075. Hide-Out (W.S. Van Dyke, 1934)
Hide-Out is a mobster movie in so much as it’s about a mobster. But instead of being a Little Caesar type story of the rise and fall of a gangster, it’s a romantic dramady. Montgomery’s Lucky really is no good. When he ends up at the Miller family farm after being shot, he intends to use the family’s kindness for as long as he can until he recovers and then return to his life of crime. But he starts to actually genuinely like the family, especially Pauline, the daughter, played by a charming Maureen O’Sullivan. At first he is after that one thing that bad boys are after when it comes to girls, but he realizes her really loves her and that makes him want to turn his life around. The movie is a really good piece of character development for Lucky, and Montgomery’s performance as both the heartless Lucky and the changed man is very good. He makes the development feel very natural. The love story, while simple, is surprisingly romantic, and there’s a an incredibly charged scene where Lucky and Pauline take refuge in an empty house during a rainstorm.

074. City Girl (Murnau, 1930)
FW Murnau was a really interesting director. It’s kind of fascinating to compare his other films, like Nosferatu, Faust, and even Sunrise with his 1930 silent film City Girl. On the surface, it’s a very different kind of film. It’s visual style is much simpler than most of his previous efforts (but no less stunning), and it doesn’t have the massive dramatic punch. It’s a much smaller, more intimately set story about love and family and finding your place. Mary Duncan and Charles Farrell (who were fantastic together the year before in Frank Borzage’s The River) play the young lovers who come from two different worlds, and their chemistry manages to carry much of the film.

073. Libeled Lady (Jack Conway, 1936)
William Powell and Myrna Loy made a huge amount of films together. Their most notable are obviously the Thin Man movies, but Libeled Lady is easily their best non-Thin Man movie. I’m a big fan of the love-quadrangle thing in old movies, and this movie has one of the best. Powell, Loy, Spencer Tracy, and Jean Harlow make a great team, and it makes for three of the best pairings in classic romance – Loy and Powell (obviously), Tracy and Harlow, and Harlow and Powell. I think Harlow’s performance is particularly impressive because she spends a good portion of the movie acting like the last thing she wants to do is marry Powell, when in reality that was what she wanted more than anything (Powell and Harlow were an item until her death in 1937).

072. Shall We Dance (Mark Sandrich, 1937)
Shall We Dance really doesn’t get a lot of love among the Astaire/Rogers films, which is unfortunate and not entirely fair. Sure, while the dancing is good, it doesn’t really match a few of their other films, and with the exception of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” there isn’t an amazingly memorable number. But what it lacks on the musical front it makes up for by having one of the most original stories and the pair’s film canon. No mistaken identity here. Fred and Ginger play two famous dancers who the press mistakingly think are married. It’s a good premise that leads to some fantastic comedy, and great performances from its leads. Especially Ginger, who spends much of the movie acting annoyed and put out by Fred’s obvious attractions. And while there’s no mind blowing dance accompanying it, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” is one of the best songs Fred ever sang, and Ginger’s reaction shots to it are beautiful.

071. Midnight Mary (William A. Wellman, 1933)
Thanks to the ultra-pious good girl image she cultivated for herself in the late 1940s and 1950s, when people think of Loretta Young think almost exclusively of that ultra-pious good girl. So a lot of people are often surprised to go back in her filmography and look at her pre-code work, in which that good girl was a far away thing. This is especially true of Midnight Mary, an amazing character study where Young plays one of the most flawed heroines of the era. Mary gets dealt a shit hand early on, and her life just devolves from there, from prostitution to a dangerous relationship with a violent criminal. This film is so obviously pre-code. It seems that every time Mary makes a strong moral decision, it backfires on her completely, but whenever she does something bad things kind of work for her. In the end, Mary is her own worst enemy, thinking that she doesn’t deserve any better than the life she has. Young’s performance is incredible, and this is one of the best characters to come out of the decade.

