Year: 1933
Director: Lewis Milestone
Cast: Al Jolson, Madge Evans, Frank Morgan, Harry Langdon, Chester Conklin, Edgar Connor

TCM has been doing a wonderfully showcase this month on Thursday nights on movies about the Great Depression. There are still some wonderful movies coming up, like Gold Diggers of 1933, Faithless, and American Madness. During the first week, they aired this rarely seen on TCM gem, Hallelujah I’m a Bum. It’s not hard to see the purpose of this movie, the glorification of homelessness during a time when a fair deal of the population of NYC was homeless.

Al Jolson plays Bumper, a hobo who happily lives in Central Park with his fellow homeless friends. He enjoys living outside and doesn’t even attempt to get a job. He’s also buddies Mayor John Hastings (Frank Morgan). Hastings is in a clandestine relationship with June (Madge Evans), but after an argument June takes a dive off of a bridge. Bumper fishes her out of the river, but she’s lost her memory and has no idea who she is or where she came from. Not knowing that she’s the mayor’s girl, Bumper falls hard for her.

In New York City during the Depression, Central Park really was the go-to for people who were out of work and without homes. It was the main location for many of the Hoovervilles, and it also served as a home to people like Bumper, who preferred to simply sleep outside. With so much hardship and the lack of homes in the city, it was only natural that the studios over in Hollywood would try to make some movies to lift the spirits of those people. Hallelujah I’m a Bum is easily the most blatant of these types of movies. Bumper and his friends are all homeless, yes, but they’re happy and they’re loving it. Their lives are carefree, especially when you compare them to the lives of the wealthy, like the mayor and his dramatic romantic problems. The “Gee, isn’t poverty swell!” tone to the film may induce some eye-rolling today, but when you remember the time it was made, it’s actually kind of sweet.

It stars Al Jolson, so it’s naturally a musical film. The songs aren’t exactly memorable, but they’re prevalent throughout the film (I’d say more than half, maybe even about two thirds of the movie is sung) which gives the movie a strange but infectious rhythm and pace. It also makes what could be really depressing (not just the homelessness problem, but also June’s attempted suicide) more charming than sad.

Jolson was  likable enough in the lead role, but he never really had that leading man charisma when it came to talkies. Frank Morgan, though, was wonderful as he always was. He really was one of the most dependable character actors of the studio era, and this role shows his range. In so many of his films he’s sort of a sweet, but bumbling guy. It’s nice to see him play someone smart and kind of suave. And then of course there’s Madge Evans. How I adore Madge Evans. She’s simply one of the most charming and likable actresses in Hollywood history. And she’s just as charming and wonderful here as she always is.

Hallelujah I’m a Bum isn’t a conventional movie from the 1930s, from the music, to the pacing, to the ending, but it’s certainly a good movie, especially when viewed in the context in which is was made.

By Katie Richardson

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Year: 1933

Director: King Vidor

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Lionel Barrymore, Franchot Tone, Beulah Bondi

The most notable aspect of this Vidor Pre-Code film is the mutual fondness that emerges on the screen between Hopkins and the great Lionel Barrymore. Their tender moments really sustain the picture and become its backbone.

Louise Starr (Hopkins) is a big city woman with small country roots. She divorces her husband at a time when a girl emerging from the dissolution of a marriage was looked down upon. On a holiday, this metropolitan woman decides to re-discover her sense of self and visit the old family farm. Grandpa Storr (Barrymore) couldn’t be more thrilled to have his granddaughter back in the fold. She gets a much cooler reception from her relative Beatrice — played by Beulah Bondi — who runs the household and cares for Barrymore’s character. Quite active for a man of his years, Grandpa takes great delight in showing his granddaughter just how addictive rural life can be. When he introduces Louise to his favorite neighbor, Guy (Franchot Tone), she is instantly enamored with the intelligent farmer and surprised by his sophistication. Unfortunately, Guy is married with a young child and unavailable. Still, the two spend much time together because they find common interests. Naturally, the town is rife with gossip. Despite these ill-feelings, our lead finds that the farm has grounded her and the longer she stays, it becomes harder to leave.

The biggest source of aggravation between Beatrice and Louise is the question of inheritance. Bondi’s house frau has put all her eggs in one basket, weezling her way into what she thinks is a massive inheritance when the patriarch passes on. With Hopkins’ character in the picture, will she get screwed? The elderly former military man has no intention of dying quickly, however, and he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve.

