055. Bad Girl (Borzage, 1930)
Frank Borzage won his second Academy Award for Best Director for the Depression romance Bad Girl. The brilliance of his work in this film is the simplicity. It’s a very small, private love story that probably was probably more than a little like a lot of love stories happening in real life at the time, so he knew not to be too over the top and flashy. The movie is very down to earth and it feels stunningly authentic. Not only is it an excellent love story, it’s also an incredible depiction of life during the Depression, from the tenements to the slang.

054. Baby Face (Alfred E. Green, 1933)
Baby Face is, without a doubt, essential pre-code viewing. It’s hard to find a leading female character more pre-code than Barbara Stanwyck’s Lily (seriously, what is up with the worst of the pre-code dames being named Lily or Lil? That was also Jean Harlow’s name in Red Headed Woman, and she might actually have Stanwyck beat for the most pre-code). Even during the era, that weren’t a lot of films that celebrated a woman’s ability to get to the top by getting on her back, and Baby Face was one of them. Lily sleeps her way to the top, and she’s completely unapologetic about it.

053. It’s Love I’m After (Archie Mayo, 1937)

It’s Love I’m After is another nutty love-square romantic comedy, only it’s not quite as totally frakking insane as Four’s a Crowd. Nevertheless, it’s a flat out awesome romcom, with stellar performances from the whole cast. Unlike Four’s a Crowd, you can be pretty certain from the beginning who’s going to end up with who, despite the couple swapping (and at one point it almost becomes a love pentagon when Davis’ character starts to cozy up to DeHavilland’s dad), but it’s fun to watch them get there. It also has one of the best lines ever in a comedy. After being particularly mean to DeHavilland, only to have her delight in his criticisms, Leslie Howard says, “You don’t suppose I’ve awakened her ‘slap me again, I love it’ complex?”
052. City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931)
No doubt I’ll get a few “What the hell? WAY TOO LOW!” comments because City Lights isn’t in my top 50. But I still love it. Otherwise it wouldn’t be on this list at all. Chaplin continued to make silent films into the sound era, and proved that true emotion and love could still be expressed without words. It’s a film about true selflessness. The Tramp works to earn money for the Flower Girl’s operation even though he knows there’s a huge chance she won’t want him once she sees he’s not the millionaire she thinks he is. It’s a simple story, but a moving one, and it proves that you don’t need a lot of frills to make an effective romantic comedy.

051. Camille (George Cukor, 1936)
Greta Garbo’s performance as Marguerite in Camille my be the  most famous of her career. While I don’t think it’s her best performance, it’s certainly the ultimate Garbo role, the sacrificial bad girl, and she even gets to slowly die in this one. Yeah, sounds like a downer, but it is an incredibly romantic and ever moving film. And Garbo’s performance is really fantastic. She’s charming, she’s sexy, she’s sad. And Robert Taylor makes for a wonderful younger leading man. They’re a good pair, with strong chemistry. If you like Moulin Rouge, you’ll like this. Because it’s basically the exact same story.

You lucky ducks. Since I didn’t do a post last week, I’m doing two posts today. So woohoo for you guys!

Minna Gombell is DEFINITELY an actress who really doesn’t get the attention she deserves. Even among the character actors she’s often forgotten. I adore her. It may just be because she made a few movies with my personal god, Frank Borzage. But I’ve always appreciated her performances and I’ve always been impressed by her range.

Gombell was nearing 40 when she started out in Hollywood during the birth of the talkies. With very, very few exceptions (Ruth Chatterton being one), actresses of that age were no longer “allowed” by Hollywood standards to be leading ladies. So these actresses of a certain age became character actors, to play older best friend types, or mothers. It was the really good character actors who took these roles and practically stole the films they were in with their amazing performances. Minna Gombell was one of those actors. In this post, I’ll take a look at a few of the films Gombell made with Borzage, my favorite director.

Bad Girl (1931)
In her first film with Borzage, Gombell plays Edna, the older best friend of Sally Eiler’s Dorothy. Bad Girl is a movie about a young marriage and expecting a child during the Depression. It’s a really mature movie, exploring the damage that a lack of communication can do to a relationship. Both Dorothy and her husband Eddie (played by James Dunn) are pretty nervous and high strung. They’re newlyweds, they’re expecting a baby, money is tight, and they both think that the other one doesn’t want the baby. With two lead characters who are such messes, Gombell’s Edna is the sturdy, steady, calming force in the movie. She herself is a single mother, but the character shows how one can actually get through even the toughest of times.