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

Year: 1933

Director: Frank Borzage

Starring: Spencer Tracy Loretta Young, Marjorie Rambeau, Glenda Farrell, Walter Connolly , Arthur Hohl

Questions of morality are swiftly at play in this Borzage classic of depressive love. Man’s Castle is the story of a dreamer, and his forced confrontation with reality. The film begins on a note of fantasy, as Bill (Spencer Tracy), sits on a bench feeding pigeons. He’s dressed in a tuxedo, and his charismatic nature alludes to a man of great wealth. He’s confronted by a whisper of a woman, the beautiful and appropriately tiny, Trina (Loretta Young). A starving and frightened child, he whisks her off and feeds her the meal of her life, only to reveal his suit is nothing but an illusion, and he doesn’t have a dime to his name.

At most, ten minutes into the story, we already have a strong idea of the identity and dreams of the characters. Bill is a dreamer, he cannot and will not be tied down. The depression is almost freeing for him, as the expectations of normal society no longer conform. Even though, one can hardly imagine him conforming to ordinary life, even during a more opportune time, the pressure is alleviated by circumstance. Trina is a flower; fragile and dependent, if it were not for her overcoming strength in face of Bill, and her undying optimism. The illusion that she is, in any way, weak is absurd. The power she gains from her relationship from Bill is mutual, and rather than being defined by him, she allows him to be defined by her. His perceived belittling of her is somewhat off-putting at first, but there is an understanding between the characters that rises above words. Trina understands that Bill is frightened by the idea of being tied down, and the fact that he still remains with her throughout is a testament to the power she holds over him. He respects her in a way that no other man could, he gives her what she wants and needs, often betraying his own ideals and happiness. In a way, his sacrifices are far greater than hers, though both are forced to compromise for their love.

The moral structure of this film, is placed in context of the depression. Though the word is never used, the film is wrapped in it’s shroud. Most of the film takes place in a shanty town, where Bill and Trina live. Most action that exists outside, is dependent on survival or else a test of moral fortitude. The moral compass is defined by a minister character, Ira, who preaches the word of God, and condemns even Bill’s taking flowers as a form of robbery. He is gentle though, and holds a very altruistic view of right and wrong. His world view is that of the film, that one must qualify morality through intent and the greater good. Intention especially seems to be the root of his idea of good and bad, as when he understands that Bill only stole the flower to bring happiness to Trina he is able to forgive him quite easily. Bill’s foil in this regard, is Bragg, who also is in love with Trina, but uses similar crimes and gestures in order to hurt other people.

This all culminates, in Bill’s decision to rob a safe. Despite his pilfering of a flower, he does not believe in robbery, but will do it to bring comfort to Trina. There is a difference in his actions here, versus earlier in the film however. As his actions are not motivated by a desire to make Trina happier, but rather to make his own life easier. It’s his means of escape, and he is “rightfully” punished for it. His degree of wrong, pales greatly compared to that of Bragg, and the punishments for each are appropriate to the crime. In a way, Borzage advocates even murder, as justifiable under the right circumstances; an interesting, if not problematic understanding of the world. Good and Evil exist on a scale, and there is apparently a line one can cross that though presented clearly in the film, does not translate quite as well to real world situations.

The real thrust, and reason to watch the film however, is the beautiful romance that blossoms between the characters. Borzage soft focus and use of light create a unique world where true love is possible, and even the pain of reality cannot truly penetrate the gloss of their world. If Borzage had one talent, it was capturing the interior romance and affection of his characters and reflecting it through their exterior world. One cannot help being swept away by Borzage’s taste for beauty, and the glimmer of optimism that love not only exists, but can make the world a more beautiful place.

By Justine Smith

Cast: Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, Walter Connolly, Marjorie Rambeau, Glenda Farrell

I FINALLY got this movie up and loaded on to YouTube. So now nobody has any excuse. Everyone can watch this movie. I decided since it’s up there now, I might as well make it the YouTube Movie of the Week, to advertise the fact that it’s now happily available.

