090. Anna Christie (Clarence Brown, 1930)
MGM kept Greta Garbo in silent films longer than any other star in Hollywood. It wasn’t until 1930 that she made her talkie debut in the title role in Anna Christie.  It was really the perfect role for Garbo – the world weary prostitute of Swedish descent. The film is based on the play by Eugene O’Neill, who wasn’t the sunniest of playwrights. It’s a grim and gloomy story that could have easily been bogged down by its own sadness and despair had director Clarence Brown not put such importance on the family dynamic between Anna and her father, played by George F. Marion. Anna hides her past from her father, with whom she’s recently been reunited, for fear of disappointing him. While there is a love story in the film, the movie is really about the relationship between a father and daughter and the difficulties they have relating to one another after being separated for 15 years.

089. Of Human Bondage (John Cromwell, 1934)
Bette Davis had been working steadily in mostly unremarkable pictures until 1934 when she appeared in her breakout role in Of Human Bondage. Davis was a brave actress. Not many would take on a character as vile and horrible as Mildred, and even fewer would work so hard to make the character as horrible as possible. As a result, Davis created one of the biggest film bitches of all time, and cemented her place in Hollywood history as one of the all time greats. W. Somerset Maugham’s story of obsession and abuse is a dark one, filled with characters you can never quite feel sorry for. Nevertheless, watching the power Mildred holds over Leslie Howard’s Carey and the inexplicable pull he feels toward her is fascinating to watch. We’re basically watching a series of events that leads to a train crashing. We recognize that these things are going to lead to a disaster, we’re powerless to stop it, but it’s impossible not to be entranced by it.

088. Vivacious Lady (George Stevens, 1938)
Ginger Rogers and James Stewart were close friends for most of their lives, and they shared a really amazing chemistry on screen. In the 1930s and 1940s, they were both the “every man” (or woman) stars. Unlike much of Hollywood, which seemed glamorous and untouchable, Stewart and Roger seemed like they belonged with us. Like they were regular Joes. And pairing the two worked so well on film. Which is why it’s surprising that the only made one movie together, the delightful romantic comedy Vivacious Lady. The basic story is a little hackneyed – Stewart comes from a wealthy and respectable family, so he’s afraid to tell them that he’s married a showgirl – but the fact that director George Stevens can take that story and make something so funny and heartfelt is what’s beautiful about the whole thing. The romance between Stewart and Rogers feels incredibly genuine, and the family dynamic, while screwball and therefor a little daffy, actually feels real and honest. Despite the screwball elements, this is a movie that feels true.

087. Living on Velvet (Frank Borzage, 1935)
Living on Velvet is one of Borzage’s less recognized films. On the surface is seems to be a typical romantic melodrama, but it’s actually one of Borzage’s darkest stories. George Brent’s character, Terry, has lost his family in a plane crash while he was piloting, so he spends much of his life basically courting death, even after he marries Kay Francis’ Amy. He’s so much more damaged than any of Borzage’s other heroes. So damage that not even his love for Amy can save his soul.  Rather, much of the film seems to be about how their love for each other isn’t enough. For once in a Borzage film, it’s the outside forces that his heroes and heroines are usually so isolated from which are needed to save their lives. It’s an interesting departure for Borzage, less spiritual and certainly darker.

086. Dodsworth (William Wyler, 1936)
Hollywood romances, in both classic and modern film, are usually about young people. While it’s becoming a bit more common in current film to give older people the spotlight, that was a rarity in classic film, which makes Dodsworth a breath of fresh air. The leads are Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton, 52 and 44 years of age, respectively. Chatterton was lucky enough to have an ageless face, and was able to play the leading ladies in roles that might have gone to younger actresses for much of the 1930s. But in Dodsworth she embraced her age to play an older woman, the mother of an adult child, and the wife of a man who’s just retired. The film continues to be unconventional, telling the story of a long time romance unraveling. It’s sometimes heartbreaking to watch, but it’s such a well done film that you can’t tear your eyes away. It’s also brilliantly performed by its entire cast, especially Chatterton, who isn’t afraid to reveal the incredibly unlikable traits of her character.

