080. The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch, 1931)
It’s kind of strange to see Miriam Hopkins, the actress who I think is the true Queen of Pre-Code film, playing such a sweet, timid character. No actress during the era enjoyed her sexuality more than Hopkins, but she’s able to play the inexperienced slightly prudish wife of Maurice Chevalier so well and so convincingly that it’s hard to believe it’s the same woman. Until the end, that is, when she becomes the sexual being that Hopkins was known for. It’s almost like watching the birth of the Pre-Code queen. The “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” number with Hopkins and Claudette Colbert is easily the high point of the movie. One wouldn’t think that these women would get along (since they’re rivals for the same man) but they have so much chemistry, almost more than either woman has with Chevalier. This is a Lubitsch movie, so it’s just as sophisticated as it is sexy, and it’s a joy to watch.

079. Conquest (Clarence Brown, 1937)
It’s refreshing when a movie that’s based on fact comes right out and says, before the movie even starts, that the story has been seriously embellished and that it’s a more romanticized version of the events that actually happened. Conquest, a movie about the love story between Napoleon and his mistress, the Polish Countess Marie Walewska, does this. It starts with the disclaimer. It’s nice to see a movie not hide that it’s not 100% fact. Because when the movie is good, that doesn’t really matter, and Conquest is good. It’s very good. It’s kind of amazing that this was made during the strict era of code enforcement considering the entire story is about a romantic relationship between the Countess, who has left her husband, and Napoleon, who eventually becomes married to someone else, even though they never marry. The love story really is beautifully told. It starts out with Marie mostly taking on the role of the Emperor’s mistress to help her country, but she comes to truly love this man. Conquest is also somewhat unique in that Garbo really doesn’t take on the dominant role in the relationship. Usually she’s playing the alpha to a weaker man, but this time that’s not so. It’s a heartbreaking love story that’ s brilliantly performed by the Garbo and Charles Boyer.

078. The Rules of the Game (La regle du jeu) (Jean Renoir, 1939)
Robert Altman’s Gosford Park is one of my favorite films of the 2000s, and it probably wouldn’t exist were it not for Jean Renoir’s amazing examination of the upper class The Rules of the Game. There were a lot of American films in the 1930s about wealthy people, but the most critical Hollywood was of the upper class was usually just depiction them as screwy and kind of lovably out of their minds (see My Man Godfrey and Merrily We Live). But the French filmmaker’s work looks at the real faults of the upper class in the 1930s and just how they were quite different from the common man, not just in their income, but in their attitudes. The most impressive part of the film is how it’s not particularly intimate. The viewer is not treated as part of the experience. We’re merely observers of the action, kept at a distance that almost (almost) makes the film cold. We’re seeing the way these people would act if we weren’t around watching them, which gives the film a voyeuristic feeling.

077. Today We Live (Howard Hawks, 1933)
I really love World War I movies, and I think that there aren’t enough of them. Today We Live doesn’t follow the tradition war movie formula. It focuses  mostly on Joan Crawford’s character and how she deals with the war, with her brother and her best friend (and later husband) serving. We see a little bit of action, but it’s mostly about the effects that the war has on the people on the periphery. Sure, it has it’s faults, like the whole things in the 1930s where, as long as it was set in the 20th century, everyone wore the latest 1930s fashions. But in the end, that really has no effect on ho this story just works on an emotional level. Crawford’s character has a lot of big choices to make, and sometimes she makes the wrong ones, but that perfectly reflects the confusion that comes from being indirectly involved in a war. Franchot Tone plays her brother and Robert Young their best friend, and they both deliver incredibly supporting performances.

076. Fugitive Lovers (Richard Boleslawski, 1934)
Road Romances were a neat little subgenre of Romantic Comedy in the 1930s. The most notable is probably Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, but perhaps the most overlooked is Richard Boleslawski’s Fugitive Lovers. It’s another pairing of the endlessly adorable and enchanting Robert Montgomery and Madge Evans. This time Montgomery is an escaped convict who grabs a ride on the bus that Madge Evans is traveling on, trying to get away from the mobster who’s infatuated with her, who follows her anyway. It’s a pretty simple movie, but it’s incredibly sweet and has a surprising amount of character development for such a short comedy. The relationship between Evans and Montgomery has a very natural feel to it. Montgomery is great as always, but I think it’s Evans who’s particularly impressive here. She’s playing a character who’s a little bit sharper and snippier than her usual characters, and there are moments where she’s flat out hilarious. Nat Pendleton is the main supporting player, as Evans’ mobster stalker. He’s always a joy to watch, and this time is no different. He also has one of the most surprising and satisfying character moments in the whole film.

