Year: 1926

Director: Frank Tuttle

Cast: Louise Brooks, Evelyn Brent, Lawrence Gray, Arthur Donaldson

Movies like Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em would be lost forever in the bin of forgotten films if not for memorable performances like Louise Brooks’ Janie Walsh. This role can almost be thought of the American version of Lulu. Janie is a 1920s flapper, free-loving and completely narcissistic. On the other end of the spectrum is her older sister Mame — played by Evelyn Brent. The elder Walsh is shy, conservative, and responsible. The girls are orphans and on their mother’s deathbed, Mame promised to always look after her sibling no matter what. That oath is what triggers most of the plot.

The Walsh sisters work in a department store in downtown New York City. Mame helps her boyfriend Bill (Lawrence Gray) with dressing the display windows. We don’t much care for Bill from the start as he’s fond of taking credit for all of Mame’s great ideas when they’re acknowledged by management. The department store is sponsoring a Charleston dance on Saturday night and Janie is charged w/ collecting dues. Miss Walsh never met a dance party she didn’t like but trustworthy with finances she’s not. Before long she is using the funds to gamble on the ponies via a neighbor named Lem (Osgood Perkins aka Anthony’s pop).

Mame’s relationship with Bill has escalated to the point where he is proposing marriage. She has earned a week of vacation and wants to get away to ponder the prospect of matrimony. Knowing no shame, while sis is out of town Janie brazenly seduces Bill. The best sequence in the picture has Brooks’ looking more beautiful than ever. Sporting a stunningly tight black satin gown, Janie’s allure is impossible for men to ignore and Gray’s character is no exception. When Miss Walsh adjusts herself between two pillows on the couch, the come hither call is unmistakable. There’s a great gag when Bill initially rejects her and turns away. Janie splashes water from a nearby fishbowl on her eyes to simulate crying over the snub and he becomes powerless to resist.

When Mame comes home early and all excited to tell Gray’s character that she accepts, she finds out that her good-for-nothing little sister has been knocking boots with Bill in her absence. The only thing keeping Mame from throwing Janie out is her promise. But their relationship has been put in deep freeze mode. As if to see how much more she is capable of screwing up, Janie puts the remainder of the membership dues on another horse. Amazingly, the nag wins and she confronts Lem about the $100 win. He gives her back the $20 she wagered and apologizes for not getting the bet down in time. Yeah right. When Saturday rolls around and she’s left with empty pockets, our protagonist turns to that last beacon of hope: Mame. Unbelievably, Janie’s wiles still work on her sister and when Mame hears what that cheat of a neighbor has done, she sets out for his apartment to settle all accounts. This could get ugly.

The part of Mame must have been one of the most thankless roles Brent ever played. Who on earth wants to be a female co-star next to the iconic Brooks in a movie that serves as a showcase for her great beauty? Frank Tuttle was a great admirer of his leading lady. He never told his star that her part was supposed to be comedic, so she played it straight. The director got exactly what he was after. To say the camera is infatuated with Brooks during Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em is to understate the case. Both the aforementioned dress and the getup she takes to her dance (white top hat, short black skirt, stockings, and high heels) are the highlights of the picture. I am dumbstruck by Brooks’ critics who claim that “she doesn’t do anything.” The fabulous actress had one of the most expressive grills ever and in that space from the top of her head to the nape of her neck lies one of the most effective instruments in cinema history.

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