Stay tuned for 85-81.

By Katie Richardson

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Year: 1943

Director: Vincent Sherman

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Bette Davis, Gig Young, John Loder

Another women’s weeper pairing two combustible participants: Bette Davis (Kit Marlowe) and Hopkins (Millie). These women are friends but rivals. When Kit publishes a big Broadway hit of a play, she becomes famous in Manhattan circles. Not to be outdone, Millie begins to write trashy romances and they ironically are gobbled up by the reading public. Despite being a hack, Millie has a great deal more financial success than her “friend” who is a respected artist. Hopkin’s character’s obsession with writing alienates her husband Preston — played by John Loder — and he sours on their union. When he confesses to Kit that he really loves her, she rejects him. However, Preston divorces Millie anyway.

MH portrays a female type that I am very familiar with having dated several of them over the years. Bergman calls them pathological narcissists and numerous pictures he’s completed cast this kind of woman in prominent roles. Millie’s focus on life is so myopic that she selfishly concocts plans that are indifferent to the people around her. She expects everyone to incorporate her life design as their own. To not get onboard is to carve a miserable existense for yourself, at least if you don’t break free from such a woman. Needless to say, by the picture’s end the romance novelist has alienated everyone around her. Except oddly, not Kit. Though she has been the picture of propriety throughout this story, Kit has somehow managed to push away any amorous entanglements that might be permanent. When a handsome man 10 years younger proposes marriage to Kit, she rebuffs him.

In the famous Davis/Hopkins moment Kit becomes irate that Millie is oblivious to how good her life has been, culminating in the former shaking the snot out of the latter. Art imitating life? Still, we see them toasting to a New Year in the final shot implying that the two writers are all they have. Sorority sisters if you will. Old Acquaintance is a good film and I really responded to the female archetype played by Hopkins. She’s such a nasty person on the screen that I can’t help but love MH’s performance.

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Year: 1939

Director: Edmund Goulding

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Bette Davis, George Brent

This is a melodrama set in the South @ the beginning of the Civil War and finishing well into the 1880s. Delia Lovell (Hopkins) is the older cousin to Charlotte (Bette Davis). The older Lovell belle grows weary of waiting for her fiance Clem Spender (George Brent) to propose marriage so she dumps him and marries a wealthy banker named Jim Ralston — played by James Stephenson — instead. Having held a torch for Clem herself for several years, Charlotte is thrilled and the two commence a romance immediately. When young Spender gets called to war, Davis’ character “comforts” him. The family eventually receives word that Charlotte’s lover is killed in action. This is the worst possible news because Ms. Lovell finds herself in the family way. Wishing to avoid scandal and any pox on the family name, the expecting mother travels out West to give birth in veiled secrecy.

Upon her return, Charlotte witnesses the devastations that war can leave in its wake. Wishing to contribute to the restoration of the South, our lead establishes a school for orphans. This has the added benefit of being a cover for her own child. When Delia finds out who the real father is to Clementina (Jane Bryan) she pleads with her cousin to move into her own home. Hopkins’ cousin suggests that the child has a birthright to a good name and financial resources. What appears as a gesture of Delia’s kindness at first is revealed to be anything but. As the years follow, Charlotte’s personal life is nearly snuffed out by this competitor for her daughter’s feelings. Davis’ character goes through Clementina’s adolescence reduced to the role of an annoying aunt while Delia pretends to be the child’s mother. Throughout the film, her older cousin’s selfish decisions have thwarted any chance Charlotte had @ happiness whether it be in romance, society, or in motherhood. As Clementine prepares for wedlock, our protagonist is sick of being a martyr and a doormat. The final scenes are a great payoff and combined with the rest of the movie, they make The Old Maid one of the better “women’s pictures” out there.

