February 2009

Year: 1926

Director: Frank Tuttle

Cast: Louise Brooks, Evelyn Brent, Lawrence Gray, Arthur Donaldson

Movies like Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em would be lost forever in the bin of forgotten films if not for memorable performances like Louise Brooks’ Janie Walsh. This role can almost be thought of the American version of Lulu. Janie is a 1920s flapper, free-loving and completely narcissistic. On the other end of the spectrum is her older sister Mame — played by Evelyn Brent. The elder Walsh is shy, conservative, and responsible. The girls are orphans and on their mother’s deathbed, Mame promised to always look after her sibling no matter what. That oath is what triggers most of the plot.

The Walsh sisters work in a department store in downtown New York City. Mame helps her boyfriend Bill (Lawrence Gray) with dressing the display windows. We don’t much care for Bill from the start as he’s fond of taking credit for all of Mame’s great ideas when they’re acknowledged by management. The department store is sponsoring a Charleston dance on Saturday night and Janie is charged w/ collecting dues. Miss Walsh never met a dance party she didn’t like but trustworthy with finances she’s not. Before long she is using the funds to gamble on the ponies via a neighbor named Lem (Osgood Perkins aka Anthony’s pop).

Mame’s relationship with Bill has escalated to the point where he is proposing marriage. She has earned a week of vacation and wants to get away to ponder the prospect of matrimony. Knowing no shame, while sis is out of town Janie brazenly seduces Bill. The best sequence in the picture has Brooks’ looking more beautiful than ever. Sporting a stunningly tight black satin gown, Janie’s allure is impossible for men to ignore and Gray’s character is no exception. When Miss Walsh adjusts herself between two pillows on the couch, the come hither call is unmistakable. There’s a great gag when Bill initially rejects her and turns away. Janie splashes water from a nearby fishbowl on her eyes to simulate crying over the snub and he becomes powerless to resist.

When Mame comes home early and all excited to tell Gray’s character that she accepts, she finds out that her good-for-nothing little sister has been knocking boots with Bill in her absence. The only thing keeping Mame from throwing Janie out is her promise. But their relationship has been put in deep freeze mode. As if to see how much more she is capable of screwing up, Janie puts the remainder of the membership dues on another horse. Amazingly, the nag wins and she confronts Lem about the $100 win. He gives her back the $20 she wagered and apologizes for not getting the bet down in time. Yeah right. When Saturday rolls around and she’s left with empty pockets, our protagonist turns to that last beacon of hope: Mame. Unbelievably, Janie’s wiles still work on her sister and when Mame hears what that cheat of a neighbor has done, she sets out for his apartment to settle all accounts. This could get ugly.

The part of Mame must have been one of the most thankless roles Brent ever played. Who on earth wants to be a female co-star next to the iconic Brooks in a movie that serves as a showcase for her great beauty? Frank Tuttle was a great admirer of his leading lady. He never told his star that her part was supposed to be comedic, so she played it straight. The director got exactly what he was after. To say the camera is infatuated with Brooks during Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em is to understate the case. Both the aforementioned dress and the getup she takes to her dance (white top hat, short black skirt, stockings, and high heels) are the highlights of the picture. I am dumbstruck by Brooks’ critics who claim that “she doesn’t do anything.” The fabulous actress had one of the most expressive grills ever and in that space from the top of her head to the nape of her neck lies one of the most effective instruments in cinema history.

By James White




Year: 1941

Director: Edmund Goulding

Cast: George Brent, Bette Davis, Mary Astor


Within the first ten minutes The Great Lie presents itself unmistakably as a love triangle tale.  George Brent plays Peter Van Allen, a man who is desired by two women who are presented in the film as total opposites.  One is nurturing and domesticated  (Bette Davis) and one is a modern career woman, excelling as a talented pianist (Mary Astor).  She is free, driven, uninhibited, social and wild.  

While George Brent commands the attention of these two woman, they command the attention of the audience, squaring off against each other, each seemingly obtaining the upper hand but then loosing it again to the other.  