By Katie Richardson

085. The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1936)
Following up The 39 Steps, considered today to be his first “major” film, Hitchcock made yet another “traveling” thriller. Hitch had a big thing for trains. From The Lady Vanishes to North by Northwest to Strangers on the Train, it was one of his favorite settings for mischief and mayhem. In this film, nearly all of the story unfolds on a train. The film is also notable for having a female leading the way in the plot. Margaret Lockwood is charming, lovely, and all around watchable. Her eagerness to uncover the truth is totally believable, and at her side is the equally charming and sometimes endearingly irritating Michael Redgrave. The pair try to discover what’s happened to a woman who Lockwood swears she talked to on the train who seems to have vanished without a trace. The plot has been copied in various ways many times since (most notable in Flightplan, perhaps most successfully in Bunny Lake Is Missing.) Knowing someone who has vanished, and then being led to believe that maybe they didn’t exist at all, is the stuff psychological thrillers are made of.

084. Little Caesar (Mervyn LeRoy, 1931)
The Pre-Code era was the golden age of the mobster film. Not only were filmmakers much more free to make their films violent and their villains sympathetic, but America was also in the midst of the Depression, and people were looking to unconventional movie characters to idolize. So filmmakers were able to make their gangsters into not just sympathetic hoodlums, but even into tragic anti-heroes. Perhaps the most sympathetic of the bunch is Edward G. Robinson’s Rico. In 1931, his rise to power could be seen as almost inspiration, despite the illegal and quite violent way he did it, and despite the fact that the character is something of a monster, loyalty and friendship aside. There’s also some of that wonderful pre-code homosexual subtext, and an amazing final line from Robinson.

083. Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, 1939)
1939 is considered Hollywood’s Golden Year because so many amazing movies were released, but the only two that really get any attention these days are Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, while other films, like Wuthering Heights, which I think is better than both of those other movies, are hardly ever discussed. Wuthering Heights is kind of the grand-daddy of messed up love stories. It’s the story of how a strong and passionate love can sometimes destroy two people rather than save them. It’s dark, it’s not happy, but it’s has its own dark beauty, and this film captures it so well. It’s true, it only tells part of the story, but if you’re going to make a feature length film version of the story, I’d personally rather have a part of the story cut out to allow what’s there to fully develop as it should, rather than trying to cram it all into a two hour running time and rushing things, like that mess that was the 1992 version.

082. Possessed (Clarence Brown, 1931)
Kept woman films were popular in the romantic melodrama genre during the pre-code era. Naturally the idea of a kept woman was something that would have to be done away with completely when enforcement of the code began. But while it was allowed, the subgenre allowed for some very interesting romances. One of them paired Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, one of the all time great pairings (on and off screen) as the kept woman and the man who keeps her. A lot of these stories are about the woman falling in love with a poor man, a man who isn’t the one keeping her. This one is different because it’s about the love between the two characters. It’s not about them falling in love, it’s about their love changing and their acceptance of it.

081. Employees’ Entrance (Roy Del Ruth, 1933)
One of the sexiest movies of the decade, Employees’ Entrance is about all manner of workplace indiscretions, and it crams just about all the pre-code you can get into one movie. Loretta Young is charming as always as the sweet girl who sleeps her way into a job at a department store by way of sleazy yet oh-so-sexy Warren William, but then falls in love with good guy Wallace Ford.  Watching it now with 70+ years of history, it’s an interesting look back at the way life was back in the 1930s. But even without the historical context, it works remarkably well as a romantic drama, with an entertaining supporting ensemble. But the show belongs to the often forgotten but always awesome Warren William. He completely owns this movie in every way. It takes quite an actor to play such a horrible character with so much commitment.

