095. The Gay Divorcee (Mark Sandrich, 1934)
After their show stealing supporting performances in Flying Down to Rio, RKO paired Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their first starring vehicle in 1934, The Gay Divorcee. The set up of mistaken identity definitely established a standard story point for many of their films in the following years, but Fred and Ginger are always so charming that nobody really cares that the plots all look kind of the same. The Gay Divorcee is definitely noticeable as an early entry in the pair’s canon. The dancing isn’t quite as awe inspiring as it would be a few years later. But what they may lack in technical proficiency, they make up for with chemistry. Fred and Ginger are one of the all time greatest screen teams because of all the ways they clicked together on screen, with or without the dancing. As always, they’re surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast including the delightfully daffy Alice Brady and the dependably befuddled Edward Everett Horton.

094. Inspiration (Clarence Brown, 1931)
Inspiration, Greta Garbo’s third talkie, is often dismissed as lifeless, and it’s leading couple (Garbo and Robert Montgomery) as being without passion. It’s easy to see how some might think that, seeing as how it’s surrounded by pre-code melodramas being made at the same time. But this film is anything but lifeless and passionless. It’s simply a lower-key melodrama than most films that were being made at the time. For addressing such a typically pre-code topic, it remains a remarkably gentle and patient movie. Garbo played a lot of these long suffering, self-sacrificing women, who loved their men enough to know when to leave. She played the character so many times because she was good at it, and it worked, as it does here. The relationship between Montgomery and Garbo is a lot less in your face than so many of her other pairings, because in this case we’re dealing with a man of extreme repression. There’s a lot going on underneath the surface with Montgomery, and their relationship, in this movie. Inspiration is all about the thing going on just outside of our line of vision. That’s why it usually needs to be seen more than once. You have to realize where you’re supposed to be looking.

093. Romance (Clarence Brown, 1930)
This vaguely titled melodrama is the ultimate forbidden love story. Greta Garbo, at her absolute most beautiful, is an opera singer with quite a past who falls in love with a man of God played by Gavin Gorden. Director Clarence Brown isn’t particularly creative with the camera (save for one particularly tense and steamy scene between the lovers toward the end), but he makes up for it with lush and glamorous costume and set design. Garbo’s gowns in this movie are exquisite. The fact that the story is so simple is what makes the film special. There are no crazy twists and turns. We know the way it’s going to end the second the story starts. It’s the knowledge of the inevitable which makes watching the love story unfold so heartbreaking. This is the love story from which so many modern love stories derive.

092. What Price Hollywood? (George Cukor, 1932)
Five years before William Wellman’s A Star Is Born became the cautionary tale for young stars exceeding their mentors, George Cukor’s What Price Hollywood told the same basic story, with an even more heartbreaking twist of unrequited love. Constance Bennett is the young starlet here, every bit as charming as the naive Hollywood newbie as she is as the seasoned Hollywood vet. The criminally underrated Lowell Sherman is her mentor, a gifted producer who teaches her how to be a star. Unfortunately he’s a drunk, and the more her star rises, the more his falls, and his unrequited love for her doesn’t help, especially when she married another guy. In the early 1930s, the film industry was still relatively young, and it wasn’t an entirely usual thing for people on the inside to take a cynical look at the inner workings of their bread and butter. It had been done before, of course, but not quite as brutally and heartbreakingly as it was in What Price Hollywood. It showed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that even the ones who seem like they have it all don’t have it all.

091. Lovers Courageous (Robert Z. Leonard, 1932)
The set up and story for Lovers Courageous, Robert Z. Leonard’s stunningly visual ode to the complications of love, is rather simple. Rich girl meets poor boy. In any other movie, this set up might lead to some pretty humdrum boring stuff. But when the girl is the endlessly charming Madge Evans and the boy is sexy and suave Robert Montgomery, you’re well on your way to an entertaining movie experience. Add to that the fact that Robert Z. Leonard managed to express the beauty of love on front of the camera with some surprisingly gorgeous settings and camera work, and you’re got a pretty nice little love story to kill less than an hour and a half with. Montgomery and Evans are one of the unsung duos of classic film. They made some of the best romances of the 1930s together, and had the perfect spark and chemistry for each other. Montgomery, who is often known for playing snarky men of considerable means, is quite low-key here, a humble and romantic minded playwright who enjoys the simpler things in life, specifically the beauty of one Miss Evans. It’s a charming, visually pleasing love story with a satisfying conclusion and a couple that’s impossible not to root for.

