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 focusesĀ  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

Talking about how much I hate the adaptation of The Sound and the Fury the other day made me think about other Faulkner works that have made it to the screen. He’s definitely not an easy author to adapt to the screen. While there have been a number of films based on his works, he’s not a, let’s say, Jane Austen type whose writing works well on film and who has a million film adaptations of each book.

Perhaps that’s because his best ad most revered works haven’t really been adapted. At least not well. There is a terrible adaptation of The Sound and the Fury, but other than that, his most loved and recognized titles haven’t been adapted. There’s no films adaptation of Light in Augest, or Absalom, Absalom!, or The Unvanquished, or As I Lay Dying. Because so much of his work would be so difficult to adapt into an accesible film.

But there have actually been quite a few Faulkner adaptations. Let’s start with what is probably considered the best one, The Long Hot Summer, which is based on The Hamlet. It starred Hollywood supercouple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and is one of the best depictions of the south ever put out by Hollywood. It isn’t a very “faithful” adaptation in terms of storyline, but it definitely captures the Faulkner feeling spot on, and it hasĀ  a stellar cast, all of whom give excellent performances. Newman, Woodward, and Lee Remick are the best of the cast, and Orson Welles is superb.

I think The Story of Temple Drake is definitely one of the best Faulkner adaptations. His novel Sanctuary was one of the most shocking things printed in the 1930s, and it remains a pretty unsettling piece of work. Even during the pre-code era it was near impossible to get all the grit and unsavoriness of the novel onto the screen, but The Story of Temple Drake does a great job, mostly focusing on constructing a brilliant character in Temple Drake. It’s definitely an essential pre-code film, with one of Miriam Hopkins’ best performances.

Perhaps lesser revered by film fans, but still an amazing movie, is Intruder in the Dust. I’ve always thought that the book had a bit of a different “feel” to it than most of Faulkner’s other work, and it is considered one of his lesser novels, but it’s still an excellent book, and it adapts into a fantastic movie. It’s up there with The Defiant Ones and No Way Out as one of the best films of the time about racism and race relations.

I’ve never read the story Turnabout, but it was adapted into one of my favorite Joan Crawford movies, Today We Live. Since I haven’t read it, I don’t know how faithful it is as an adaptation, but looking at it just as a film, it’s a really excellent WWI film about love and family and the toll that war takes.

The Tarnished Angels, based on Pylon, is directed by Douglas Sirk, and while I don’t love it, I think it’s a much better film than his more appreciated melodramas like Written on the Wind. I definitely prefer the less soapy side of Sirk (like the thriller Lured). Overall, though, I don’t think this movie captures the Faulkner feel very well, despite it being a pretty downtrodden film for the time.

Faulkner also spent a fair amount of time simply working in Hollywood, writing scripts. He had a hand in three noir classics, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and Mildred Pierce.

So yes, while there aren’t really any definitive Faulkner adaptations, the major ones that exist are all very good. Here’s hoping that one day we’ll get truly brilliant and faithful adaptations to some of his major works. Think of how epic an Absalom, Absalom! movie would be. And how amazing could The Sound and the Fury be if Paul Thomas Anderson directed it?

By Katie Richardson

Robert Montgomery. Robert Young. Robert Taylor. during the 1930s in Hollywood, MGM had three fantastic contract players, all by the name of Robert. They were also frequently cast in similar roles, despite their types and styles being quite different. This habit of MGM of casting them similarly is the reason, I imagine, that my dad can never remember which one I’m talking about. I’m pretty sure he still thinks Robert Montgomery and Robert Young are the same person. I talk about Montgomery a lot, and my Dad always says, “Father Knows Best, right?” No. No, Dad. Not at all.

Robert Taylor

Taylor’s career started a little after the other Roberts. Taylor was classically good looking, which made him well cast in films like Camille. But he did have the charm and talent to pull off different kinds of roles as well.