After Tomorrow (1932)
In her second film with director Frank Borzage, Gombell gives what I think is by far her finest performance. She’s Else, the mother of Sidney (Marian Nixon), who is in love with and trying to plan her wedding to Pete (Charles Farrell), but they have little money and marriage is starting to look impossible. The love story between Pete and Sidney is sweet, but the real emotion of the film comes from Gombell. Else is a restless and unhappy woman. She loves her daughter, but she married and had a child at a young age, and now that she’s older she feels that she’s wasted her life away cooking for her husband and ironing her daughter’s clothes. Gombell’s performance is absolutely amazing. This is a character who could very easily garner no sympathy from the viewer, but Gombell creates such a complex character. You hate her for the way she treats her husband and the way she runs away, but at the same time you still genuinely feel for her and the way she’s feeling. It’s a truly beautiful performance, and it makes one of the Borzage’s lesser film completely worth watching.

By Katie Richardson

It’s a pretty tough time money-wise for a lot of people. Unemployment rates are rising, people are getting laid off and losing money left and right. Right now, we’re in recession. But there are a lot of people worried that we’ll soon be in a depression.

This, of course, would not be the first depression. The Great Depression in the 1930s was one of the bleakest times in history. But hey, it produced some great films. Especially some great films set during the Depression. So maybe we should take some tips from these movies on how to get through these rough times.

Tip #1: Find a rich man to keep you
See: Bed of Roses, The Easiest Way, Our Blushing Brides, Possessed
You’re down on your luck. You’re a girl living in a poor neighborhood, you either can’t find a job or you have a really crappy one. But you’re damn pretty, and with the right dress and hair, you could look damn classy.

And hey, here’s a handsome (hopefully) rich guy who likes you. Really likes you. You’re one of the lucky ones now. He like you so much he wants to set you up in a nice apartment so he doesn’t have to go to the bed part of town to see you. Of course he doesn’t want to marry you. He may already be married, or the idea of marriage just doesn’t interest him. But that’s probably a good thing. Why ruin something so simple with marriage?

Now you have a fancy apartment to yourself, an bottomless bank account, and you get to rub elbows with all of your man’s high class friends.

And hey, this is the 21st century. There are plenty of rich, powerful women, so it’s completely possible for a man to find himself a cushy situation like this.

Be careful, though. These situations don’t always end happily. Unfortunately for Constance Bennett in The Easiest Way, she lost the man she really loved when she couldn’t resist the life of luxery. And don’t go thinking this guy’s going to marry you. That idea turned out not too well for Anita Page in Our Blushing Brides.

Of course, you could get Joan Crawford-in-Possessed lucky, attract a handsome rich guy like Clark Gable, fall in love with him, and then have the good fortune of him falling in love with you.

Tip #2: Find a rich man (or woman) to marry you.
See: Red Headed Woman, Mannequin, Platinum Blond
You’re situation is probably pretty similar to the one above. However, finding a rich man to marry you might be a littler tougher than finding a rich man to keep you. Marrying a poor girl takes on some more social implications than just keeping her in a nice apartment and buying her stuff.

So you may have to resort to complete bitchery. Like Jean Harlow in Red Headed Woman. Easily one of the biggest bitches to ever hit the big screen, she did every single thing she had to do to get her rich boss to marry her. Even though he was already married.  Sure, the marriage was absolutely miserable, but she had all the money she wanted.

You may get lucky, though, and find a rich guy who’s just plain infatuated with you, like Joan Crawford found Spencer Tracy in Frank Borzage’s Mannequin. Sure, she didn’t love him at first. But there’s a lesson there in itself. Love will eventually grow.

Of course, it’s entirely possible for a man to marry a wealthy woman. It just doesn’t usually take much scheming. According to Platinum Blond, heiresses like to take on poor, unsophisticated men to see if they can change them. Just for fun. So all you boys have to do is be unsophisticated and put yourself in front of some rich chicks. But, seriously, if you’ve got someone as cute as Loretta Young already in love with you, save yourself the trouble.

Tip #3: Use sex in the workplace
See: Baby Face
The last two options were good options. But of course, you’re a modern woman. Maybe you don’t want to be married or kept. Maybe you’ll only feel complete if you’re working.

Yes, these days it is much, much easier to climb the corporate ladder for women than it was in the 1930s. But it’s still not the easiest thing in the world. Especially right now, when some people are having a hard time finding a job.