Stay tuned for 90-86

By Katie Richardson

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Year: 1927

Director: Frank Borzage

Cast: Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Gladys Brockwell

I haven’t seen a ton of silent pictures but more than the average film goer. People in the Bay Area are blessed by having an old movie house — The Stanford Theatre — which is the only place in the vicinity that shows silents accompanied by a live Wurlitzer player. Back in February, I had the fortune to screen Seventh Heaven and it just so happened to be my first silent witnessed under those conditions. Simply put, seeing the 1927 Best Picture winner ranks among my finest motion picture viewings. There are certain movies you see — Jaws, Apocalypse Now, and Mulholland Dr. come to mind — where you are stunned by the time you vacate the theatre. Borzage’s spectacular love story impacted me to that extreme.

I was somewhat skeptical on the way to The Stanford. Katie is always pimping out Borzage’s work and Seventh Heaven is one of her favorites. Having seen A Farewell to Arms, Man’s Castle, and Liliom I was somewhat underwhelmed. Especially in the case of the latter in which Charles Farrell was a stiff. Fortunately, he was working in the presence of a great actress in this film. Janet Gaynor’s portrayal of Diane is one for the ages and it earned her an Oscar. She plays a street urchin/prostitute in Paris during the days immediately preceding WWI. Chico (Farrell) is a sewer worker. Macho and full of braggadocio, the blue-collar laborer also hides a big heart. Diane and her sister Nana struggle under squalid living conditions. The older woman also harbors an addiction to absinthe. Gaynor’s character is timid and soft spoken. Nana sadistically preys on her pliancy by beating her sister 24/7.

One day the sisters’ wealthy uncle and his wife come to rescue the girls provided they have not dishonored themselves in some unsavory way. In a pivotal moment, Diane cannot betray her honest nature and she confesses to having prostituted herself. A golden opportunity lost, Nana gives Gaynor’s waif her most vicious whipping yet on the street and if not for the gallant Chico’s intervention, probably Diane’s last. Farrell’s good samaritan takes the young woman back to his attic apartment. This is one of the film’s best shots as the two are shown ascending seven flights of stairs from a sideways perspective. As Chico is fond of saying, “I may work in the sewer but I live among the stars!” Borzage does a beautiful job of slowly showing this man and woman fall in love. Diane eventually breaks through the gruff exterior of her savior and he proposes marriage. I’m a big fan of facial close-ups, especially on females. There are several moments during Seventh Heaven where Gaynor’s expression had my waterworks flowing: the first time Chico says he loves her, the look of unfettered bliss during the marriage ceremony, and the scene when the woman’s husband returns from battle are all priceless.

Borzage does two things to really show how the couple’s sum is greater than its parts. Subtle lighting and skillful musical timing project the idea that Chico and Diane’s union is a metaphysical one. A relationship that can transcend any economic hardship, war, or physical malady. Married at exactly 11:00am, they make a pact to always think of the other when a clock strikes that hour. Even apart the two can feel their spouse’s presence at that time of the morning. A recurring title card througout the picture reads: “Chico—Diane—Heaven!” I can’t improve upon that. I saw Vidor’s The Crowd — often said to be the second best silent behind Murnau’s Sunrise — not two weeks later and wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was by Borzage’s simple Parisian tale of romance. Seeing Seventh Heaven at The Stanford was not only one of my favorite film going experiences ever but nights out in general.

By Katie Richardson

Once I finish my Frank Borzage project over at Rotten Tomatoes (I’ve been procrastinating so badly. I work all day tomorrow, and if we’re slow enough, I’m just going to sit down and write as many of the final 8 essays as I can before close), I want to do a list of my favorite romantic pairings in classic film. I did a similar list a few years ago, but that was about the actors and their chemistry, not the characters and their stories, which what I want to focus on mostly for this upcoming list. I’ve been working on it, but I’ve been having a tough time with it. Here are some ones that I really like and will definitely hope for find room for on the list from some obscure classics. And I’d love any input from you guys on this topic.

Bill and Trina – Man’s Castle

Of course, the couple from my favorite movie. I could write a book on the relationship between Bill and Trina. I recently posted a small essay about Trina as a heroine that covered a good deal of their dynamic. Maybe once I finish the Borzage thread, and before I start the couples list, I’ll do an essay about Bill’s side of the relationship.

Letty and Mr. Sherwood – Beauty for Sale

The age difference, the class difference, the fact that he’s married – it all makes for a great love story between two people who meet by chance, become friends, and fall in love, all while knowing they can’t be together. It all leads up to a really rewarding and lovely finale.

Zack and Mary – I’ll Be Seeing You

The war changed the way a lot of romantic dramas were done. I’ll Be Seeing You was one of the first films to really deal with the negative effects the war had on the boys who were coming home. The relationship between Zack and Mary overcomes all the emotional damage that they’ve both endured.

Larry and Blondie – Blondie of the Follies

I have a big soft spot for these kinds of romances. Two characters who obviously love each other so much, but have a hard time being together because the relationship isn’t really in either of their natures and they’re never on the same page at the same time.