The Stranger’s Return is not a great film. What it does have is Miriam Hopkins @ the pinnacle of her physical perfection. She is a star in the biggest sense of the word and the performer’s onscreen magnetism will leave you wanting to see as much of her work as you can.

By James White

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Year: 1933

Director: Michael Curtiz

Starring: Ruth Chatterton, George Brent, and Ferdinand Gottschalk

Female is a Pre-Code effort that is unlike any other from the early 1930s. Unlike Barbara Stanwyck’s character in Baby Face — who sleeps her way to the top of the corporate ladder — Alison Drake (Ruth Chatterton) is already the CEO of her own automobile manufacturing concern. She is a sexual predator that is the equal of any male you’ve seen in film. A tough no nonsense businesswoman by day, Alison treats her company like a carnal candy store. This female captain of industry surveys her office space daily for potential boy toys amongst her employees. Her modus operandi is to pick a potential lover, invite them to her palatial digs on the premise of important shop talk, and then interrupt any professional discussion with sexual seduction. These young men are intoxicated by her lustful wares and they are left hopelessly under Ms. Drake’s spell. Of course she discards them immediately, even brazenly transferring them elsewhere in the firm if they give her any difficulties the next day.

Our protagonist gets the tables turned on her when she steals a top design engineer from a rival company. Jim Thorne (George Brent) rebuffs her advances which infuriates his new boss. He’s not impressed by her come ons. The female CEO is suddenly without the power of her sex appeal. Not used to losing, Alison pursues Thorne relentlessly until she ultimately wins him over. They fall in and out of love quickly. The engineer wants a conventional woman who will maintain a home and take care of his needs. When he leaves the company, Chatterton’s character is useless on the job. All she can think about is the one that got away.

What ensues is a crazy cross-country search until Ms. Drake is able to find her man at a carnival shooting at targets. How fitting when you consider that hanging out in an amusement park is what they did on their first successful date. Then the bottom sort of falls out of the picture as this tough CEO proclaims that she’s no superwoman and agrees to do the decent thing and marry him. What?! I can only imagine that this was thrown in as a salve to the fragile egos of the male audience. If the filmmakers had not emasculated Alison in the third act, this might have gone down as the best Pre-Code film out there.

There are some excellent production values starting with the Drake mansion. This is a real Frank Lloyd Wright creation in the Hollywood Hills known as the Ennis House. For 1933, its Grecian touches and art deco flavor are quite stirring. Our lead even has an ornate live organ halfway up one of her walls. The swimming pool is a sight to see and provides the setting for one of the funnier moments when the lady of the house rejects one boy because he’s too “poetic” (read: homosexual). Michael Curtiz received the director’s credit even though he was the third helmsman on the picture. William Dieterle got sick and William Wellman came aboard only to get in a dispute with the studio over money. Warner Bros. booted him off the set and brought in Curtiz to finish the project. Another interesting thing to note is that Brent and Chatterton were married in real life during Female. This probably didn’t hurt their onscreen performances which were seamless.

Despite the flawed and jarring reversal in this movie, I’m inclined to recommend it highly. I just love the idea of a strong woman getting away with the same boorish workplace behavior that was second nature to several male managers forever. I’ve really only seen this dynamic in one other film called Disclosure starring Demi Moore and Michael Douglas. But for 1930s America, Chatterton’s in-your-face sexuality must have seemed shocking. Oh, and I actually learned something by watching Female. I now know what it means when I’m with a woman and she casually tosses a pillow on the livingroom floor.

By James White

Year: 1933

Director: Frank Borzage

Starring: Spencer Tracy Loretta Young, Marjorie Rambeau, Glenda Farrell, Walter Connolly , Arthur Hohl

Questions of morality are swiftly at play in this Borzage classic of depressive love. Man’s Castle is the story of a dreamer, and his forced confrontation with reality. The film begins on a note of fantasy, as Bill (Spencer Tracy), sits on a bench feeding pigeons. He’s dressed in a tuxedo, and his charismatic nature alludes to a man of great wealth. He’s confronted by a whisper of a woman, the beautiful and appropriately tiny, Trina (Loretta Young). A starving and frightened child, he whisks her off and feeds her the meal of her life, only to reveal his suit is nothing but an illusion, and he doesn’t have a dime to his name.