By Katie Richardson

I’ve been kind of an updating machine lately. Wasn’t really planning anything for today, but that’s what insomnia does to you.

We talk about a lot of actors nobody has ever head of on this site, but I always love talking about the lesser known films of the really well known actors. Those hidden gems among the Some Like It Hots and the Casablancas.

Clark Gable is an actor who everyone knows, for Gone With the Wind alone, if for nothing else. He had a really long career as a leading man, spanning over three decades, working with almost every leading lady imaginable. He has so many, many movies that are remembered as classics. It Happened One Night, The Misfits, and Mogambo. But, this being Obscure Classics, I want to talk about those movies that aren’t widely known. And really, I want to talk about some of his movies that don’t really get a lot of talk here. There are a lot of posts that mention movies like Men In White and Possessed, so I’m going to try to spotlight just a few that haven’t gotten so much attention here.

Laughing  Sinners (Harry Beaumont, 1931)
This movie has a criminally low rating on IMDb. It’s not any kind of masterpiece, but it’s certainly not as bad as that 4.9/10 would suggest. It actually is really good. Gable costars here with his frequent leading lady (and sometimes bedmate) Joan Crawford. This is definitely not a light movie, dealing with issues like suicide. Gable and Crawford are always wonderful together, and can say so much without actually saying anything.  Their onscreen relationship, as it always did, feels intense and genuine. Gable is really good here, but it is Crawford’s movie. She gives a very vulnerable performance.

Sporting Blood (Charles Brabin, 1931)
Despite the presence of Gable and the lovely Madge Evans, I really didn’t think I was going to like this one the first time I watched it.  The whole story of race horses and gambling sounded a little silly to me. But the movie is surprisingly gripping and really well told story.  It’s got that struggle and redemption aspect that always gets me. There’s also a genuine affection for horses and horse racing present in the film that’s really effective, even if you’re not really into that whole scene. Gable and Evans are fantastic together. They have chemistry to spare, which is why it’s a huge shame that didn’t work together again.

After Office Hours (Robert Z. Leonard, 1935)
In this fun and light mystery/drama, Gable plays a reporter trying to solve the murder of a socialite. He gets in with wealthy Constance Bennett, an acquaintance of the victim, and he falls for her, but he can’t help himself from using her to get the scoop for his story. It’s not really a comedy, so don’t go in expecting something like The Thin Man, because it’s not very funny. But it is a light and somewhat breezy murder mystery. Gable and Bennett are good together, and their romance is actually convincing instead of feeling tacked on for convention’s sake. It also sports an impressive supporting cast which includes Billie Burke, Henry Travers, and William Demarest.

Somewhere I’ll Find You (Wesley Ruggles, 1942)
I’m actually kind of surprised I don’t talk about this movie more here because it’s one of my very favorite Gable movies. Clark Gable and Lana Turner really are one of the most underrated pairings in classic film. They made a few good movies together, they looked gorgeous when they shared the screen, and they had chemistry. Somewhere I’ll Find You is probably the heaviest of all their movies. It’s set during WWII, and has two brothers (Gable is one of them, Robert Sterling is the other) trying to attract Turner’s attention.  The movie does kind of have Carole Lombard’s death hanging over it, as it was the only movie Gable did between the passing of his wife and his discharge from the military, and the final speech he gives in the film is especially poignant because of it.

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

Cast: Joan Crawford, Robert Montgomery, Nils Asther, Lewis Stone, May Robson, Louise Closser Hale

Joan Crawford plays the title character, a woman of questionable morals who’s taken up with  Emile (Asther), who is manipulative and controlling. She finally leaves him, and on the boat meets Jerry Darrow (Montgomery) and she falls in love. But she fears if he knows about her part with Emile that he will leave her, so she attempts to keep it a secret. Which becomes difficult when Emile meets them at the docks. Emile refuses to leave her alone, so Letty resorts to drastic measures.