So if there’s any time when you shouldn’t feel ashamed to get on your back to get up the ladder, it’s now. You should always use what god gave you. And if he happened to give you some good looks and a fair amount of sex appeal, you should use it.

Just be careful. In Baby Face, Stanwyck got into a few sticky situations doing this very thing. Try to keep the amount of men with whom you exchange sexual favors to a minimum to avoid that.

Tip #4: Crime pays…. to a point
See: Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces, Scarface
During the Depression, gangsters were almost treated as heroes in film (and even outside of it). Life was tough. The world, the country, fate, God… these things had taken everything from people. And the gangsters were the ones rebelling against that and taking it back. By any means possible. Sure, they were doing bad things. But they were getting the money they wanted. And in times like these, sometimes that seems like the most important thing.

Without fail, whether it’s Cagney in The Public Enemy and Angels With Dirty Faces, Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar, or Paul Muni in Scarface, things always go amazingly well for these guys for some time. They climb the ranks and live very comfortably.

So yeah, a life of crime is always going to be dangerous. But unlike the guys in these movies, be smart. Don’t want to much. Once you get to a certain point where you’re living comfortably, let it be. Don’t try to get any higher. And for the love of god, don’t try to take over the organization. That’s the kind of shit that gets you killed.

Tip #5: Turn to prostitution
See: Faitless, Anna Christie, Midnight Mary
Now things are seriously bad. You can’t find a job at all. And the idea of marrying or being kept by a rich man isn’t happening (maybe you just can’t find one, or maybe you’re so much in love with someone poor you can’t bring yourself to leave them). You have no choice. You must turn to prostitution.

Sure, it’s probably the least dignified thing on this list. But when you’re desperate, you’re desperate. You gotta eat. You gotta keep a roof over your head. And maybe like Tallulah Bankhead in Faithless, you have to find some way to pay for your husband’s medication. She got lucky, though. When husband Robert Montgomery found out that she was a prostitute, he was moved by her sacrifice.

Tip #6: Split a nice apartment with some pals
See: Ladies In Love, Beauty For Sale, The Greeks Had a Word For Them, Our Blushing Brides
Probably the easiest option so far. You’re single, you don’t have a lot of money. But you do have two good friends who are in the same situation. So how much easier would it be on all of you to split an apartment!

This can be done just for necessity’s sake, as it was for Joan Crawford, Anita Page, and Dorothy Sebastian in Our Blushing Brides, and Madge Evans, Una Merkel, and Florine McKinney in Beauty For Sale.

But you can also do the three way split in a fancier way. It might require a bit more money, but getting a nicer apartment in a better part of town with three friends could be a bit of a confidence booster, which is always needed in times like these. In Ladies in Love and The Greeks Had a Word For Them, three single ladies (Constance Bennett, Janet Gaynor, and Loretta Young in Ladies, Madge Evans, Joan Blondell, and Ina Claire in Greeks) split nice aparments in nice neighborhoods to make themselves look classier and like they have more money, presumable to attract wealthy men.

Tip #7: Embrace your poverty and realize that love is ultimately what matters
See: Bad Girl, Man’s Castle
Yes, times are indeed tough for you. But they’re tough for most people.

Not everyone loves the idea of trying to find a rich person to take care of them, or turning to crime, or getting on their backs. So they just accepts their circumstances. And sometimes they’re really lucky, because they might have love in their life.

Tenement life blows, obviously. But if you have a husband or wife that you love very much, and a baby on the way, like Sally Eilers and James Dunn in Bad Girl, that becomes more important than everything else, even if there are some bumps along the way.

Even worse than tenement life was life in the Hoovervilles, where families lived in little more than tiny shacks. No matter how bad a living situation might be, look on the bright side like Loretta Young in Man’s Castle does. At least she has a place to live. Add to that the fact that she’s in a (somewhat complicated, admittedly) relationship with Spencer Tracy. Life is difficult, but Borzage films the movie almost like a fairy tale. Their love is so powerful, it can make a little shack seem like a castle.

There you go. Seven tips from the classics on how to get through these tough times.

I’d love it to here any tips you guys can come up with from watching 1930s films!

By Katie Richardson

Today in film, like in regular life, pregnancy is no big deal. There are pregnant characters in film all the time. Movies about being pregnant, movies about giving birth, movies about having a new baby. In this day and age, “which actress is pregnant now?” talk is the most popular type of gossip you can find in the rags.