At most, ten minutes into the story, we already have a strong idea of the identity and dreams of the characters. Bill is a dreamer, he cannot and will not be tied down. The depression is almost freeing for him, as the expectations of normal society no longer conform. Even though, one can hardly imagine him conforming to ordinary life, even during a more opportune time, the pressure is alleviated by circumstance. Trina is a flower; fragile and dependent, if it were not for her overcoming strength in face of Bill, and her undying optimism. The illusion that she is, in any way, weak is absurd. The power she gains from her relationship from Bill is mutual, and rather than being defined by him, she allows him to be defined by her. His perceived belittling of her is somewhat off-putting at first, but there is an understanding between the characters that rises above words. Trina understands that Bill is frightened by the idea of being tied down, and the fact that he still remains with her throughout is a testament to the power she holds over him. He respects her in a way that no other man could, he gives her what she wants and needs, often betraying his own ideals and happiness. In a way, his sacrifices are far greater than hers, though both are forced to compromise for their love.

The moral structure of this film, is placed in context of the depression. Though the word is never used, the film is wrapped in it’s shroud. Most of the film takes place in a shanty town, where Bill and Trina live. Most action that exists outside, is dependent on survival or else a test of moral fortitude. The moral compass is defined by a minister character, Ira, who preaches the word of God, and condemns even Bill’s taking flowers as a form of robbery. He is gentle though, and holds a very altruistic view of right and wrong. His world view is that of the film, that one must qualify morality through intent and the greater good. Intention especially seems to be the root of his idea of good and bad, as when he understands that Bill only stole the flower to bring happiness to Trina he is able to forgive him quite easily. Bill’s foil in this regard, is Bragg, who also is in love with Trina, but uses similar crimes and gestures in order to hurt other people.

This all culminates, in Bill’s decision to rob a safe. Despite his pilfering of a flower, he does not believe in robbery, but will do it to bring comfort to Trina. There is a difference in his actions here, versus earlier in the film however. As his actions are not motivated by a desire to make Trina happier, but rather to make his own life easier. It’s his means of escape, and he is “rightfully” punished for it. His degree of wrong, pales greatly compared to that of Bragg, and the punishments for each are appropriate to the crime. In a way, Borzage advocates even murder, as justifiable under the right circumstances; an interesting, if not problematic understanding of the world. Good and Evil exist on a scale, and there is apparently a line one can cross that though presented clearly in the film, does not translate quite as well to real world situations.

The real thrust, and reason to watch the film however, is the beautiful romance that blossoms between the characters. Borzage soft focus and use of light create a unique world where true love is possible, and even the pain of reality cannot truly penetrate the gloss of their world. If Borzage had one talent, it was capturing the interior romance and affection of his characters and reflecting it through their exterior world. One cannot help being swept away by Borzage’s taste for beauty, and the glimmer of optimism that love not only exists, but can make the world a more beautiful place.

By Justine Smith

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Year: 1933

Director: Stephen Roberts

Starring: Miriam Hopkins, Jack La Rue, William Gagan, Guy Standing

This wonderful pre-code film from 1933 is based on the salacious novel (Sanctuary) written by William Faulkner, one of my favorite authors. The pivotal role of Temple Drake was entrusted to none other than the divine Miriam Hopkins. Ms. Hopkins is perhaps better known for her beautiful performances in two Lubitsch pictures of the same era: Trouble in Paradise and Design for Living. But in Roberts’ film the great actress seizes the opportunity to really extend herself as a performer. Temple Drake is arguably Hopkins’ finest hour on the silver screen.

Temple’s penchant for carefree, promiscuous behavior is established from the start as the movie opens with her coming home from a date @ 4:00 in the morning. She manages to get her lecherous suitor pushed out the front door just as Judge Drake — played by Guy Standing — descends the stairs to see what the disturbance is. Her grandfather reproaches Temple for being out with a boy so late but she quickly assuages his concerns via her charms and revealing that her beau goes to a good school. This scene makes it clear that Hopkins’ character is excellent at manipulation and she’s used to getting her way 100% of the time. This flaw in Temple’s nature comes back to haunt her throughout the film.