Letty Lynton is something of a legend among classic film fans. It’s rights have been tied up in legal issues since the late 1930s. A federal court ruled that the story was too close to the play Dishonored Lady, making the film an unauthorized adaptation, thus keeping it completely out of circulation. For decades, it was simply impossible to find, and for years it’s been quite the accomplishment to find a bootleg of it. Recently, though, it’s become a little more available through various rare film dealers. And now, it’s available on YouTube.

Made during the pre-code era, Letty Lynton certainly takes advantage of the things women were allowed to get away with in film at the time. Not only does Letty get away with living the wild life, she also gets away with murder, and in the end still gets the man she loves and the life she wants. These are definitely the makings of pre-code melodrama, and Letty Lynton is one of the best, mainly because of Crawford’s performance. It’s all in her eyes, the fear of being discovered as a “wild” woman, and the fear of losing Jerry. The scene in which she kills Emile has some of Crawford’s best acting, and watching her unravel is certainly entertaining.

Crawford is paired yet again with Robert Montgomery. While he doesn’t have quite as much to do here as he does in his other films with Crawford, he’s still endlessly charming and watchable. He’s definitely not the caddish character he played in so many films. He’s a good man, and his love for Letty is admirable. Crawford and Montgomery were always a really good pair, and this film definitely benefits from that.

It’s legend of this as a lost film might make one a little disappointed in what they end up seeing, but if you just go into it expecting a quality pre-code melodrama, you’ll be pleased.

Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10

By Katie Richardson

There are so many obscure classics on YouTube. I barely scratched the surface with my posts. I figured that with so many, it might be tough to figure out where to begin. So I decided to do a weekly article focusing on one film to watch on YouTube each week.

Cast: Joan Crawford, Pauline Frederick, Neil Hamilton, Monroe Owsley, Hobart Bosworth, Emma Dunn, Albert Conti

In this pre-code soaper, Joan Crawford plays Valentine, a 19 year old girl whose father has just died. She goes to Paris to find her mother Diane (Frederick), who she hasn’t seen since she was five. Mother and daughter quickly bond and straightlaced Val is introduced into her mother’s world of partying, drinking, and frivolity. Diane tries desperately to hide the fact that she is the mistress of wealthy Andre (Conti) from her daughter. Val is persued by the drunken Tony (Owsley) who claims to love her but has no intention of marrying her. When the pair is in a car accident, they are helped by Harvard man Bob (Hamilton) and he and Val fall in love.

This movie has a relatively low rating on IMDb, which surprises me. It’s quite unlike a lot of movies being made at the time. While the romance is very prominant in the film, it’s the mother/daughter relationship that takes center stage. The mother/daughter relationship was rarely explored in 1930s film. Father/daughter was the usual familial relationship in films. Sometimes father/son. And mother/son, generally in a negative light. You didn’t see a lot of mother/daughter relationships explored, and that’s the main element to This Modern Age that really makes it worth watching. Crawford and Frederick share a wonderful chemistry, and from the get-go their relationship seems extremely genuine. It’s the most emotionally engaging part of the film. I found myself not really caring whether Val and Bob remained together or not. What I really cared about was seeing Val and Diane maintain a strong relationship.

Outside of that aspect of the film, This Modern Age is quite amusing. It’s a melodrama, but it has a definite sense of humor. There are good joke throughout the film, and even the atmosphere of the free and easy crowd Diane and Val run with allows for a certain humorous atmosphere. Monroe Owsley’s Tony is a lovable ne’er-do-well. He’s one of the bright spots of the film. You know he’ll never win over Val, and you don’t really want him to, but you still love him while he’s making a fool of himself.

The only real weak link in the film is Hamilton, and that’s not really his fault. With so many colorful characters surrounding him, and with an extremely strong mother/daughter relationship, his Harvard footballer, and his relationship with Val, seem somewhat bland in comparison. Hamilton plays the role as well as he can, but he just seems rather boring in the world of the film. If Crawford was a lesser actress, being shackled to the character of Bob might drag down the character of Val. But Crawford has so much charm and talent. Val always seems like the same person throughout the film, whether she’s drinking and partying with Tony, spending time with her mother, or having a romantic moment with Bob.

All in all, This Modern Age is a very good pre-code melodrama, with a very unique relationship at its core.

