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1934

Director: William Seiter

Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Joel McCrea, Fay Wray

The Richest Girl in the World is a thinly veiled attempt by Hollywood to capitalize on the publicity surrounding Woolworths heiress, Barbara Hutton. The lead character’s name has a similar ring to it: Dorothy Hunter (Hopkins). The film doesn’t have a particularly fresh plot as The Prince and the Pauper story and several others come to mind involving the exchange of identities. What this picture does have, however, is excellent acting from the three principals. Oh yeah, putting Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea in a Pre-Code film doesn’t hurt much either.

The narrative of this story is basically told through the self-absorbed POV of Miss Hunter. She is obsessed with the prospect of falling in love. But she demands 100% affirmation that a potential suitor would not be wedding her for the sizable fortune she stands to inherit. Dorothy’s best friend and secretary is Sylvia (played by a brunette Fay Wray). They conspire to switch identities with the idea being that any guy who chooses the secretary over an heiress would be pure of heart. Sylvia is very happily engaged so that limits any complications. Along comes Joel McCrea’s bachelor, with his athletic build and breezy charm, and he sweeps the wealthy young woman off her feet. Against the protests of her estate Chief Trustee, she really puts Tony (McCrea) through the wringer with a series of tests involving Sylvia (who he thinks is Dorothy).

Despite Tony’s repeated attempts to romance her (Hopkins) instead, our heroine manages to convince him that Sylvia would accept his marriage proposal and that he would gain a financial windfall. The handsome bachelor is flummoxed by his feelings for Dorothy, but he asks for Sylvia’s hand. She pretends to accept and Dorothy realizes that her fixation has screwed herself out of what could have been a wonderful relationship. Instead, her duplicitous shenanigans have backfired. Later that evening, McCrea’s suitor is sitting on top of a staircase when he sees Sylvia’s real fiancee enter her room in a stealthy manner. Tony is incensed. He jumps to the conclusion that the “heiress” is nothing but a wealthy tramp. The next morning at breakfast he really lets her have it claiming that she is unfit for matrimony. Surprised and thinking fast, Dorothy manages to convince him that the two women had switched rooms and it was really her receiving the late night visit from Phil — played by Reginald Denny.

What leads up to the ending then of this briskly paced film is somewhat strange. I’ve read several complaints about the resolution seeming rushed and illogical. For my part, I’ve come to expect the unexpected from the Pre-Code era and learn to relish it. The picture poses some interesting philosophical questions about love and who is worthy of it. Her elderly guardian suggests that no human male should be expected to successfully pass her tests of pure love and that Dorothy’s charade is psychologically cruel to Tony. A woman as rich as Miss Hunter is a target for gold diggers. While I sympathize, her wealth is an important aspect of her identity and representing yourself as otherwise might make an interesting premise for a film but doing so in real life would sabotage any potential union. I have an enormous crush on Miriam Hopkins so The Richest Girl in the World gets an endorsement from me. One “genius” @ IMDB.com is quoted as follows:

Miss Hopkins was a good actress, but not very attractive. I would put her in the same category of Glen Close today. Fay Wray, her co-star, was far prettier.

One glance at the image above and I am convinced that this amateur critic has had a frontal lobotomy.

By James White

Starring: Joel McCrea, Sylvia Sidney, Humphrey Bogart, Claire Trevor, Wendy Barrie, the Dead End Kids

Director: William Wyler

Year: 1937

I’d seen Dead End a number of times, but it had been a couple of years since I had last seen it. I don’t know if I had just forgotten what an incredible movie it is, or if I’d never realized quite how amazing it was, but rewatching it again made me realize what a little masterpiece this film is. It did well at the time of its release, received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but it hardly remembered today. It’s depiction of slum life in the 1930s might seem a little distant for some film goers to really latch on to, but anybody with a decent understanding of the time and the films of the era should really “get” this film, and feel it right down to their bones.

The film takes place in a slum along the East River in New York, where the wealthy have decided to set up shop as well. Drina (Sidney) is on strike, trying to get the money she feels is owed to her so she can take her brother Tommy (Dead End Kid Billy Hallop) out of the neighborhood. She’s in love with childhood friend Dave (McCrea) who has a budding romance with rich girl Kay (Barrie). Baby Face Martin (Bogart), a childhood friend of Dave’s, is back in the neighborhood to find his mother and his old girlfriend Francie (Trevor).

There are several films from this era that deal with the struggle between the rich and the poor, especially during the Depression, but I don’t think I’ve seen a film do it so blatantly and so honestly as Dead End. The rich look down on the tenements from their big, beautiful building. They sit on their terraces, observing the poor, with the kids from the slums swim in the river. This divide is shown both harshly, when Tommy and his gang get into trouble for beating up a rich boy, and romantically, in the love triangle between Drina, Dave, and Kay. What it shows mostly, for all the characters, is how they dream of being more than just a child of the slums, and how the other world is just slightly out of their reach, both literally and figuratively.