One of Temple’s many suitors, the only one who she really respects, is Steven Benbow (Gagan). Benbow is an ambitious, altruistic defense attorney who will take on any case even if it’s pro bono and/or hopeless. The esteemed Judge Drake admires young Benbow’s spirit and he thinks the counselor would be the perfect husband for his granddaughter. While Gagan’s character loves Temple to a fault, he explains to the old man that she does not want to settle down and marry him. The movie cuts to our protagonist and a drunk college boy making out in a parked automobile outside a large mansion. When she stops necking and pushes his pawing mits away its clear that Temple is a tease. She runs into the house and proceeds to dance with several men, effectively spreading her alluring scent like a veil around the room. When the lothario who brought her to the party somehow persuades Ms. Drake to go for a drive and get some adult beverages, it’s difficult not to wonder at her bad judgment.

Not surprisingly, the inebriated boy wrecks his car out in the middle of nowhere. The couple is startled by two suspicious figures that come upon them from out of the woods. One of these unsavory characters is the notorious pimp and bootlegger called Trigger (La Rue). They are taken by gunpoint to a dilapidated old farmhouse deep in the woods. Her beau goes right inside but she stops dead in her tracks when spotting how many grubby men are inside. Having no choice because of a downpour, Temple is forced to seek shelter inside. All the gangmembers shoot leering, lascivious looks at their new female guest. While her boyfriend pounds alcohol, our heroine begins to panic as the men start to jockey for position. When her boyfriend gets knocked out cold it is surprisingly Trigger who keeps her from getting picked apart like raw meat. The leader yells for them to lay off and Temple goes with the farmer’s wife to secure some warm clothes.

The older woman starts out cold and unsympathetic toward Hopkins’ character, but as she recognizes how naive the young girl is, she takes pity on Temple and fixes her up in the barn for a good night’s sleep. Tommy (James Eagles), a simpleton member of the gang, takes a post outside the barn door with a rifle, presumably to keep our protagonist safe. Restless and scared, Temple barely gets any shuteye and she awakens to Trigger’s lustful gaze from the loft of the structure. The gangster shoots Tommy dead and advances on the girl despite her screams of protest. The rape seems to transform Hopkins’ character into a pliable zombie, easily influenced by the pimp and she begins to work for him in a house of ill repute.

When Benbow hears what Temple’s doing in the big city, he is incredulous. The attorney finds that much too his dismay, his beloved former girlfriend has in fact become a hooker. He confronts La Rue’s character in his office with Temple in attendance. Benbow chastises the bootlegger for what he’s doing to a respectable woman until Trigger has had enough. The presence of the lawyer shocks our heroine into embarassment and a realization that if she doesn’t do something fast, her pimp will kill him. Temple selflessly claims that she is at Trigger’s side willingly and that Benbow should go back home immediately because he’s not wanted. Seeing someone she cares about from her hometown shames Hopkins’ character and she attempts to leave to make amends. When it dawns on the gangster that Temple’s loyalty to him was all a ruse to save her friend, he begins to beat her and she is forced to shoot him in self defense.

Meanwhile, the farmer is falsely accused of the murder Trigger committed. Gagan’s lawyer takes on his defense and when he finds out that Temple is a friendly witness to the killing, he appeals to her sense of honor to do the right thing by coming forward. Wracked with guilt and fearing that she’ll be forced to testify about all the terrible things she’s endured, Temple initially resists but eventually relents to take the stand. Her testimony is the high point of the film and Hopkins is brilliant.

The Story of Temple Drake was nearly impossible to find in video form. I’m glad I eventually did. It is one of the best examples of the provocative nature of pre-code films. This picture exhibits several traits that distinguishes it from movies made following the strict enforcement of the Hays code. Drinking to excess, pervasive promiscuity, mysoginistic violence, and enough skin to shock a depression-era filmgoer. My favorite actress is Barbara Stanwyck but she is getting serious competition for my heart the more Miriam Hopkins performances I screen.

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Year: 1933

Director: Gustav Machatý

Cast: Hedy Lamarr, Aribert Mog, and Zvonimir Rogoz

It seems that critics are equally divided on this movie. One side claims that Ecstasy is a silly romp, with amateurish Freudian references and completely overrated. Others rave about its wonderful sexuality taken from the female point of view. One thing for sure, the nudity and content were scandalous for the 1930’s.

