Monday, May 26th, 2008


Year: 1934

Director: Paul Sloane

Cast: Franchot Tone, Karen Morley, May Robson, Jack LaRue, Nat Pendleton, Gladys George

Benny (Tone) is returning to his mother after spending time in prison. While he was gone, his mother (Robson) took in their neighbor, Bertha (Morley), whose mother had died. Benny promises Bertha and his mother that his days of crime are behind him and he wants to go straight. But his old friends (LaRue and Pendleton) and his old flame (George) want him to come back into their business.

Straight is the Way is a short and sweet B-picture that’s just a good watch. It’s a very basic film, not outstanding in any way, but not terrible in any way either. The characters in the film are Jewish, and it’s interesting to see a movie about the mob with Jewish characters. The film does have an odd structure. There’s not much of a flow to the story, not much of climax, but it does have a certain pace to it and it’s an enjoyable story.

Tone gives a really solid performance. Not one of his best, but he’s charismatic and it’s fun to see him play a character who’s a little morally ambiguous. Sometimes it’s hard to see where his motivations are coming from, until the love story between Benny and Bertha really starts to blossom. The romance is the strongest aspect of the film. Morley and Tone are a really good pair. Morley is the perfect good girl to Gladys George’s bad girl, and Tone’s growing love for her is interesting to watch as he believes he’s not good enough for her.

And I have to mention the supporting performances from Jack LaRue and Nat Pendleton. LaRue was one of the slimiest actors of the 1930s, and he does his usual good job of playing the bad guy here. And Pendleton is so much fun, as always. Charming, kind of adorable, and funny. He always gives a movie a special kick.

Straight Is the Way certainly isn’t a great movie, but for a 1930s B-picture, it’s a fun way to spend an hour, and the unusual structure is somewhat refreshing.

By Katie Richardson

Essential Pre-Code Films

Man’s Castle

Midnight Mary

Employees’ Entrance

Life Begins

Heroes For Sale

When people today think of Loretta Young, they usually think of the good Christian girl who starring in wholesome films like The Bishop’s Wife. But Loretta Young had been acting in films since the 1920s, and was actually one of the most active actresses of the pre-code era. She showed her fantastic range time and time again during the era, playing a wide variety of roles, from the good girl (Platinum Blond, Heroes for Sale) to the sexy bad girls (Midnight Mary, Born to Bad) to the girls in between (Employees’ Entrance, Life Begins).

Her angel face certainly allowed for her to play those good girl roles, but as with most pre-code films, morality wasn’t black and white, and those good girls weren’t always quite so good, just like the bad girls weren’t always quite so bad. She was a sweet girl getting ready to have a baby in Life Begins – but she was in prison for killing her boss. She was the seductive girlfriend of a gangster in Midnight Mary, but she was really just a victim of unfortunate circumstance.

And anybody who argues that good girl Young simply couldn’t be convincing as a bad girl have to watch Midnight Mary. It’s an extremely sexy performance, and Young pulls off the characters conflicted morality and cynical spirit with complete ease and talent. And then there’s the scene where she whispers naughty things into Ricardo Cortez’s ear. Yeah… an angel she was not.

That extended into her personal life as well. She wasn’t quite the pious soul she wanted everyone to think she was, as evidenced by her many affairs with her leading men, and the illegitimate child she had with Clark Gable.

Loretta Young was a much more fascinating actress that most people give her credit for.

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1954

Director: Fritz Lang

Starring: Glen Ford, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford

Sometimes I wonder as I watch an old movie how they got past the censors of the day. Human Desire is one of those movies. This is one of the most sexually charged, gritty and explicit films from the 1950s that I have seen in a long time.

The plot follows a young train engineer who has just recently returned from the military. This engineer, played by Glenn Ford, returns to his old job and while catching up with friends finds one of his prior colleagues has done very well for himself financially and is now married to a much younger woman named Vicki Buckley (played by Gloria Grahame). He soon starts to discover that there is something suspicious going on between them and as he starts to uncover more and more he also becomes more and more interested in his old friend’s wife. Soon, the family he rents a room from and lives with, including a young daughter who has matured into a woman while he was away, start to notice his absence night after night as well as many phone calls between him and Vicki Buckley.

All the actors in this film did a fantastic job portraying their parts. Gloria Grahame and Broderick Crawford especially stand out as the newly married couple. Gloria Grahame who I recently saw in In a Lonely Place with Humphrey Bogart appears to be a real chameleon and a very accomplished actress. Her performance is fantastic. She straddles the line of sympathetic victim and ominous temptress perfectly always leaving the audience somewhat off balance, but completely riveted at the same time.

Her husband, played by Broderick Crawford is also perfect for his part. His character is gruff and intimidating but also jealous and insecure which must have been a difficult blend of emotions to characterize.

This movie was also very interesting in how it gave a fresh take on the femme fatale as well as its exploration of male-female relationships.

Visually speaking this is a very enjoyable movie to watch as it masterfully sets the mood through the cinematography, including the use of light and dark. Certain frames are so dark one can hardly make out anything until a perfectly timed splash of light illuminates the frame and furthers the story.

This is a great character driven story about the darkest of human desires.

By Greg Dickson

Year: 1932

Director: Nick Grinde

Starring:Barbara Stanwyck, Regis Toomey, Zasu Pitts, Lucien Littlefield, Clara Blandick, Oscar Apfel

Kitty (Stanwyck) is an orphaned waitress who goes to live with her aunt in a conservative town when her father dies. She earns a certain reputation when she flirts with the male customers. She falls in love with David (Toomey), the wealthy son of an oppressive and snobbish mother who will stop at nothing to separate the young lovers.

Stanwyck played a lot of these good bad girls in pre-code film. She had a line much later in her career in The Lady Eve – “The best ones aren’t as good as you probably think they are, and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not nearly as bad.” – that seemed to sum up most of her pre-code characters. The girls who have reputations that don’t quite match who they really are. Stanwyck was really fantastic with these kinds of  roles. She managed to be both soft and feisty at the same time. Her outbursts weren’t simply indignant, whey were almost embarrassed, and filled with hurt. Her performance in Shopworn may be like others from her that we’ve seen before, but that doesn’t make it any less good.

Overall, Shopworn is just a well structured, well told pre-code romance. It’s nothing jaw dropping or ground breaking – it’s nearly identical to many other films of this type – but it’s still a solid pre-code treat. Stanwyck has strong chemistry with her leading man that makes their romance believable in all of its stages, from the young and idealistic to the older and cynical. It’s a through-the-years love story, and th performance develop convincingly.

There is one thing about Shopworn that makes it stand out from others of its type. The judgmental rich parent may be a stock character in romances like this, David’s mother is a true terror. One of the most detestable characters I’ve ever seen in a film. Definitely in the running for worst mother ever. If there was anything in this film that brought about passion in me, it was this character, because I hated her so much.

A brilliant pre-code this is bot, but it is a very solid romantic melodrama that uses the conventions of these types of films in and interesting way. And Stanwyck, as always, keeps things fresh.

By Katie Richardson