Photobucket

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

There was a thread yesterday on Rotten Tomatoes about remakes, and which ones were better than the originals. It actually sparked an interesting discussion about whether or not remakes can be good movies. As usual, there were some who said basically that remakes are completely unnecessary and that they’re only made so frequently now because Hollywood is running out of ideas.

Well, that’s just not true. And it shows a complete lack of knowledge of cinema history.

In the classic era, remakes were extremely common. Silent films were remade for sound, pre-code films were remade after enforcement. And sometimes a director, producer or actor just liked the story so much they wanted to make is again.

If anything, remakes may have been even more frequent in the classic era than they are now. And some of the best movies ever made are remakes. His Girl Friday is a remake of The Front Page. The Maltese Falcon is a remake of Dangerous Female (this also received an earlier remake with the bizarre Satan Met a Lady.) It could be argued that these aren’t exactly remakes. The Front Page is a play and The Maltese Falcon is a book. But do you really think that these films would have had a second (or third) go so soon after the original was made if the originals were excellent films?

Part of the reason The Maltese Falcon and His Girl Friday work so well as remakes is because they take the opportunity to try something different. The Maltese Falcon couldn’t get away with the pre-code sexuality of the original film, so John Huston created a unique, dark atmosphere, and pretty much kicked off the noir movement. His Girl Friday switched the gender of one of the main characters and turned the story into a romance. Both His Girl Friday and The Maltese Falcon are considered better than their predecessors.

And just because a remake may not be as great as the original doesn’t mean it’s automatically a bad movie. There are several remakes from the classic era that are very good movies, even if they aren’t as good as the original. Silk Stockings is a musical remake of Ninotchka. Weekend at the Waldorf is a comedic remake of Grand Hotel. Daddy Long Legs is a musical remake of the silent film of the same title. The Children’s Hour is a remake of William Wyler’s These Three.

These films are good because, like with the two films discussed earlier, they take the material and put an original and unique spin on them. There are remakes seem to be pointless because no attempt is made to try something new. The Jennifer Jones remakes, A Farewell to Arms and The Barretts of Wimpole Street are perfect examples. The only significant change to these is the addition of color. And as for The Barretts of Wimpole Street, director Sidney Franklin, who also directed the original, used the exact same shooting script, word for word. Both of these films end up being completely dull and uninteresting, especially since the original films are among the finest films of the 1930s.

Of course, not every remake that adds something unique to the material is good. I suppose it’s a matter of looking at the material and attempting to see if that ‘something’ fits. Two musical remakes, The Opposite Sex and Smilin’ Through suffer from this problem. Smilin’ Through, a remake of the 1932 film, feels awkward and bizarre with musical numbers. Borzage directs the non-musical parts of the story well, but then a musical number pops in and it simply doesn’t feel like it fits in the movie. The Opposite Sex, a remake of The Women, is just a wretched movie all around. The musical aspect, while terrible, the least of the problems, which starts with a horrible cast, and goes right down to the addition of men to the film.

There are movies from the classic era that would benefit from a remake now. Specifically Lady In the Lake. It was the first film directed by Robert Montgomery, and he really showed both his skill as a director and his incredible creativity and skill with a camera by shooting the entire film in first person. While Montgomery’s film is both a fascinating film experiment and and just an amazing film all around, the story could certainly use a remake to film it in a  more traditions, third person stle.

So, after all that, are there any classic films you guys think would benefit from a remake today?

By Katie Richardson

Starring: Joel McCrea, Sylvia Sidney, Humphrey Bogart, Claire Trevor, Wendy Barrie, the Dead End Kids

Director: William Wyler

Year: 1937

I’d seen Dead End a number of times, but it had been a couple of years since I had last seen it. I don’t know if I had just forgotten what an incredible movie it is, or if I’d never realized quite how amazing it was, but rewatching it again made me realize what a little masterpiece this film is. It did well at the time of its release, received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but it hardly remembered today. It’s depiction of slum life in the 1930s might seem a little distant for some film goers to really latch on to, but anybody with a decent understanding of the time and the films of the era should really “get” this film, and feel it right down to their bones.

The film takes place in a slum along the East River in New York, where the wealthy have decided to set up shop as well. Drina (Sidney) is on strike, trying to get the money she feels is owed to her so she can take her brother Tommy (Dead End Kid Billy Hallop) out of the neighborhood. She’s in love with childhood friend Dave (McCrea) who has a budding romance with rich girl Kay (Barrie). Baby Face Martin (Bogart), a childhood friend of Dave’s, is back in the neighborhood to find his mother and his old girlfriend Francie (Trevor).

There are several films from this era that deal with the struggle between the rich and the poor, especially during the Depression, but I don’t think I’ve seen a film do it so blatantly and so honestly as Dead End. The rich look down on the tenements from their big, beautiful building. They sit on their terraces, observing the poor, with the kids from the slums swim in the river. This divide is shown both harshly, when Tommy and his gang get into trouble for beating up a rich boy, and romantically, in the love triangle between Drina, Dave, and Kay. What it shows mostly, for all the characters, is how they dream of being more than just a child of the slums, and how the other world is just slightly out of their reach, both literally and figuratively.