Bette Davis is as brilliant as ever with her perfectly expressive face.  She plays Maggie.  At times she is formidable and intimidating.  At other times vulnerable and downtrodden, and as her expressions and emotions yo-yo, she is never once unbelievable, only completely convincing despite the soap opera feel this movie takes on as it progresses through the plot.

Mary Astor steals the show despite the undeniable talent of Bette Davis.  In this, Astor’s one and only Oscar earning performance she storms into her opening scene, a powerhouse of presence and charisma.  We know instantly the type of woman we are dealing with and we are simultaneously impressed and on guard.  It seems insulting to the cast who are all marvelous in the film, but Mary Astor really does carry The Great Lie and it is particularly impressive when she is able to communicate the pain of the character to the point of sympathy, but yet continue to be a menacing antagonist.  The best example of this balance is during an extended stay in a small cabin in Arizona, as circumstances force her away from the general populace and the adoring fans of her work.  She is caged there, and she knows she can’t leave, pacing back and forth like a caged predator, simultaneously terrorizing and rueful.  She is a pathetic character really, but she doesn’t seek pity, she lashes out.  She is a dangerous and unpredictable woman.  A woman scorned.  While an evening with her would certainly be eventful and pleasurable, this is certainly not the type of woman we would want to wake up married to after a night of drinking until dawn.  Yet, that is were Peter Van Allen finds himself.

So, the roller coaster begins, and the twists and turns land quite comfortably between just believable enough, yet not entirely predictable.  Sure, it gets a little melodramatic at times, but these performances and the sparring between the always stirring Bette Davis and the toughest Mary Astor we’ve ever seen is worth a good long look.  The Great Lie is great fun, no lie.




It’s Oscar night tonight (I may be live-blogging over at thoughtfulthinkingthoughts.wordpress.com). So here’s part 2 of the list of Obscure Oscar Nominees.

Our Town (1940)
It’s hard to believe than an adaptation of one of the greatest plays ever written, starring William Holden, which was nominated for Best Picture, is practically forgotten today. It’s not quite as brilliant as most stage productions you’ll find of it, but it’s an extremely poetic movie.

Hold Back the Dawn (1941)
This was one of the more worthy nominees of this year, and sadly the most forgotten. With the trio of Charles Boyer, Olivia DeHaviland, and Paulette Goddard, it’s a sexy, romantic tale.

The Talk of the Town (1942)
Cary Grant, Ronald Coleman, and Jean Arthur are delightful in this wonderful mix of comedy, drama, and suspense. It’s not a perfect movie, but at the same time it’s hard to really look at it as having any faults. It’s just a delightful movie.

Watch on the Rhine (1943)
I think if this were released on DVD it would find a new life. It’s an incredibly powerful film about self-sacrifice and nobility. Paul Lukas, who I sometimes find dull, especially in the last two films I watched with him (Downstairs and Ladies In Love), but he gives an incredible performance here, which beat out Bogart’s Casablanca performance for Best Actor.

Crossfire (1947)
A gritty as all get-out film noir starring three Roberts (Young, Mitchum, and Ryan) that gets nominated for Best Picture? And not even one of those early, ten nominees years, but the later, much more selective five nominees a tear Oscars? AWESOME.

The Snake Pit (1948)
This is an eerie, unsettling drama about life in an insane asylum. DeHavilland’s performance in this is incredible, one of her very best.  DeHavilland lost the Best Actress Oscar to Johnny Belinda‘s Jane Wyman. It’s definitely a close race, but I’d give it to DeHavilland.

And that’s all I’ve got for you, folks. Enjoy the Oscars tonight!

Obscure Classics is once again looking for new writers.

So, if you love obscure classic films and you want to write reviews and essays and the like, it’s your chance!

But please, only apply if you’re willing to commit yourself to the site. We will require our writers to update at least once a week. If you don’t have the time or the desire to commit to that, then don’t apply.

If you want to apply, email me at katieobscureclassics@yahoo.com and I’ll get back to you with what you need to do.

Carrie over at Classic Montgomery, who has always been a big supporter of our site, has recognized Obscure Classics with a Premio Dardos Award. This happened a few weeks ago, and it’s taken me forever to get around to it, because I wanted to think long and hard about who we passed it on to.