When the picture starts, Eva (Hedy Lamarr) and Emile (Zvonimir Rogoz) are about to consummate their marriage on the first night of their honeymoon. Unfortunately for a vibrant young woman of 19, her older husband is impotent. Worse yet, during the rest of their holiday he’s apathetic toward her. Eva only puts up with this boorish behavior for a few days before she flees to her parents’ house out of frustration. She unburdens herself to her father and to his credit, he understands the need for a dissolution of her marital sham. Lamarr’s character utilizes the idyllic farm country as a playground to convalesce in. She rides horseback and takes in the stimulation of flourishing plant life and wild animals. Eva is also fond of swimming in the nude. On one such occasion she makes the mistake of leaving her dress on top of her mount. When the randy horse gets a whiff of a mare in heat, he shoots across the hillside in pursuit. Eva is forced to give chase in her birthday suit. When one of the nearby laborers named Adam — played by Aribert Mog — sees the runaway horse, he runs after it. Having rundown the lusty animal, Adam begins to seek the owner. Stomping through the foliage, Eva spots the young man walking her mount so she hides in the bushes. When the laborer spots the beautiful girl in the buff, the physical attraction between the two is palpable. He teases her for a moment as if he’s deciding whether or not to give back her clothing. After a time, he tosses the dress to her while she’s still behind the bushes. She leaves in mock disgust but it is clear that the laborer has made an impression.

At this point, the abandoned bourgeois groom is distressed. Whether it’s the humiliation for a man with his social standing or genuine regret motivating him, Emile calls his bride and requests a meeting. She agrees to receive the anxious gentleman at her father’s home. Whatever hope Emile had for a reconciliation is quickly vanquished when our protagonist lays into him with warranted gusto. Having detailed his many transgressions, she demands an immediate divorce. A defeated Emile sees the fruitlessness of his pleas and acquiesces to her wishes. On one stormy night, Eva is restless and on edge. She repeatedly looks out the window and it becomes apparent that the young woman is turned on. With each lightning bolt getting her worked up even more, Lamarr’s character leaps from the living room and scampers into the darkness. When she arrives at Adam’s cabin soaking wet and heaving with passion and lust, he is pleasantly surprised. The two young lovers become inseparable and it is not long before they are married and with child. What becomes of Emile? His fate seems to have been sealed once he failed to deliver the goods that first night.

I can see how some contemporary viewers might think Ecstasy is corny. Some of the phallic symbols do get a little ridiculous. But I try to assess older films in the context of their environment. Even by pre-code standards full frontal nudity and the portrayal of a female orgasm are unheard of for 1933. And this is Hedy Lamarr, people. Without a doubt she is in my top 10 Hollywood babes list. In this picture you can see the foundation for the great beauty to come in her 20’s and 30’s. Machatý does a masterful job of capturing Lamarr’s stunning visage in several memorable closeups. Though this picture has sound, the director chose to shoot it like a silent movie with very sparse dialogue. This approach works well as the images do all the necessary talking. Is Ecstasy a great film? No. But it contains some memorable moments as well as the landmark debut of a truly gifted female artist.

By James White

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Year: 1933

Director: Frank Tuttle

Cast: Genevieve Tobin, Roland Young, Ralph Forbes, Una O’Connor, Minna Gombell, Frank Atkinson, Robert Greig, and Arthur Hoyt