The gentlemen give fine performances. McCrea is one of my favorite stars of the 1930s and 1940s. I don’t think anyone could play the good guy like he could. And Bogart is great as the charismatic bad guy. We find fault with his lifestyle, but can’t help to feel sorry for him when things don’t turn out at all as he imagines. And, as usual, I just loved the Dead End Kids. I don’t know exactly what it is about them, perhaps its the friendship between them, or just the fact that in older films we usually see precocious cuties, not accurate depictions of children living it rough.

But I have to say, it’s the women who steal the show. Sylvia Sidney, an almost impossibly beautiful woman, almost completely carries parts of the movie. Her love for Tommy is honest, her longtime love for Dave is pure. And more than anything, her desire to take her brother away is deep and beautiful. There’s an incredible scene where she describes to Dave a fantasy she has of meeting a rich man. The look on her face as she delivers it is brutal. And Claire Trevor…. boy, I can’t believe more people aren’t familiar with her. With one scene she received a much deserved Academy Award nomination. She’s the complete embodiment of broken dreams and a crushed future. Even Wendy Barrie, who I’m not that incredibly fond of, does a good job of playing the wealthy woman, who remains sympathetic even as she runs from a tenement in disgust.

Another strength of the film is its set design. It’s rare for classic films to take place almost entirely outside. And, when films do venture outside, it usually looks incredibly fake. Dead End creates a very real, vibrant world for these characters to live in. The slum is almost as much a character as any of the living, breathing people on the screen. And it’s a part of each character.

Dead End is simply one of the best films of the 1930s. There’s no other way to say it. It’s just a masterpiece.

Year: 1934

Director: Norman Taurog

Cast: Bing Crosby, Carole Lombard, Burns and Allen

First, let me say I love Carole Lombard. To Be or Not Be, My Man Godfrey, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Nothing Sacred…what not to like? When I first heard about the release of the Carole Lombard Collection, a six-film DVD set, I purchased it. The only film I previously seen in the set was Hands Across the Table, therefore, I was looking forward to seeing the rest. Since then, I have watched all except for We’re Not Dressing. Why’s that you ask? Well, in two words, Bing Crosby. I am not a fan and have had a love/hate relationship with his films. Holiday Inn is one of my favorite films to watch around the holiday season and as a Bob Hope fan I love the “Road” pictures yet I generally find Bing’s characters annoying, admittedly, less annoying in these films than in others. To watch We’re Not Dressing I had to look at this as a Carole Lombard film and not a Bing Crosby movie. I know, I know what you’re thinking, it’s the Carole Lombard Collection dummy!

We’re Not Dressing was more a vehicle for Bing Crosby than Carole Lombard who would really come into her own the same year this film was released when Howard Hawks used her in Twentieth Century. The film also stars George Burns and Gracie Allen, Leon Errol and Ethel Merman.

Carol is a wealthy yacht owner named Doris Worthington who is on a cruise to the South Pacific. Along for the ride are two fakes “Princes” Alexander (Ray Milland) and Michael (Jay Henry), both who are after Doris and her money. Doris has trouble choosing between which of these two phonies she wants to marry. Also on board, are sailor and deck hand Steve Jones (Bing Crosby) who has among his duties the responsibility for Doris’ pet bear. Yes, that’s right, a pet bear named Droopy who happens to like hearing Steve sing and he sings a lot! In the first fifteen minutes, Steve/Bing sings three songs. Doris’s Uncle Herbert (Leon Errol) and his man-chasing bride to be Edith (Ethel Merman) are also along the ride. Things take a turn for the worst when a drunken Uncle Herbert loses control of the yacht and it sinks resulting in crew and passengers having to abandon ship. Unknown to her, Steve saves Doris’ life when she is knocked unconscious as she prepares to jump overboard. The survivors end up on an island. Doris has always been served and pampered in her life now has to depend on Steve for survival since he knows how to survive under these more primitive circumstances finding food and building shelters. On the island, they meet George and Grace (Burns and Allen), two botanists living on the island working on their experiments. Of course, love conquers all, and they live happily ever after and Bing sings.

The film is silly for today’s audience and was probably silly for the audience of its day. This is mainly due to too many scenes with the bear. The film is a showcase for Bing, Carole’s role is secondary but she is effective, as always, and a pleasure to watch. The real highlight for me was Burns and Allen who pretty much steal the movie in every scene they are in. Ethel Merman and Leon Errol are also on hand. Crosby fans will love this because he sings quite a bit including two songs directly to the bear.

As I watched the film, it more and more reminded me of an Elvis movie. Then it struck me! The film was directed by Norman Taurog who some thirty years later would direct Elvis in nine films. All he had to do was replace Bing and Carole with Elvis and Ann-Margret and he had We’re Not Dressing…Elvis Style.

By John Greco