Thank you so much, Carrie!

The Dardos Award is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.


  1. Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
  2. Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.

I tried to look at all the blogs and make sure I was passing the award on to blogs that hadn’t recieved it, but in the end I’m not 100% sure whether these guys have or not. So if you already have one, congratulations, you now have two!

  1. John Greco at Twenty-Four Frames
  2. Sibylle at In Training For a Heroine
  3. Craig at Colet and Co.
  4. Trouble In Paradise
  5. The Bioscopic

Year: 1932
Director: Monta Bell
Cast: John Gilbert, Virginia Bruce, Paul Lucas, Bodil Rosing, Reginald Owen, Olga Baclanova, Hedda Hopper

Karl (Gilbert) arrives at his job as the new chauffer for the Baron and Baroness von Burgen (Owen and Balcanova) on the day of the butler, Albert’s (Lucas) wedding to Anna (Bruce), the Baroness’ maid. Everyone is charmed by Karl, but soon he proves to be a cad, trying to steal money from the cook, seducing Anna, and blackmailing the Baroness.

Watching Downstairs, it’s kind of hard to believe Gilbert’s sound career didn’t work out. Sure, he didn’t have voice most expected him to have when they watched him in silent films, but this movie is just a tour de force for him. Not only does he star in it, he also wrote the story, which is a pretty impressive one. And his performance is amazing. It’s kind of interesting to see a character who is so completely irredeemable, yet so charming at the same time. He’s a horrible person, but he’s attractive and sexy, and Gilbert owns the role completely. After watching him play the romantic hero so often in silent film, it’s amazing to see such a transformation.

Gilbert’s definitely the high point of the film. While the rest of the cast isn’t bad, they don’t shine the way he does. Virginia Bruce does give a very good performance, and I think she’s more beautiful here than she ever was. And, like I said, it is a very good performance. Anna becomes quite the complicated character. She starts out as a sweet, innocent wife. Then, when Karl seduces her, she’s almost overwhelmed with guilt. But the confrontation scene between her and her husband shows a different side. While she still feel guilty, she shows a strength and a morality that’s not exactly black and white. She’s sorry, but lays a good deal of the blame on her husband, for loving her in a way completely void of passion.

Paul Lukas is decent, compared to Karl and Anna, the character of Albert is pretty boring, even after his passion rises after discovering the affair. He’s a character that’s hard to like or feel really sorry for. In this case, all the sympathy goes to Anna in this situation.

Downstairs is a very tight and well told drama. All the scenes flow together very nicely. It’s really perfectly paced. Not a shot feels out of place or tacked on. They all tie into the story. And it’s so full of pre-code goodness. The fact alone that the main character is basically a villain is something you wouldn’t see in just a few films. Same with the fact that the wife is committed adultery and is still the heroine of the story in the end. And then there’s Karl’s ending, who seems to pay for his sins in the house of the Baron and Baronss. But after leaving that job, he simply moves on to another one, presumably to pull the same tricks yet again.

By Katie Richardson

I really kind of struggled to figure out exactly what I wanted to write for Valentines Day. I didn’t want to just review a romantic movie. I do that all the time, it didn’t seem particularly special. And I couldn’t really think of a good topic for an essay.

I’m alone on Valentines Day. And I always have been. I’ve never had someone to share the day with. So, naturally, I’m a little bitter toward it. So finally, the idea popped into my head to cover an anti-romantic love story.

I do have a sort of fascination with movies about couples who, while they do love each other, treat each other horribly. And I think the best film of that type would be Look Back In Anger, starring Richard Burton. It was a pretty early film in Burton’s career, and it definitely helped to establish him as the go-to guy for moody, troubled characters.

Burton play Jimmy, a dark man with a horrible temper. He’s married to Alison, played beautifully by Mary Ure. The couple do seem to love each other, but for some reason they can’t stop themselves from completely ripping each other apart. They seem to resent each other – he resents her family’s wealth, she resents him taking her away from it. But that’s really just a part of the problem. These are two miserable people who find satisfaction – but not happiness – in destroying each other.

