Year: 1939
Director: Tay Garnett
Cast: Loretta Young, David Niven, Broderick Crawford, Billie Burke, Eve Arden, Hugh Herbert, C. Aubrey Smith, Virginia Field, Zasu Pitts, Raymond Walburn

Eternally Yours was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid, and it was one of the first classic movies that I really, really loved. It had been about 10 years since I’d last seen it, despite the fact that I’ve owned it on DVD for several years now (it came with The Greeks Had a Word for Them). So yesterday I decided to pop it into the DVD player. And then I proceeded to ruin my childhood memories.

Anita (Young) is getting ready to marry Don (Crawford) when she meets charming and committed magician Tony (Niven). The two fall in love and marry. Anita goes on the road with Tony’s act, even performing in his show with him. But his stunts become more and more dangerous to please his devoted crowd, and Anita can no longer take it.  She divorces him, and to get over the heartache, she marries Don. But of course Anita can’t escape Tony for long, and not long after her wedding they’re stuck at the same party together.

It’s not that Eternally Yours is a bad movie.  It’s not. It’s just not all that great, and certainly not as great as I remembered it being. Looking at it now with the eye of someone who’s been studying film for so long, I can easily see its many faults. Which are as follows…

The film has a wonderful supporting cast in C. Aubrey Smith, Eve Arden, Bille Burke, and Zasu Pitts, but they are all under-utilized. Arden, Smith, and Burke seem to disappear half-way through the film, which adds to the feeling that there are two very different types of films going on.

Yes, there is a huge tonal/content shift halfway through the movie once Anita and Tony are divorced that is jarring. The first half is actually very charming, and is easily the best part of the movie. Niven and Young have good chemistry, and the story of a daring magician who’s torn between his commitment to his fans and his commitment to his wife makes for a very interesting love story. Had this simple premise been pulled out a little more, it would have made for a very charming romance.

But then it shifts halfway through to become a remarriage comedy. Which is a big mistake, because the best remarriage comedies are the ones that build the premise of the remarriage from very early in the film. (There are exceptions to this of course, like Sturges’ The Lady Eve.) This remarriage comedy falls flat on its face because it’s given very little time to breathe or develop. This whole aspect of the film feels very rushed.

Overall, it’s not a bad movie, and perhaps if I hadn’t loved it so much when I was young I may have enjoyed it a little more this time around. But as it is, I feel like I just destroyed a very important part of my childhood film experience.

By Katie Richardson

The Man in Possession (1931) and Personal Property (1937)

The Story: Raymond Dabney returns to his family after serving a prison term. His adoring mother welcomes him back with open arms, but his uptight father and brother Claude want to pay him to leave town. Raymond refuses the insulting offer and stumbles into a job working for the sheriff as a man in possession, assigned to the home of socialite Crystal Weatherby. Crystal is formerly wealthy, but has fallen on hard times after the death of her husband and cannot pay her bills, so Raymond must stay at her house and make sure she doesn’t try to sell any of her possessions. Crystal, meanwhile, is attempting to marry a rich man who can take care of her problems.

The fundamental difference between these films comes down to the times in which they were made. Six years may not seem like that much of a difference, but in terms of filmmaking it’s an enormous difference. The Man In Possession was made in the middle of the pre-code era, when a story about a morally questionable man staying alone in a big house with a sexy socialite could flourish. In 1937, the production code was being strictly enforced, and so many possibilities for this story are simply not allowed.

The Man In Possession….. Directed by Sam Wood
Starring…..
Robert Montgomery, Charlotte Greenwood, Irene Purcell, C.Aubrey Smith, Reginald Denny, Alan Mowbry

Robert Montgomery is cast as Raymond, and there’s nobody who could have played the role better. He was the best actor of the era. He had a huge range, but he seemed to delight in playing these kinds of roles – sexually charged, morally questionable, but ultimately decent and incredibly romantic men. He rules the role with a special gleam in his eye. He’s sexy, he’s mischievous, and we can tell from the very beginning that no lady would stand a chance resisting him. He’s not at all intimidating, though. He’s charming, and as the film goes on he becomes more and more romantic.

Irene Purcell is his leading lady. Purcell was a stage actress, and she made less than 10 films (and only a few of note). But she’s really a delightful actress. She has a quality that makes her perfect for Crystal in a way no other actress could be. She doesn’t feel like a movie star, which makes her more believable and likeable as social climbing schemer. Actresses like Joan Crawford or Constance Bennett could have played the role, but not as convincingly as Purcell. Crystal is a really unique character. She’s classy in a way, but it’s a feigned class. Like Montgomery, there’s a little gleam in her eye. She’s just coarse enough to be his perfect match.