I have already written so much on this movie, so I figured I’d just link to some previous posts on the site…

https://obscureclassics.wordpress.com/2008/04/24/heroines-in-film-trina-from-mans-castle/

https://obscureclassics.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/mans-castle-frank-borzage-1933/

And as soon as you’ve watched it, go to our podcasts page and take a listen to our Man’s Castle podcast.

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

Direct Download

Year: 1933

Director: Frank Borzage

Cast: Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, Glenda Farrell, Marjorie Rambeau, Walter Connolly

This very old movie deals with timeless themes. Themes just as relevant today as they were 75 years ago when this film was released.

The story follows a young woman named Trina played by Loretta Young who has been out of work for a year. In her relatively ineffective attempts to find food and survive she encounters a peculiar man named Bill. His influence has a lasting effect on her.

It is a very simple movie really, but it transcends its own simplicity and actually ends up being more akin to a masterpiece thanks primarily to three major successes.

First, of course, is the script. This is a no nonsense script that was expertly created. It doesn’t attempt to be an epic or anything more then just a well crafted slice of life filled with very well written dialogue. A slice of life with a simple surface but deep explorations into humanity under the surface as well.

This dialogue wouldn’t mean much without the talents of some very fine actors. Both Loretta Young and Spencer Tracy bring these characters to life, effortlessly surmounting the 75 year old handicap that this movie has to struggle against to reach modern audiences. This films second major success is the excellent acting and timeless portrayals.

Lets start with Spencer Tracy. Bill is a character that is both self-assured and self-sufficient despite hard economic times. He is pure confidence and masculinity. He could also be considered immature and self-serving, but under the bravado is a lot of humanity. He doesn’t answer to anybody and he takes care of not only himself but looks out for those around him, despite the economic hardships of the era. He is tough, but at heart a kind person, a person who arguably has ran from life’s harsher realities and has been hardened by them simultaneously. At the same time he is still optimistic no matter how harsh the times have become, in fact he is always staring at the sky and listening to the passing trains, hoping for the best not only for himself but for those around him.

Spencer Tracy plays Bill masterfully. Watching him swagger around from scene to scene is delightful. Despite Bill’s big shoes, Spencer Tracy does a flawless job filling them and the end result is a perfectly played character that carries the film.

Well, maybe not carries the film. Loretta Young equally deserves the credit. Without her part and the understated manner in which she plays it the film would be nothing. Loretta Young, at just 20 years of age proves she is a force to be reckoned with as she plays this unforgettable character. Trina is a very interesting blend of wisdom, naivety and helplessness. She is completely dependent on Bill, and she is smart enough to let him be himself, to let him be his own man and not trap him. She knows that beggars can’t be choosers and she is quite literally a beggar. When he puts her down, disregards her and strays away she doesn’t judge, nor does she try to tame him. She is dependent on him and wise enough to know that attempts to shackle him would only drive him away. Trina is a pleasure to watch. In a world full of depression both emotionally and economically, she finds happiness in the little things and is a breath of fresh air in comparison to so many who both then and now seem plagued with pessimism. One wonders just how calculated her interactions with Bill are as the movie unfolds. Speculation concerning that question is part of what makes the film engaging and fascinating.

The third major success of Man’s Castle is the completely timeless theme which I hinted at earlier. This is a film as relevant now as it was then and the themes touched on will be relevant hundreds of years from now as well. Man’s Castle is largely about a man’s desire to roam about and be free. Man’s Castle is about the age old fear of commitment, as old as the male gender itself. As long as there are relationships involving men there will be the desire to avoid what is perceived as the bondage that comes with commitment and fidelity that is so foreign to the natural state of masculinity. This film portrays that struggle and the fear and the potential joy associated with giving in and embracing committed love.