I read a 1933 NY Times article on Pleasure Cruise yesterday and was surprised to see this quote: “Mr. Young and Miss Tobin aroused heaps of laughter from an audience yesterday afternoon.” I thought this pre-code film was cute but one man’s hilarity from 75 years ago apparently doesn’t measure up to a contemporary audience. At least this audience of one, anyway. The basic storyline is that an engaged couple are going through a trying financial time as Andrew Poole (Young) has been ruined and is forced to sell every asset to satisfy creditors. Embarrassed by this calamity, Poole believes the only sensible thing to do is call off the wedding. Shirley (Tobin) won’t hear of it. She has a good job in a downtown London firm and Tobin’s character is willing to be the breadwinner until they get back on their feet. Reluctant to agree because of appearances, Andrew gives in when his fiancee argues convincingly that he can finish the book he’s always going on about. When we first see Mr. Poole doing housechores in an apron, this is our second indicator of a pre-code convention: a role reversal of the sexes. One of the aspects of this picture I really enjoyed was Tuttle’s creative use of the camera. Right from the opening shot I could tell that this director had formidable skills. As Pleasure Cruise begins the viewer thinks he sees the back of a naked women posing for an artist. But as the camera moves closer we realize that we’re seeing a painting instead. Psych. Still another trait of pre-code pictures is partial or even full-on nudity. One of the true competencies of Classic Hollywood directors is their gift of economy when it comes to narrative pacing. This picture clocks in at a brief 70 minutes. Tuttle employs transition shots to depict passages of time. For example, to move from the auction to the wedding to the film’s present, Tuttle focuses on the couples’ feet as they walk. The director uses this method again to shift the movie from the Pooles’ argument in the rain outside the travel agent office, forward to the cruise ship; simply by focusing on a puddle. Back to our tale. Andrew is slowly going frustrated at the thought of his wife working in an office surrounded by men. As he relates his jealousies to Judy (Minna Gombell) the househusband gazes into a photo of his lovely wife. He discusses how he imagines each co-worker to be as the picture becomes animated and we see Shirley roam the office to each of her colleagues. Of course, as her husband visualizes the men, they are all very handsome. Yet Tuttle manages to also show them as they really are: old and crusty. By the time she gets home his jealousy manifests itself into an argument that continues until they find themselves outside a travel office. Tobin’s character suggests that maybe what they need is a holiday from their matrimony. Young’s character exclaims that he’d love to go fishing and his wife agrees that it is a great idea. When she counters that she’ll embark on a pleasure cruise while he’s gone, he becomes enraged and they part ways. Mr. Poole calls in a marker he has with an old friend who sits on the cruise ship company’s board of directors. It is arranged for him to board the vessel posing as a barber. Now he can ensure his wife doesn’t engage in any shenanigans. Onboard, Shirley Poole is ogled and sweet-talked by several potential suitors. The idea of an extra-marital affair is suddenly starting to have an appeal for the newlywed. There are several comedy sequences where Mr. Poole — in various disguises — spies on his wife as she interacts with a variety of playboys. One such player named Richard Taversham (Ralph Forbes) actually makes an impression. She ends up at the party with him that night and he tries to convince her to invite him into her cabin later. Shirley doesn’t commit either way so the brash Richard leaves the table presumptuously. The picture then shifts to a bedroom scene in which an inebriated Mrs. Poole is conflicted over her dilemma. On the one hand, she’s still boiling mad with her partner and she is attracted to Richard. However, as she looks into a photograph of her husband the doubts creep in. The alcohol has an aphrodesiac-like effect and she leaves the cabin door unlocked for the handsome rake. A third no-no of pre-code insolence has been suggested: extra-marital sex is acceptable and inevitable. There is some misdirection about who actually sleeps with the lovely bride but I’ll keep that a mystery. This question also serves as the movie’s punchline. Overall, Pleasure Cruise was a decent story with excellent visuals from Tuttle. Genevieve Tobin and Roland Young are serviceable as actors and the former is easy on the eyes. I found Una O’Connor’s portrayal of Mrs. Signus to be rather unfunny. In addition, her character is an eye-rolling cinematic cliche: the gauche, unattractive older woman who hits on every gentleman in her path. Give this movie a look for the pre-code curiosities and innovative camerawork, but it doesn’t reside amongst the genre’s best.

By James White

Year: 1933

Director: Albert Ray

Cast: Ginger Rogers, Lyle Talbot, Harvey Clark, Purnell Pratt, Lillian Harmer, Arthur Hoyt, Louise Beavers

Before she got famous with Fred, Ginger Rogers made a lot of B-grade films. A Shriek in the Night is a better one, and another film that has a low rating on IMDb that I don’t understand. It’s certainly not a great movie, but it’s a good one.

Ginger plays Pat, a reporter who’s been working undercover as the secretary to a possibly crooked public figure. When that man is killed, she’s in the prime position to get a good scoop. However, her scoop is stolen by her sometimes paramour Ted (Talbot). The two eventually end up working together, and the closer they get to the murderer, the more danger their lives are in.

Ginger is incredibly spunk and likeable in this movie. In a lot of films of these types from the early 1930s, when they had a pretty young actress playing an inquisitive reporter, the actress often didn’t seem anywhere near smart enough for the role. But Ginger comes across as being extremely intelligent and resourceful. And she has good chemistry with Talbot. The relationship begins with the usual hate/love of the two leads of strong personality. Fortunately, though, it goes a different direction and sticks mostly with the ‘love’ side of things. Which is a good choice, because as good as they are when they’re fighting, Rogers and Talbot are much more adorable as a couple.

The film does have some tone problems. It’s a mystery/comedy. It is very funny, with Rogers and Talbot delivering their fair share of zingers, and Purnell Pratt being funny and quippy as the lead Inspector. He especially earns some great laughs in the first scene. It also has some extremely well done moments on the thriller side. Towards the end there are some very well executed moments of genuine creepiness and suspense. However, the two tones never really gel completely. While both comedy and suspense are done well, they don’t come together well. It’s like watching two different movies.