But back in the earlier days of film, having a baby apparently wasn’t so commonplace. The word “pregnant” was never uttered on screen. In the cases it was a happy thing, they would just say that they were “having a baby”. In unhappy cases, films usually allowed the shocked, uncomfortable silence tell the story.

And women NEVER showed. Apparently, back in the 1930s, babies didn’t actually grow in utero. They must have been like those toys that get bigger as you add water, only with 1930s babies you added air and as soon as they were delivered they ballooned into a regular sized infant.

In pre-code film, there were a lot of cases of women having babies or getting pregnant before marriage. These were usually portrayed as unhappy situations, but sometimes the woman was still able to raise the child happilly. After enforcement of the code began, it seemed like it wasn’t even possible to conceive a child out of wedlock. It was quite awhile before women were allowed to have children outside of happy marriages, and even then, in most cases, they were still married. They had just separated from their husbands.

Yes, pregnancy in classic film is a strange thing. Here are some films with notable, baffling pregnancies.

Mary Pickford isn’t pregnant in Tess of the Storm Country, but she vows to help out a woman who is. Pickford falls in love with the wealthy Lloyd Hughes, whose sister becomes pregnant. Before she can marry the father of her child, he’s killed. So Pickford takes pity on the poor woman, helps her through the pregnancy, and then takes care of the child.

This pregnancy is a classic example of the shame that came along with having a baby out of wedlock. To protect her friend, Pickford allows people to think the child is hers, even risking her relationship with the man she loves. And in those days, a sin like this had to have punishment, and in the end the child dies.

In Bad Girl, Sally Eilers and James Dunn are young lovers during the Depression who marry quickly after meeting and struggle financially, especially once Eilers finds out she’s pregnant. Director Frank Borzage creates a really interesting and intimate drama between these characters based  almost entirely around the pregnancy. Both characters have a hard time handling the idea that they’re going to be parents, and both of them thing that the other doesn’t want the baby.

Eilers becomes pregnant early in the movie, and it’s a very prominent plot point in the film. But she never shows and it’s difficult to keep track of how far along she is until the baby is born. But Borzage’s look at the anxieties and uncertainty of being parents for the first time was a rare look at pregnancy in classic film.

Life Begins is a film all about pregnancy. Hence the title. Loretta Young plays a young married woman who is in jail for murder. She’s also pregnant, and is apparently far enough along that she must be admitted to the maternity ward of a hospital (you’d never know she was that far along, though). It’s there that she meets a whole bunch of other pregnant women, all very different, including brassy showgirl Glenda Farrell.

It’s a very moving film with a lot of top notch performances, but it’s also a really interesting look at the way hospitals worked back then. It’s movies like these that really give you a glimpse into a world that no longer exists. It’s just so strange and baffling the way things were done. First of all, the fact that pregnant women had to be admitted to the hospital months before he due date. Husbands were only allowed to visit their wives at the hospital for an hour or two a day. There were no private rooms for the women.They all had a bed in a large single room. And the husbands weren’t even allowed to be in the delivery room. It’s just such a strange look back.

Pregnancy isn’t the main theme in Beauty For Sale. This is one of those cases where it’s never implicitly stated, just silently and shamefully suggested. The story revolve around the romantic troubles of three friends, and troubles of Florence McKinney is the saddest of all. She’s in love with the boss’s son, having a clandestine affair. When she frantically tries to convince him to marry her, it’s made clear, without words, that she’s pregnant. He promises to marry her, but abandons her the night before the wedding, leaving the country. It’s a small part of the movie, but it’s certainly the most tragic, and Florine McKinney delivers a really fantastic performance.

Beauty For Sale is another example of the “secret shame” pregnancy story lines. The film is full of pre-code goodness, and it balances the lighter side of those ideas (gold digging, whee!) with the darker side (McKinney’s pregnancy) extremely well. The idea is that being pregnant before marriage is so horrible it can’t even be spoken aloud, only alluded to. While it’s wonderfully pre-code, it still takes on the idea that those who sin must be punished (or at least the women who sin), and McKinney’s character meets a tragic fate.

It’s pretty much a rule that I have to write about Man’s Castle at least once a week here, so here we are, filling that quota. It’s one of the most lenient of pre-code films. Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young live together in their Hoovershack, clearly sharing a bed and having a sexual relationship, without being married. Young becomes pregnant. While the revelation comes somewhat late in the film, it’s the main conflict point in the film. And, refreshingly, the conflict has absolutely nothing to do with societal norms and expectations. Frank Borzage couldn’t care less about the social implications of an illegitimate child on these people – it’s hardly the worst thing that’s happening in the world at the time. The conflict is completely between Bill and Trina and what the baby does to their relationship.