This movie is also about finding happiness in reality. Life is unlikely to be as satisfying as the dreams of youth. One of the secrets to happiness it seems is finding satisfaction despite depressing circumstances. Certainly in the early 1930s there were plenty who did not learn that lesson and thankfully plenty who did. Man’s Castle isn’t the only story to teach us that happiness has more to do with attitude then circumstances, but it certainly is one of the more entertaining stories to teach that very valuable moral.

By Greg Dickson

I figured I’d start thing out with my favorite movie…

Year: 1933
Director: Frank Borzage
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, Marjorie Rambeau, Glenda Farrell, Walter Connolly, Arthur Hohl
Availability: Not on DVD or commercial VHS, but can be found through rare video dealers. Try http://www.robertsvideos.com

Frank Borzage was the master of romance. His films were so much more rewarding than most romances because his characters truly earned their happiness. His very best films were made during the very worst of times, the Great Depression. Mannequin, Bad Girl, and his masterpiece Man’s Castle all stand out as three of the best films made in the 1930s.

In Man’s Castle, Borzage manages to make even such a harsh and awful time seem like a fairytale, and the precedent for that style is set in the very first scene. It’s Central Park at night, filmed in extremely soft focus, giving the scene a romantic and gentle feel, while what’s going on in the scene is anything but. Bill (Spencer Tracy) is sitting on a bench, throwing popcorn to the birds, watching almost apathetically while Trina (Loretta Young) cries to herself because she’s so hungry. The rest of the film works in this same way, turning the most tragic and hopeless of situations into a dreamy fairytale. Borzage creates a the fairy tale not by ignoring the problems of the world around them, but by making them live through these things to earn their happiness. The soft and dreamy feeling makes the film warm throughout, enforcing Borzage’s message that home is about who you’re with, not where you are.

Borzage stresses the connection between Bill and Trina and their isolation from the “rest of the world” early in the film. After they meet in the park, Bill takes Trina to a fancy restaurant, where they’re eventually kicked out because they can’t pay the bill. They follow that by walking the streets of New York. With not enough money to shoot on location, or even afford ectras for the backlot, Borzage used rear projection for this scene, and it only helps to make Trina and Bill stand out from the masses, and emphasize their separation from a happier world.

Not until they get to Bill’s Hooverville home do they mix in with the surroundings. These are the people they belong with. But despite the natually shabby appearance, the squatters village is filmed like a majestic castle. Bill and Trina make their home here, but it’s what that home symblolizes to each of them that drives the story onward. To Bill, home is nothing more than something that ties him to one place, and he constantly tells Trina throughout the film that he’s likely to leave her at any time. To Trina, the home is the one place where she’s finally found stability and something permanent. She refers to it in the film as her safety zone. She tells Bill that he’s free to leave anytime he wants, and even though that though truly does terrify her, she knows that even if Bill leaves, she’ll still have their home.

At first glance, Bill and Trina’s relationship doesn’t seem particularly loving or stable. Bill’s fear of being tied down leads him to ridicule Trina, and Trina’s need for committment and affection leads her to take that ridicule without fighting back. As Bill’s love for Trina grows, so does his restlessness, because he thinks that loving Trina means benig trapped. Bill constantly struggles between keeping himself free and making the woman he loves happy. This shows in his struggle over the stove that Trina wants. At first, he refuses to buy her the stove on the installment plan, knowing that he’d have to stay around for a year just to pay the stove off. Eventually though, he relents. His presentation of the stove to Trina is the most beautiful scene in the film. After a few minutes of gentle bullying and banter, he bring the stove into the house, surprising her. Trina, so overjoyed by the gesture, drops to her knees in front of the stove and dissolves into tears. It’s an awkward moment for Bill, not because of his lack of affection for Trina, but because he has so much for her that seeing her so happy makes him uncomfortable.

The struggle between Bill’s desires – to be free and never tied down, and to be loved and to love someone – continues to drive the plot of the film until the extremely satisfying ending, where Bill discovers that he doesn’t have to have one thing or the other.

By: Katie Richardson

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