bankers, henchman, and doctors.  There are those that dislike it, fight the system for what they think are different roles; unfortunately, most do not gain that all important public acceptance.   Boris Karloff once remarked when asked later in his life if he ever tired of playing monsters and madmen to which he replied no that he was blessed to be an always working actor.

Such were the Lyle Talbots, Jeffrey Lynns and the David Manners the Golden Age. They had the looks, the voice, the stories, the directors and careers in supporting others. Some were happy about it. Others may have carried a secret bitterness that is forever silent. John Garfield’s cynical character of the chain smoking, unshaven piano playing Mickey Bordon articulated it so well in a towards the end of this clip from FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938); ironically with Jeffrey Lynn in the cast. He talks of God rolling the dice, life’s choice and in the best part not seen here remarks of “having just enough talent to make someone else look good but not yourself.”

 

Window dressing for people to play off of, perhaps yes, always capable of course. Whatever their feelings, we shall never know. It is still wonderful to see them on the screen. For that we thank them.

Advertisements

THEY CALL IT SIN (1932)

STARDUST AND SHADOWS is meandering down Pre code street Theater district as  we cruise in with to look at First National film  THEY CALL IT  SIN (1932).  Has to be one of the best lurid titles for a picture along with the Burt Lancaster 1948  Film Noir  KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS  outside of the  Horror titles to come.

THEY CALL IT  SIN (1932) was the  original  name for the  picture also known by the  tamer  title of  THE WAY OF LIFE  was  Directed by Thornton Freeland and produced by  none other  than Hal B. Wallis.     Freeland was  behind the camera for  other  dramas  such as  WORKING WIVES (1932), LOVE  AFFAIR (1932),  BREWSTER’S MILLIONS (1945)  with  Jack Buchanan  and Lili Damita (Mrs  Errol Flynn) even the  musical Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Delores del Rio  picture FLYING DOWN TO RIO from 1933.

THEY CALL IT SIN  features so wonderful  performances by Loretta Young,  George Brent and  Halifax Nova  Scotia Canada  born  David Manners  as  three people caught up in the  events of stolen musical  scores  spurned  advances  and  eventually literally a  fall by Louis Calhern

 

 

Marion Cullen (Loretta Young)  is  the pious, church organ playing, small town  girl with  hidden musical composing talent who falls under the  spell of betrothed traveling sales man  Jimmy Decker (David Manners) who is on a  stop over.    Jimmy Decker is a ‘Man of the world” to small town girls as professed by a female Soda Jerk played wonderfully by five  foot  tall Marion Byron in a delightfully desperate scene at the beginning of the picture. Marion and Jimmy are infatuated with each other even causing Decker to lie to  his Fiance Enid Hollister (Helen Vinson) in  telegrams as  he prolongs his stay with Marion.    Jimmy eventually leaves only to  make  a surprising second stop on the way back to see Marion where they spend a “Pre code”  late  evening together when finished she is observed by  Marion’s parents from the porch window as  she  exits Decker’s  car.

This sets up the  key scene in the picture as Marion learns a  stunning fact of her birth from her Mother (Elizabeth Patterson)  and Father (Erville Alderson).  This disclosure causes Marion to flee  her small town life that she felt she did not  fit into and  follow Jimmy to New  York to  develop her music and  be  with Jimmy.  In  New York  the  adventures  begin  by attending auditions when she meets  Dixie  Dare (Una Merkel) in a  potential picture stealing  yet all to brief performance.

Marion and  Dixie also meet Broadway  musical producer Ford Humphries (Louis Calhern) who has designs on the wholesome  Marion.

Small town girl now has  her  eyes opened  to the party life yet its not  all  bad  as  she meets  good  guy  Doctor  Travers (George Brent) who is Humphries medical  Doctor.

Will Marion become  a  gold  digger like so many?  The evils of spurred  advances,  the  discovery of the betrothed Jimmy,  stolen musical  score  and a  fall from a balcony all round out this story.

Loretta Young replaced original star Bette Davis in the role of  Marion Cullen which could have been turnabout.   Young had the  part of  “Gallagher” shortened and   Jean Harlow  had  her role of  “Ann Schulyer” extended as  Columbia re  worked  and  re  titled  GALLAGHER’  to  become PLATINUM BLONDE for 1931 to capitalize of Harlow’s rising  popularity.

THEY CALL IT  SIN (1932)  packs  at lot of  sleaze and  innuendo  into its 69 minutes. Great fun,  good performances as  mentioned  by the principals   but also the  all to brief characters such as  the  already mentioned  Marion Byron female  Soda Jerk to Roscoe Karns as  the harried rehearsal Director Brandt.  The  writing, the look of the  sets and clothes and the  radiance of eighteen year old  Loretta Young who was being slipped  more and more into adult roles  make this  good  part of  any evenings double or  triple  bill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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”.

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.