The gentlemen give fine performances. McCrea is one of my favorite stars of the 1930s and 1940s. I don’t think anyone could play the good guy like he could. And Bogart is great as the charismatic bad guy. We find fault with his lifestyle, but can’t help to feel sorry for him when things don’t turn out at all as he imagines. And, as usual, I just loved the Dead End Kids. I don’t know exactly what it is about them, perhaps its the friendship between them, or just the fact that in older films we usually see precocious cuties, not accurate depictions of children living it rough.

But I have to say, it’s the women who steal the show. Sylvia Sidney, an almost impossibly beautiful woman, almost completely carries parts of the movie. Her love for Tommy is honest, her longtime love for Dave is pure. And more than anything, her desire to take her brother away is deep and beautiful. There’s an incredible scene where she describes to Dave a fantasy she has of meeting a rich man. The look on her face as she delivers it is brutal. And Claire Trevor…. boy, I can’t believe more people aren’t familiar with her. With one scene she received a much deserved Academy Award nomination. She’s the complete embodiment of broken dreams and a crushed future. Even Wendy Barrie, who I’m not that incredibly fond of, does a good job of playing the wealthy woman, who remains sympathetic even as she runs from a tenement in disgust.

Another strength of the film is its set design. It’s rare for classic films to take place almost entirely outside. And, when films do venture outside, it usually looks incredibly fake. Dead End creates a very real, vibrant world for these characters to live in. The slum is almost as much a character as any of the living, breathing people on the screen. And it’s a part of each character.

Dead End is simply one of the best films of the 1930s. There’s no other way to say it. It’s just a masterpiece.

Ginger Rogers is my favorite actress. She’s mostly remembered today for being Fred Astaire’s dance partner throughout the 1930s. But Rogers had an acting talent that went beyond that. She was a fantastic and graceful dancer, but she should be remembered as so much more. Her range was unbelievable. She could make a fantastic screwball comedy, and then turn around and make a melodrama, giving great performances in both. Rogers stopped dancing with Astaire in 1939 with The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (they’d re-team just once more, ten years later, for The Barkleys of Broadway) to focus on a career in non-musical films. Almost immediately her talent was recognized and she won an Academy Award for her performance in the 1940 film Kitty Foyle. Unfortunately, though, so many of her sans-Fred films aren’t remembered today. Here are some of the best.

Primrose Path (Gregory La Cava, 1940)

The same year she gave her award winning performance in Kitty Foyle, she gave an even better performance in Primrose Path, as the daughter of a prostitute who tries to escape her life by marrying Joel McCrea. This is one of the most beautiful love stories put out by the studio system. It’s about the importance of honesty in a marriage. It’s surprising that this film got past the Production Code, not just because it featured characters who were clearly prostitutes, but because these characters were sympathetic. Marjorie Rambeau (who received an Oscar nomination for the role) played Rogers’ mother and a basically good woman simply doing what she was taught in order to support her family. Her relationship with Rogers is gentle. She only wants the best for her children. Primrose Path is a really brave film for the time it was made, and it’s just one of the best romance films I’ve ever seen.

Rafter Romance (William A. Seiter, 1933)

Rafter Romance is actually a pre-Fred film. It’s a simple but incredible sweet and pretty funny romance. Rogers and Norman Foster play two people who share an apartment – he lives there during the day, she lives there at night. They never meet, but they still can’t stand each other. Of course, they meet outside of the apartment, not realizing the other is the person they believe they can’t stand, and they fall in love. This is definitely one of the most original romantic comedies of the early 1930s. Rogers is completely charming, and Norman Foster is a good match for her. They’re both just so endlessly cute.

Romance In Manhattan (Stephen Roberts, 1935)

It’s amazing that such a simple romantic dramady can be so moving. Francis Lederer plays an immigrant who is in the country illegally. He’s taken in by Rogers and her kid brother. It’s really as simple as that. The three just try to make a living and stay afloat while Lederer and Rogers fall in love. But it’s such a sincere and genuine romance. It’s made with so much heart from all involved. And it has one of the funniest finales ever.

Star of Midnight (Stephen Roberts, 1935)

Star of Midnight is my favorite Thin Man knockoff. It’s central mystery is really very interesting, and it has a certain “strange” feeling that I think sets it apart from other screwball mysteries. Powell stars in this (and he’s great, as always) with Rogers as his much younger and very eager love interest. She goes after everything with determination and vigor, whether it’s trying to solve the case or trying to get Powell to marry her. I really wish these two had made more movies together. They were a perfect fit.

Vivacious Lady (George Stevens, 1938)

Vivacious Lady is a sweet romantic comedy made great by the brilliant pairing of Ginger Rogers and James Stewart. They both had an “everyman” feel to them, which made them an incredibly relatable couple. You want so badly for them to be happy together because they’re so normal and remind you of yourself. I also like that it’s not really a movie about two people falling in love. They get married early on in the film. The movie is about them trying to break the news to his family, and staying together while they do it. It’s just an adorable movie.