But still, they’re married. And this isn’t the 1800s where people get married for various reasons, even if they can’t stand each other. They got married for a reason, and we come to see that the reason really is love. They’re two people who are in love but don’t really know how to be. They just know how to hurt each other and themselves. We get a few lovely moments of the two really sharing that love with each other, but overall it’s just the never ending cycle of pain and anger.

Like so many couples, they fail to communicate with each other, and that’s one of the biggest problems. It leads to misunderstanding of each others emotions, to misunderstandings and a lack of trust.

Perhaps their problems come from the fact that they initially loved each other for what might have been the wrong reasons. When they were dating, Jimmy thought that Alison had a relaxed spirit, and he thought he needed that in his life to help him calm down. But after their marriage, he realized that it wasn’t calm that Alison had, she just suppressed her feelings, and marriage to Jimmy made it all come out.

In the end, though, I think it’s almost a hopeful movie about love. It ends on a kind of up-in-the-air note. Alison leaves Jimmy, and he takes up with her best friend Helena, played by Claire Bloom. These two have a sort of opposite relationship than Alison and Jimmy. While Alison and Jimmy had love first, that turned to anger, Helena and Jimmy hate each other and that passion turns to love (or something resembling it). But in the end, Jimmy loves Alison and Alison love Jimmy. She loses the baby she was pregnant with, and this loss makes them re-evalute their love. No matter how much pain their in, or how far apart they are, all they can think about is each other.

The loss of their child is definitely a strong point in their reunion. Jimmy tells Alison that it isn’t his first loss, and Alison tells him, “It was mine.” Perhaps Alison needed to experience a loss like that to really begin to understand Jimmy and his anger.

We’re left with Jimmy and Alison, not together, but not apart.

By Katie Richardson

Direct Link



Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Herbert Marshall, Kay Francis

Since Valentines Day is tomorrow I tried to brainstorm on which films I’ve seen that best exemplify aspects of both romance and cinema from Hollywood’s Classic Era. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen it recently or the fact tha I just completed a Miriam Hopkins countdown on another website, but Trouble in Paradise hits the sweet spot. The acting, direction, and narrative thread for this film are such a potent combination that Lubitsch’s great comedy is considered among the best movies ever made. But enough of that already, lets get to the romance: you get two great love stories for the price of one here. Although Marshall and Francis never consummate their attraction physically, the perfume heiress and the thief share several moments where you swear they are making love mentally. It is Hopkins’ grifter that holds the key to Marshall’s heart, however. They were made for each other and when Hopkins lets out a squeal of joy upon hearing Marshall’s commitment, it is an affirmation that romance isn’t dead. If you’re looking for a good Valentines Day movie to watch this weekend, look no further. This is the picture.

Here’s a review of Trouble in Paradise that I wrote on January 15th of this year:

This movie is a scream.

It is said that this is Lubitsch’s favorite of all the films he made and boy, you can see why. If someone were to ask me what the best example of a Pre-Code comedy is, Trouble in Paradise comes immediately to mind.

MH (Lily) plays a jewel thief who poses as a visiting aristocrat in Venice. She meets Gaston Monescu — played wonderfully by Herbert Marshall — the greatest jewel thief in the world who is pulling the same charade. He arranges for a private dinner in his suite. As the two discuss the banalities of being a baron or countess of the aristocratic class, Lily confesses that she found out he really is the great Monescu and not only is she not disappointed, but she is proud of her chosen profession. What follows is a show of affection and then, in my opinion, the best scene of the film. Each thief starts to reveal what they’ve stolen from their counterpart in a strip poker-esque, escalating exchange culminating in a coup de grace for Gaston. These two thieves were made for each other.

The lovers quickly establish a grift partnership and the road eventually leads to Paris. They seek out the recently widowed Mariette Colet (Kay Francis) whose deceased husband left her the largest perfume manufacturer in France. Gaston scams his way into Mariette’s circle via his considerable charm and hutzpah. Having already stolen her diamond-encrusted purse, Marshall’s character returns it only after a reward is offered. So impressed with his “honesty” and candor, Mrs. Colet hires him as her personal business secretary. To set the con in place, Gaston brings Lily onboard as his assistant. When our protagonist learns that his boss keeps $100,000 French francs in her house safe, the prize is in sight.