This is also one that you really should check out. I saw it once on television years ago, and haven’t been able to find it anywhere since. So getting it on YouTube is certainly a find.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1933

Director: Robert Z. Leonard

Starring: Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone, Clark Gable


The same year Warner Brothers release 42nd Street (1933) MGM came out with Dancing Lady, a backstage musical complete with a Busby Berkeley style finale. If you had to compare the two, the win would certainly go to 42nd Street, which one the great musicals of all time. That is certainly not a knock on Dancing Lady. It came certainly hold its head high. The film stars Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Franchot Tone. Joan is a downtown burlesques dancer whose dream is to make the big time on Broadway. Janie “Duchess” Barlow (Crawford) is released on bail, after a raid on the burlesques house where she performs before a mostly male audience. Slumming that evening with his multiple girlfriends is millionaire playboy Tod Newton (Tone) who after the raid all decide to go to court for the entertainment value until Tod suddenly takes an interest in Janie and ends up paying her bail. Smitten by this ambitious woman who wants to be a dancer more than anything else he secretly helps her get an audition in a new Broadway production he is financing and is being directed by Patch Gallagher (Gable). What follows is a love triangle between Crawford, Gable and Tone. Tone love Crawford, who clearly is attracted to Gable who at first hates Crawford then falls in love with her.


The real treat here is that the film gives you the rare chance to see Joan Crawford show off her dancing talent in a sound film and also some skin in a couple of pre-code scenes that take place at the beginning during the raid on the burlesques house. You also get to see Crawford romance two of Hollywood’s best, Gable and Tone. Crawford and Gable always sizzle on the screen. Here she is as beautiful as Gable is macho. A cinematic match made in Hollywood heaven.

The film is also loaded with a lot of future stars in early screen appearances. You get to see Fred Astaire in his film debut dance with Crawford. That in itself makes this film a must see! Nelson Eddy also appears in what was his only second film. The Three Stooges perform some of their classic style slapstick. They were billed as Ted Healy and his Stooges in the opening credits. Healy was a vaudevillian with The Stooges as part of his act. Eventually The Stooges would split from Healy and go off on their own to bigger fame. Also look for Eve Arden in a walk on, Robert Benchley and character actor Sterling Holloway.

Year: 1931

Director: Clarence Brown

Cast: Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Wallace Ford

The 1931 movie Possessed has nothing to do with the 1947 version except for the fact that Joan Crawford starred in both. I do not believe you will find another star that made two entirely different movies bearing the same title. The earlier Possessed is the story of a young woman from a small town who works in a paper factory but has ambitious dreams and the determination to make a better life for herself. One day after work waiting by the train tracks for the train to pass by she starts watching what is going on in the various compartments. This is done in a slow imaginative way so that Crawford’s character, Marion, can see inside each train compartment window. She sees a fancy dinner being prepared in one; a young beautiful woman getting dressed in another; a young couple elegantly dressed are dancing in still another. At the end of the train on the outside platform of the last car an inebriated rich man is sitting there nursing a bottom of champagne. He listens to Marion’s story and tells her she should come to New York.

Marion quickly decides this is what she should do. She breaks ups with her boyfriend Al Manning (Wallace Ford) from the factory and heads for New York where she meets millionaire lawyer Mark Whitney (Clark Gable). Whitney falls head over heels for the unsophisticated Marion.

Marion is a fast learner and soon is Whitney’s sophisticated mistress and lover capable of holding posh dinner parties, speaking fluent French, conversing, and charming Whitney’s high brow friends. Marion seems to have everything she ever wanted. The young factory girl is in the past or so it seems.

One time honored truism is that you cannot escape your past. Marion’s past is about to catch up with her. It happens first at a party where one of Whitney business associates comes to the party with a low rent floozy on his arm. When Whitney complains to him about bringing a cheap low class dame to his apartment the guest angrily responds that he doesn’t see any difference between her and Marion. Hearing this conversation Marion feels the humiliation caused by Whitney’s reluctance to marry her. The situation continues to deteriorate when she over hears Whitney and some business associates discuss the possibility of him running for Mayor of New York. However, there is one problem they point out. His opponents will dig into his private life and discover that he has been living “in sin” with a woman for four years and they will exploit this (some things do not change) and ruin him. Whitney refuses to get rid of Marion. He responds that he will marry her but they say that’s too little too late. Marion, not wanting to hold Whitney back decides to break up with him saying she’s going to marry Al Manning her former small town boyfriend who recently came to New York to try and win her back. This will make him free of her and he can run for political office. Whitney runs for office but ultimately, and I don’t think I’m ruining anything here by saying in the end the couple gets back together.