The Man In Possession uses its pre-code status to perfect advantage. Like I said before, it’s a story that’s tailor-made for the era. These two beautiful, mischievous people spending the night in a house alone together? How can that be anything else but a pre-code set up. Their chemistry alone in scenes where they’re simply verbally sparring almost seems indecent. And then there’s the sex. It’s some of the most blatant I’ve ever seen in classic film. Obviously, it’s not an explicit sex scene, but it’s more than implied with the two of them kissing, falling back on the couch, the light turning off, and Crystal sighing Raymond’s name. And then, if there was any doubt about what happened, the next morning the maid finds Crystal’s nightgown at the end of the bed. Ripped in half.

But beyond the pre-code goodness, it’s just a great romance because of the chemistry between Montgomery and Purcell. They don’t just have sexual chemistry. They fell like two souls who are perfectly matched. It’s more than sex. It’s completely believable that in the span of one night together the two have fallen completely in love. That’s why the film works so well. It’s more than just a fun sex romp. It’s a wonderful love story.


Personal Property
……. Directed by WS Van Dyke
Starring….
Jean Harlow, Robert Taylor, Reginald Owen, Una O’Conner

Robert Taylor doesn’t really fit into the role of Raymond. He’s incredibly handsome, and he has a certain sex appeal to him, but not really the kind that the character needs. Try as he might, Taylor never seems like he can really be a bad boy criminal, at least not in this point in his career. In the 1940s, he created a fantastic gangster in Johnny Eager, but obviously in 1937 his talent hadn’t really evolved past the handsome good guy leading man roles. He never pulls off the mischievousness that is the main characteristic of Raymond. Nor does he really pull of that raw sexuality that initially draws Crystal to him in the first place.

I adore Jean Harlow, but she isn’t right for the role of Crystal either. Harlow was a wonderful actress with a huge range, and it seems like she should be able to play Crystal, perhaps as a lighter version of her Dinner at Eight character. But somehow in this film she doesn’t find the proper balance that the character needs between crass gold digger and romantic heroine. Most of the time she simply comes off as too unlikable and completely without class. It’s such an odd performance, because Harlow was one of the sexiest, most charismatic actresses of her time, but here she is neither charismatic nor sexy.

Of course, the biggest flaw of Personal Property is that it’s not a pre-code film. It’s kind of baffling that anyone would think it was a good idea to make this story into a movie during enforcement, and it’s a little baffling that the Hays Office would even allow the story to be made. What results is one of the most ridiculously tame films that’s just huge film of untapped potential, and the whole thing just feels completely off.

Perhaps some of the film could have been saved had Taylor and Harlow had the chemistry to at least make this a decent love story. You’d think that two such beautiful people would have better chemistry, but there’s absolutely none there. It’s impossible to believe these two are even attracted to each other, much less falling in love with each other. It seems possible that they don’t even like each other. Personal Property doesn’t work as a sex romp, it doesn’t work as a romantic comedy. It doesn’t work at all.

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

Year: 1932

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Starring: Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Charles Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton, C. Aubrey Smith

Lubitsch was a brilliant director who had a way with stylish, sophisticated, sexy comedies. His films were living, breathing innuendos, winking to the audience slyly. He did his best work with this type of film during the pre-code era where he had more freedom. His most high class and lush comedy of the era is Trouble In Paradise, a clever story about thieves in love.

The most important thing to note about Lubitsch’s films is that the sexuality is mature. Unlike so many films about sex today, the story and characters are sexy because they’re sophisticated and behave with dignity, even when they’re lying and breaking the law. The think so highly of themselves, and even of each other, that everything they do, including sex, is done with respect. These people are adults, and it’s nice to see the subject handled in a mature and adult way.

Because Lubitsch was so sophisticated, his films had very littel physical or slapstick humor. The film is constantly funny, but the humor comes from the people, the situations, and the dialogue. Lubitsch could craft a film around words and dialogue like no one else could. He could make a sentence sound physical, and that kept the films from feeling too dull and ‘talky’.

And, of course, Lubitsch had a gift for picking a cast, and Trouble In Paradise has one of his best. The chemistry captured between the trio is strong and inimitable. Heading up the cast is the always classy Herbert Marshall as the master thief. He’s great with Kay Francis, the wealthy woman he romances with plans to rob, until he falls for her. But as great as Francis is with Marshall, his true match is Miriam Hopkins. Their class and unmatchable chemistry turn the thieves into a pefect duo in love and crime. Even though Francis is great, and her scenes with Marshall are excellent, when you see him with Miriam Hopkins you know that Francis doesn’t have a chance.

While the films certainly deals with themes of sex and attraction, in the end it’s about companionship and love. Francis is just a lonely woman looking for companionship, and even though she’s charming, sweet, and has all the money Marshall could ever want, his match, his soulmate, is Hopkins. Love can’t be bought, and Marshall and Hopkins realize that money isn’t worth risking their relationship, and they come to the conclusing that nothing is better than them together.

By: Katie Richardson