To really sell the scheme, the jewel thief does more than just flirt with Mariette. He rolls his sleaves up and discovers some improprieties that have occurred under current management. It is clear that Francis’ widow has strong sexual urges where her new secretary is concerned. While Gaston starts out encouraging her behavior as a necessary part of a successful heist, he becomes quite attracted to the perfume magnate. Hopkins’ assistant is quite jealous of all the unprofessional attention this woman is showering on her man. Yet like a pro, she keeps her eye on the ball and gains Mariette’s confidence. When a previous theft victim recognizes Monescu and then the firm’s chairman of the board accuses him of embezzlement, the thieves fear the jig is up. Amazingly, Madame Colet defends her secretary and they are in the clear even if the window of opportunity has shrunk.

Gaston and Lily agree on the big night, one where Francis’ character will be out on the town for a social commitment. But Marshall’s thief, so smitten with his target’s appeal, can’t resist arranging to consummate their mutual attraction. When Lily finds out about this impending tryst, she is furious and steals the safe’s valuables herself. When Gaston discovers what his partner has done out of jealousy on his behalf, he decides to come clean (sort of) with his employer. He claims to have stolen the $100,000 francs himself, confesses that he is really Monescu the notorious jewel thief, reveals that he can prove her chairman of the board has been embezzling funds for years, and that despite all that’s gone on, he still loves her. Lily comes clean and strikes a bargain with Mariette: she’ll give permission to Gaston for a conjugal visit if she can keep the money she stole. At that moment, Monescu realizes there is truly only one woman who possesses his heart. He tastefully declines the proposition and joins his beloved enroute to the next paradise of their choosing.

Right from the opening scene — Lubitsch’s camera establishes we’re in Venice via a medium shot of a trash-laden gondola — we find moments throughout where this great German emigre is winking at the audience. Even the opening title credits begin with “Trouble in…” and you see a picture of a bed before a pause and then the word “Paradise” comes into view. The dialogue sizzles with sexual innuendoes, double entendres, and very adult, intelligent banter. The three primary players are awesome all around. Marshall is especially effective as the handsome rake and irresistable con man. What to say about Hopkins? She’s cute as a button in this great film. To hear her squeal w/ happiness in the final frame when she knows that Gaston is hers, is to experience a slice of heaven. Avoiding Trouble in Paradise is to miss out on arguably the best comedy of the Pre-Code era.

by James White

Year: 1929
Director: David Butler
Cast: Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Marjorie White, El Brendel, Mary Forbes, Sharon Lynn, Frank Richardson

Molly (Gaynor) lives in a poor section of town with her friend Bea (White). Jack (Farrell) is a wealthy man who can’t seem to keep his fiancee’s attention. While out driving, he gets into an accident in Molly’s neighborhood and Molly nurses his wounds. The two strike up a friendship, and Jack invites Molly and her friends to come to the Hamptons, so Molly can pose as an heiress and help him make his fiancee jealous.

Sunnyside Up is generally considered the best of the non-Borzage Farrell/Gaynor movies, but I can’t concur. While I haven’t seen all of them, I don’t think it’s nearly as good as Delicious or Change of Heart. It’s a musical, and while Gaynor and Farrell do their best, they’re not exactly musically talented or suited for the genre. Their costars are much more entertaining when it comes to the musical numbers.

The movie is two hours long and so strangely paced. It takes nearly an hour for the actual story to start. We’re given an hour of overly long buildup and pointless musical numbers. So when we do get to the actual story, when things start to really happy, everything seems extremely rushed.

The movie probably would have been a lot more enjoyable were it just told as a straight romantic comedy rather than a musical comedy. It’s not that the songs seem out of place. They just seem completely pointless and rather charmless. They add nothing to the story. If anything, they merely slow it down.

Still, it’s Farrell and Gaynor, and you can’t go truly wrong there. They are one of the most endearing couples of all time. They have amazing chemistry and create perhaps the greatest innocent, idealistic romantic team of all time. They’re just vibrant and great to watch together, despite the films many, many faults.

By Katie Richardson

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