Bachelor Mother (Garson Kanin, 1939)

This is one of Rogers’ very best performances. She plays a woman who has to raise an orphaned baby she finds on her own because nobody believes it’s not hers. In the meantime, she begins to fall in love with David Niven, her boss’s son who takes an interest in caring for the baby as well. This movie is so great because, in addition to the great romance between Rogers and Niven, it’s wonderful to watch Rogers’ love for the baby, that’s not even hers, grow. It’s one of the most interesting and beautiful relationships in film.

5th Avenue Girl (Gregory La Cava, 1939)

5th Avenue Girl is such a good movie because it has so much going for it. First would be the relationship between Rogers and Walter Connolly. Connolly plays a wealthy man who is ignored by his family, she when he meets Rogers on a park bench he takes her in and the two pretend they’re having an affair in the hopes that the family will finally pay attention to what he’s doing. Rogers and Connolly bond and form a really nice father/daughter relationship that’s the heart of the movie. But the movie has three love stories going on. Throughout the film, Connolly and his wife eventually find their way back to each other. Connolly’s daughter is in love with the chauffer, who seems to be something of a communist. The best love story, though, you don’t realize is there until about halfway through the movie. Rogers and Connolly’s son, Tim Holt, fall in love. It’s a strangely done romance, I’m not even sure I can really describe it, but it’s a really strong film all together.

Tom, Dick, and Harry (Garson Kanin, 1941)

Rogers played a character in Tom, Dick, and Harry who was a little… simpler than most of her other characters. She dreams of romance and love, but can’t choose between three different guys: the regular guy who’s working his way up to management at a local store, the millionaire, and the poor guy. The best part about this movie is that each of the guys has their pros and their cons, and you really have no idea who she’ll choose in the end. She gives a really adorable performance, and this movie is just cute.

Tales of Manhattan (Julian Duvivier, 1942)

In this series of loosely connected vignettes, Ginger Rogers has one of the best stories. It’s a little, short, self contained story about Rogers finding out her fiancee is a cad and realizing his pal, Henry Fonda, is perfect for her. It’s short, sweet, and funny. And Rogers and Fonda are SO good together. Watching this, it’s hard to believe they never made any other films together. They were such a good pairing.

I’ll Be Seeing You (William Dieterle, 1944)

This movie is SO amazing. While there were a lot of movies being made to show how awesome soldiers were and to spread patriotic propaganda during the war, I’ll Be Seeing You was one of the first films to really take a look at the negative effects the war was having on the soldiers. This movie gives us two incredibly flawed, complicated, and damaged characters and allows them to fall in love. It’s just such a beautiful movie. You really didn’t see movies and characters like this too much in classic film.

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1940

Director: Gregory La Cava

Starring: Ginger Rogers, Joel McCrea, and Marjorie Rambeau

Primrose Path is really an interesting film. It’s quite fascinating that a film like this was able to get made during a time when the Production Code was still being strictly enforced. Ginger Rogers plays the tomboy daughter of a prostitute and an alcoholic. She falls in love with all around good guy Joel McCrea, but thinking he wouldn’t want her if he knew about her family, tells him she comes from a wealthy family that kicked her out because she wanted to be with him. They marry, but Rogers’ guilt eats her up inside and when the truth finally comes out Ed isn’t sure he forgives her.

The plot sounds like just a soapy melodrama, but it’s so much more than that. First of all, as I said before, the subject matter is quite amazing considering the Production Code. This movie is probably more blatant about its characters and themes of prostitution than any other film made at the time. It’s interesting to see how it sidesteps the issue without ever actually saying it or showing it, but still making it completely and abundantly clear that Marjorie Rambeau is a prostitute. Even more interesting is that she’s also a good woman. She a nice lady, a good mother, even a loving wife to an impossible husband. And Rambeau gives her such heart and honesty.

It’s the grandmother that’s a terror. Clearly a former prostitute herself, she sets up the obvious contrast needed to the story. To her, the point of prostitution was having fun and leading an easy life with lots of nice things without having to actually work. She doesn’t realize that to her daughter it is work. Rambeau is doing it because, with her brilliant husband no longer able to work because of his alcoholism, she’s the one who has to support the family.

The highlight of the film isn’t those risque themes, though. It’s the love story between McCrea and Rogers. Few love stories feel so real and honest. It’s not a grand, sweeping love story. It’s just simple and true. Both Rogers and McCrea were excellent actors who had the range to pull off both elegant glamor and American everyman. In this film they’re completely and wholly the latter. The simplicity of their performances makes the love story not something that seems like it’s unique to film. It feels completely real, like you’re watching two good friends fall in love. Which makes the unraveling of their relationship hurt even more.

The film is ultimately about the lies that destroy relationships, and Primrose Path hits that right on target. It’s made believable and heartwrenching by the establishment of the romance, and watching them fall apart and come back together is thrilling, because there are so few films that can make it feel as real and beautiful as this one does.

By: Katie Richardson