Small Town Girl (1936)
Taylor plays a drunken playboy who gets smashed and married sweet Janet Gaynor one night. At first, Taylor’s role is kind of thankless. The pair agree to a sham marriage, and Taylor kind of treats her like dirt, even when they bury the hatchet and agree to be friendly. Taylor doesn’t try to make his character’s behavior charming. He’s not afraid to really show his character as the bad guy, so that when the character turns around and we get the happy ending we want, it’s a little more interesting.

Three Comrades (1938)
Taylor’s youthful looks served him well in this role as a childish soldier back from the first world war who falls in love with dying ex-socialite Margaret Sullavan. There are three “leading me” in this film; Taylor, the other Robert, Young, and Franchot Tone. They each possess something unique to their character so that when the three of them come together they almost create one whole person. Taylor provides, quite perfectly, the heart.

Johnny Eager (1942)
Taylor really broke type to play the seemingly heartless gangster of the title. Though there is romance to the story, Taylor is at his most compelling here when he’s being ruthless, as when he sets up his lover, Lana Turner, for a fake murder. The film also features a brilliant and Oscar winning performance from Van Heflin.

Robert Young

Of the three Roberts, Young is the least “suave” and “debonair”. However, I don’t agree with Hollywood’s assessment of him, that he had no sex appeal. While he may not be as attractive physically as the other Roberts, or the other stars in Hollywood, there is a certain something about him. Perhaps it’s just his talent, but there is something incredibly attractive about him.

Today We Live (1933)
This is one of my very favorite war movies. It centers on four people and their relationships with each other, and the way the war shapes them. Young gives a very good performance opposite Joan Crawford. He’s her childhood friend who loves her. The two marry, despite her love for Gary Cooper, and Young is blinded in battle. He gives a really nice, quiet performance, never overplaying it and never asking for pity.

Married Before Breakfast (1937)
Movies don’t get much cuter than this. I wasn’t expecting this movie, it was just on late one night when I was trying to sleep and I ended up staying up late and watching the whole thing. Both Young and his love interest are engaged to other people, but they have a one night adventure that makes you want them to both leave their respective fiancees. It fun, sweet, and completely adorable.

The Mortal Storm (1940)
For 1940, this film must have been brutal. America hadn’t even entered the war yet, but still Borzage made this moving and unflinching film about a half Jewish family in Germany torn apart by the Nazis. Young really broke type in this movie to play an intolerant young Nazi who helps to destroy the family he was practically a part of.

Robert Montgomery

Montgomery is my absolute favorite Robert. He’s also my favorite actor ever. Though he was frequently cast in supporting roles that required him to be suave and slick, he showed more than once his incredible range. He really could do it all. Sophisticated comedy, slapstick, drama, even psychological thriller. Montgomery was amazing as pretty much everything the studio threw at him, and he received two Oscar nominations for his work (for Night Must Fall and Here Comes Mr. Jordan)

Lovers Courageous (1932)
Montgomery is paired here with Madge Evans, his very best leading lady. Evans is a wealthy girl, Montgomery a poor playwright, and the two fall in love and are married, despite her parents’ objections. It’s such a simple story, and it is handled as such by director Robert Z. Leonard, but the simplicity of the film is one of the best things about it. It’s just a straight up, lovely, and honest romance.

Trouble for Two (1936)
This is one hell of a strange film. The plot involves royalty, arranged marriage, and suicide clubs. It’s really weird, and I can’t really explain it. It’s a good movie, but it has such a unique tone and bizarre storyline that it has to just be seen. Montgomery and costar Rosalind Russell give pitch perfect performances, which I can’t imagine was easy in a film with such a weird style and atmosphere.

Rage In Heaven (1940)
Montgomery apparently was not pleased about being cast in this film, and said that he wasn’t even going to try. Well, the fact that he didn’t even try in this only shows how amazing he was, because it’s still an excellent performance. He plays a man driven mad by jealousy. He starts out romantic and slowly descends into creepy and crazy. It’s really a good performance.

By Katie Richardson