The film is the kind of melodramatic soap opera that Crawford specialized in and the audience of the day loved her for. The lower class woman who is determined to get ahead. In this particular pre-code film the way get ahead was by becoming the mistress of rich lawyer Clark Gable. Crawford’s performance is good and she looks beautiful, every inch the movie star. That is a minor problem when she is still the young factory girl. Even in the housedress she wears Joan looks the star! Gable does well also and every inch the fast rising star that he was, however, it is Crawford who dominates the film. She is particularly effective is a scene where she hears Gable speak about his reluctance to marriage.

Director Clarence Brown keeps the story moving at a nice pace using many long takes such as in the opening sequence where Brown tracks the workers exiting the factory eventually focusing on Crawford and her boyfriend co-worker. There is also some nice imaginative camera work, previously described, in the train sequence early in the film that soon follows. Atypical also is Brown’s lack of cross cutting between characters in many scenes. This can be seen when Marion and Whitney dine at a French restaurant and Brown focuses his camera on Marion as she attempts to read the menu. This focus enforces her embarrassing and isolated position of being unable to read French. The penthouse scenes are lavish and very typical of MGM’s style. Possessed was a big hit when released in 1931.

It has been written that Crawford and Gable had a steamy affair during the making of Possessed (she was married to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at the time) and that MGM head Louis B. Mayer threatened Gable (he may have threaten Crawford too but at the time Gable star was still rising) forcing him to choose between his career and Crawford. The career won and the affair officially ended. Unofficially, the two continued an on and off affair for years to come.

By John Greco

Year: 1940

Director: Frank Borzage

Cast: Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Ian Hunter, Peter Lorre, Albert Dekker

In a prisoner colony in French Guiana, several prisoners plan an escape: the brutish Andre Verne (Gable), mysterious Cambreau (Hunter), amoral Hessler (Lukas), and fellow criminals Moll (Dekkar), Dufond (Arledge), Flaubert (Bromberg), and Telez (Ciannelli). During their journey through the jungle, they come across Julie (Crawford), a showgirl, and saver her from her abusive lover. The group undergoes transformations, both spiritual and romantic, on their way to the shore and to salvation.

As as ensemble piece, Strange Cargo is able to focus both on Borzage’s religious fixation and his romantic one. While Lazybones uses the most literal biblical imagery, Strange Cargo is his most blatantly religious film with Cambreau as an obvious God image and Hessler as an obvious devil. While the physical leadership of the group shifts among the other men, Cambreau remains the spiritual center, the anchor, the guide. Hessler’s attempts to sway the group toward ‘evil’ aren’t quite as dramatic as Cambreau’s attempts at good. He spends most of his time debating with Cambreau, and the others, about good and evil and human nature. It’s clear that Cambreau’s influence is the dominant one, leading the group to their spiritual salvation while Andre leads them to their physical one.

Julie and Andre fulfill Borzage’s need for spiritual romance. They become the focus of the story, and because their souls are so obviously entwined, their journey is meant to be longer than the others’. Early in the film their attraction to each other is completely sexual, but as the film progesses they transcend mere physical attachment to the point where they can begin their spiritual journey together. They must realize that they are bound before they can truly embark on finding their salvation.

The religious and romantic storylines arive when the group emerges from the jungle. The group is now just Cambreau, Hessler, Julie, and Andre, evoking an image of Eden. Julie and Andre as Adam and Eve and Cambreau and Hessler as God and Satan. Hessler solidifies his image when he turns his back on the group and on their salvation and leaves them. Julie and Andre are able to find their salvation once they learn how to sacrifice for each other. Cambreau, who doesn’t need salvation, disappears to, as he told Andre earlier in the film, help others who need him.

By: Katie Richardson