Hats off to Goulding for playing referee in this project as none of the notorious enmity each of these divas harbors for the other shows up in the frame. I have to compliment Davis with not being a grandstander in several scenes, as she chose correctly to play Charlotte stoically with measured reserve. Hopkins plays a detestable southern belle with verve and her insidious, machiavellian treatment of Davis’ Charlotte alienates the viewing audience. In short, she nails the part. What could have unraveled as a weepy, lame melodrama is given booster rockets by Hopkins and Davis. Give The Old Maid a spin if you want to see an acting clinic.

 


 

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.

 

 

 

Wow, two big birthdays in a row!

Robert Montgomery is just my absolute favorite ever. An amazing actor, a fantastic director, and very handsome man.

Montgomery had a wonderful talent in front of the camera. He could play almost any kind of character in any kind of movie. Romantic melodrama, screwball comedy, even psychological thriller. Montgomery could do it all and he could do it brilliantly.

Sadly, he’s not as remembered today as he should be. He deserves to be remembered among the greats of the 1930s and the 1940s. Nearly all of his films could be considered obscure classics. I’ve seen 54 of his films, but I don’t want to go overkill here. Instead of just listing my favorites, I’m going to do a nice little service for everyone and talk about the rare films that you can get at http://www.freemoviesondvd.com

The Big House (1930) – Montgomery costars with Wallace Beery and Chester Morris in this prison drama. Those of you who are mostly familiar with Montgomery as the suave playboy are in for a treat here, with Montgomery going against the type he would late establish for himself by playing something of a nervous weasel.

The Gallant Hours (1960) – Montgomery directs this war drama starring James Cagney. It’s a really interesting war film, done without battle scenes.

Fugitive Lovers (1934) – Montgomery stars with my favorite of his leading ladies, Madge Evans, in this really sweet road film about an escaped convict and a showgirl who fall in love when they meet on a bus.

Hide-Out (1934) – Montgomery and Maureen O’Sullivan make a really sweet pairing in this unique, but genuine love story about an injured gangster who finds sanctuary with a family on a farm. He falls in love with the sweet daughter. This movie has one of the absolute most romantic scenes of the 1930s.

June Bride (1948) – Not a great film, but it’s pretty fun and Montgomery and Davis have decent chemistry together.

When Ladies Meet (1934) – Definitely not one of my favorite Montgomery films. Kind of dull and the characters are all pretty unlikeable. But you get to see Bob with two of his best leading ladies, Myrna Loy and Ann Harding.

Haunted Honeymoon (1940) – I really enjoy this movie. Robert Montgomery and the completely lovely Constance Cummings play reluctant crime solvers who get sucked into a murder mystery on their honeymoon. A colorful cast of characters and a good romance between its leads makes this movie really fun.

The Saxon Charm (1948) – I still haven’t gotten my hands on this one yet (soon, oh very soon), but it’s available and I think it looks pretty good.

Ride the Pink Horse (1947) – A really brutal noir that doesn’t shy away from violence. Montgomery gives a really good performance, as well as directs.

Inspiration (1931) – This movie doesn’t get enough love. A lot of people say that Montgomery and Garbo just didn’t go well together, I think their restrained, under the surface chemistry was perfect for this movie about repressed love and sexuality.

The Single Standard (1929) – Yeah, I’m cheating on this one. Montgomery is just an extra in this film, but it’s one of my very favorite Garbo movies and everyone should see it.

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1937) – Another Montgomery movie that I just downright adore. Joan Crawford was one of his best costars. This is a really fun and unique story about jewel thief Crawford falling for Montgomery, the nephew of her mark.

Letty Lynton (1932) – A fantastic pre-code melodrama with Joan Crawford giving one of her best performances

Faithless (1932) – A beautiful Depression era romance. Bob and Tallulah Bankhead are perfect together. Montgomery gives a really wonderful performance, but this movie belongs to Bankhead.

Fast and Loose (1939) – I’m such a sucker for screwball detective movies, especially when they star Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell.

Night Must Fall (1937) – This is probably Montgomery’s best performance. He completely breaks type to play a creepy, tortured, insane murderer.

There you go. freemoviesondvd.com is a wonderful resource. You pay less than $10 for each DVD (and that includes shipping) and these films (and so many others they have) are more than worth it.