It looks like they’re caving to societal expectations by getting married. But as with most Borzage weddings, it doesn’t seem to be a legally binding ceremony. It’s performed by a man who is no longer a minister, with no legal documents being signed. The marriage is completely spiritual (and isn’t even really consummated as such until later in the film when Bill realizes he wants to stay with Trina). In Man’s Castle, pregnancy is not a plot point to shock or hold a mirror up to society. It’s simply a driving force for two characters. While initially it looks like it’s going to drive them apart, the pregnancy just brings them closer together. And we’re given something of Christ-story correlation, when Bill does the math and figures out the baby will be born in December. “Sort of a Christmas present, huh, Bill?” Trina says.

Men In White has perhaps the most controversial use of pregnancy in pre-code film. Clark Gable plays a doctor who is engaged to Myrna Loy. When the couple has an argument, Gable has a one-night stand with Elizabeth Allen. She becomes pregnant, and instead of having the baby or even telling Gable, she has a back alley abortion. The procedure is botched, and she’s admitted to the hospital to repair the damage, where Gable finds out that she had been pregnant with his child.

Even in pre-code, the topic had to be handled delicately. The one stand is only implied, with a discreet fade out. The abortion is never calle as such. They dance around it in their dialogue:

“Ruptured appendix?”
“Worst than that.”
“……..why didn’t she come to us?”

But from their behavior, it’s clear what has happened. Men In White is one of the most daring pre-code films.
 

When Kitty Foyle was made in 1940, the code was still being strictly enforced. So Ginger Rogers, in the title role, becomes pregnant while she is still marriage to her husband, Dennis Morgan. But she doesn’t find out she’s pregnant until they’ve separated. This is one of the many ways films made during enforcement worked around the code and bent the rules. Rogers was no longer with her husband, she was single woman, but she had committed no sin since they had been married when the baby was conceived.

However, she still plans on raising the child as a single mother. The pregnancy moves quickly, and is not a major part of the story. The baby dies, which is an important part of the formation of Kitty Foyle’s character.

With it being such a rare thing in classic film (as opposed to today), pregnancy in film was always a major plot point. Either it was used to shock the audiences or drive the story further. 

 

By Katie Richardson

Ah, father’s day. The day when you end up having to scrape together money you don’t have because your brother went ahead and bought a really expensive present that he just expected you to go in on with him even though he never asked you. Yes. It’s a wonderful day.

So… yeah… I think this list is pretty self explanatory. For the warm and fuzzy to the manipulative and terrible, movie dads come in all shapes and sizes. Here are some of my favorites from obscure classic film.

Florian Clement (C. Aubrey Smith) in But the Flesh is Weak

Robert Montgomery and C. Aubrey Smith play a father/son team of male gold diggers. Though the films focuses mostly on Montgomery and his relationships with Heather Thatcher and Nora Gregor, the best moments in the film are the quiet ones between father and son. Clement is a good father who taught his son to do bad things.

Stephen Ashe (Lionel Barrymore) in A Free Soul

Barrymore won an Academy Award for this performance. While the film is mostly memorable for the sizzling pre-code chemistry between Norma Shearer and Clark Gable, it’s Barrymore’s alcoholic lawyer father who gives the film its real heart.

Viktor Roth (Frank Morgan) in The Mortal Storm

Probably one of the best fathers in classic film. Roth is a father not just to his own children, but to his step sons, and their two best friends. Not only does he support the family and teach them to think for themselves, but he offers them the strongest kind of spiritual guidance after he sent to a concentration camp.

Eddie Collins (James Dunn) in Bad Girl

An expecting father. Much like director Frank Borzage’s similarly themed Little Man, What Now? Eddie’s story is about the sacrifices he’s willing to make for the child that he and his wife are expecting.

David Merlin (David Niven) in Bachelor Mother

Sort of an adoptive father. He falls for the son of Ginger Rogers (even though he’s not even really her’s either) just as much as he falls for Ginger. This is a lovely movie about how sometimes the best family is the one you make.

Sir Winterton (C. Aubrey Smith) in The Bachelor Father

This is definitely pre-code. It’s about a man who nailed a lot of different women when he was young, and now wants to gather all of his several children (all by different mothers) that he’s never met. This is one of my favorite movies from the early 1930s.

So who are some of your favorite dads from classic film?

By Katie Richardson