There is a good central mystery, though. Unlike a lot of movies of this type, A Shriek in the Night is more focused on it’s murder mystery than it is on the romance. Sometimes with mysteries, you follow the story with some interest, but not trying to figure it out because you know they’ll just tell you it all in the end. With this film, however, I found myself constantly engaged with the mystery, greatly interested in all the clues and revalations, and trying to figure it out before the end. They do kind of blow their load by revealing the killer a little too early.

With its great cast, charming leads, and intriguing mystery, A Shriek In the Night is definitely a chiller worth your time.

NOTE: This movie is available on YouTube.

By Katie Richardson

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Year: 1933

Director: Sam Wood

Starring: Clark Gable and Jean Harlow

This rollicking good time at the movies features Jean Harlow and Clark Gable in arguably their best film together. Hold Your Man wears the pre-code banner with pride encompassing all the traits of the genre: double entendres, snappy dialogue, racy situations, and street-wise comedy. When the feature opens we see Eddie Hall (Gable) running a short con using a fugazi, a fake diamond ring. His mark figures out he’s been hoodwinked and pretty soon, our grifter is on the run. When he scrambles into an open apartment, he comes across Ruby Adams (Harlow) naked in her bathtub. Her initial reaction is to scream and find out what this nutjob is doing in her home uninvited. Eddie hears the police coming up the stairs and he pleads with Ruby to stall them so he can hide. Not a big fan of law enforcement herself, she reluctantly gives in. When the police come barging in, Ruby gives them her two cents but they barge into the bathroom to find the protagonist covered in soap suds in the tub. Harlow’s character claims that he’s her husband and Eddie yells at them to mind their own business. When the boys in blue leave the grifter jumps out of his bath and we see that he was in the water pants and all. It’s hilarious sequences such as the one I’ve just described that make this motion picture a delight to watch.

The heart and soul of Hold Your Man is the working relationship between Harlow and Gable. They are just like a couple of tennis pros volleying one sizzling barb after another. Quite full of himself, Eddie flirts w/ the curvy blonde like a determined bulldog. Facing one zinger from Ruby after another he accuses her of knowing all the answers. She replies, “Yeah, to all the dumb questions.” Eddie to this point in his life has been a good-for-nothing con artist and Ruby doesn’t have any delusions. She even points out that “… even your smile is crooked.” Eventually his charms prove irresistable to the point where when he tells her to dump her date and come over to his place in Flatbush, Ruby complies. When Gable’s character pours a Scotch and hands it to the blonde firecracker she asks, “Scotland or Brooklyn, which is it?” As Eddie tries to work more of his greasy charm, he invites Harlow’s character to join him on the sofa. Ruby sagely declares, “I got two rules when I go out visiting; keep away from couches and stay on your feet.” Of course, with the overwhelming chemistry these two have onscreen, she inevitably succumbs and spends the night. Eddie gets pinched and ends up doing time on the farm. The scene where she visits and teases him in jail works well. Ruby watches Eddie’s apartment for him and even re-decorates it. The grifter is quite pleased to find her there waiting upon his return. In typical pre-code fashion he follows Ruby into the bedroom, closing the door behind him with just his leg, slowly enough for the audience to infer what will ensue.

While the first two acts of this movie are wonderful, the last morphs from delicious comedy to sappy melodrama. Eddie finds a drunk they were trying to grift pawing Ruby all over. He slugs him so hard that the louse hits his head and dies. While Eddie is on the lam, Ruby gets left holding the bag as a witness spots her as the blonde who’d been with the deceased at the time of the murder. All the momentum this film achieved comes to a grinding halt as our female protagonist does time in prison. She runs across a rival for Eddie’s affections while in the can, and the women almost come to blows several times. When the brunette (Dorothy Burgess) tells everyone else in the barracks how sweet Eddie is on her, Ruby won’t stand for it. She offers this rejoinder instead: “You wouldn’t be a bad looking dame, if it wasn’t for you’re face.” Eventually our two lovers end up with a happy, if contrived, ending. But it’s the third reel that prevents this movie from reaching greatness. Still, this is the sexiest I’ve seen Harlow look onscreen. Hold Your Man is the best pre-code picture I have seen to date. It is mandatory viewing for fans of the platinum one or the king