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

The Thin Man is without a doubt the most popular screwball mystery film (or rather, series of films) in Hollywood history. And it’s easy to see why. Not only are the stories constantly engaging, not only do the scripts sparkle, but it’s Powell and Loy. And that’s a combination you just can’t go wrong with.

At the same time, though, a large part of the appeal lies simply with the type of film itself. There’s something really special about a film that combines quick witted humor and a tangled web of mystery. And while The Thin Man certainly did it best, over and over again, there were several films made after the first Thin Man, screwball mysteries with the same style, humor, and intrigue.

Star of Midnight
Perhaps the best of the Thin Man knockoffs, Star of Midnight also stars William Powell, only this time he’s a lawyer who just happens to be really good at solving crimes. Stepping into Loy’s Nora shoes is Ginger Rogers, equally as charming, just in a more vivacious and in your face way than the always graceful Loy.

I’d say the mystery is more compelling than at least the original Thin Man film. It concerns a mysterious veiled singing star who disappears in the middle of a show. As the story unfolds, the mystery aspect almost overtakes the comedy aspect. This may be one of the reasons I actually prefer Star of Midnight to The Thin Man. The mystery is very strong, distinct, and easy to follow. As are the characters.

I’m also extremely fond of the romance. While the strength of The Thin Man ‘s romance lies in the fact that Nick and Nora are already happily married, in Star of Midnight it lies in the wonderful dynamic between Rogers and Powell. Rogers plays the daughter of an old friend of Powell’s, who’s known the older man since she was just a kid. This could end up being creepy. But Rogers’ aggressive pursuit, paired with Powell’s ever wearing resistance, and their adorable banter, makes it perfect. All the time he’s exasperated by her, and her efforts to help with the investigation, it’s easy to see that, underneath it all, he just thinks she’s adorable. This was the only film Powell and Rogers made together, which is unfortunate, because they were so good together.

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford
Powell starred in yet another one of these with the wonderful and daffy The Ex-Mrs. Bradford. This one leans more toward the screwball side of things than either The Thin Man or Star of Midnight, and I suspect that has something to do with the presence of Jean Arthur, one of the queens of screwball. While Arthur was a fantastically talented actress and could do pretty much anything, her naturally high strung attitude and Minnie Mouse voice make her the perfect fit for screwball, and her Mrs. Bradford is one of the daffiest dames of the genres.

The mystery involves a horse race, much like the later Shadow of the Thin Man. However, unlike Star of Midnight, the mystery isn’t as as easy to follow and the characters aren’t as distinctive. The mystery is probably harder to follow than the original Thin Man. But that really is okay, since as I said, it leans more toward the screwball.

Arthur and Powell are a really excellent team. They’d worked together several years earlier in a pair of Philo Vance mysteries, and Powell predicted great things for Arthur’s future. They have a strong chemistry. Powell’s laid back ease is both the perfect match and foil for Arthur’s madcap heroine (they actually remind me of my friend Brandy and Brian). I also really enjoy the dynamic of this relationship. While in Star of Midnight the pair is just starting to get together, in and The Thin Man they’re married, in The Ex-Mrs Bradford they’re divorced, but still very much in love.

Fast and Loose
Montgomery steps into the detective role in the second film of the “Fast” series, as a rare book expert who gets himself tied up in murder mysteries that for some reason involve rare books (apparently, there was enough rare book crime back then for three movies to be made about it.) As bizarre as that kind of mystery sounds, it actually give the screwball mystery and interesting spin. I’d say Fast and Loose has probably the most sophisticated feel of all the screwball mysteries.

And the mystery, involving a fake Shakespeare manuscript, is actually very intriguing, and held my interest in the films just as much as the screwball and romance elements. The characters of the mystery aren’t just easy to tell apart, but they’re interesting in their own right. It’s just a really well crafted mystery.

But, with Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in the lead roles, it’s also extremely funny. Most of the humor in the film comes from their interaction as a (very much in love) married couple. Montgomery and Rosalind Russell made several films together, both comedic and dramatic, and this is probably the most fun of their pairings. They had such a solid chemistry. In terms of her style, at least in the 1930s and early 1940s, Russell is pretty much the female version of Montgomery, and it’s so much fun watching them play off of each other.

As I said, this is the second film in the “Fast” series but, oddly, each film has a different set of actors. The first, Fast Company, stars Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice, and the third, Fast and Furious, starred Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern. Both are really good, fun films, but Loose is easily the best.

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1935

Director: Victor Fleming

Starring: Jean Harlow, William Powell, Franchot Tone, Rosalind Russell

This film is a comedy/musical that oddly morphs into melodrama after an out-of-the-blue tragedy strikes. Ned Reilly (William Powell) is a lawyer with a fondness for gambling. He’s especially close to Granny (May Robson) and her granddaughter Mona Leslie (Jean Harlow). When the picture starts, it is up to old faithful Ned to bail out troublesome Mona from jail for an egregious traffic violation. He works his slick magic and gets Harlow’s character out on a technicality. It’s clear from the outset that while Ned may come on as a family friend, he is undoubtedly interested in Mona romantically. What really catapults this movie above other average fare is the wonderful banter between Ned and the two women. That’s where the picture really gets its heart.

Mona is a successful showgirl. She catches the eye of wealthy playboy Bob Harrison (Franchot Tone) and he simply must have her. Blind to Ned’s secret affections for her, Mona gets caught up in the idea of love and the allure of riches that Bob can bring to the table. The lovers elope immediately. Bob’s family is about as blue blood as rich people get and they are less than happy at the news. When he brings his new bride home to meet everyone not only are they unenthusiastic, but the Harrisons are boorish in their put downs and snobbish behavior toward our blonde. It turns out that Bob was expected to wed Jo Mercer (Rosalind Russell) who comes from a proper family. All the disapprovals build up resentment within Bob and when he finds out that Jo moved on and married someone else, he snaps.

Mona finds herself pregnant and in the midst of a scandal. She has trouble resuming her musical career. Desperate to help the woman he loves, Ned risks everything he has to produce her next show. When the platinum blonde comes on stage and starts to sing the first tune she is met by such a hostile audience that she is forced to stop singing and address their despicable behavior. Finished with her harangue, Harlow’s singer resumes the song and afterward the crowd responds with wild applause and cheering. Evidently her resiliency and determination won them over. The last sentimental shot between Powell and Harlow will not work for everyone but it got to me. As for the other performances, we get a brief couple of moments from Mickey Rooney as he plays a kid running a lemonade stand. Russell shines in kind of a thankless part of the dumped ex-love. Robson’s Granny is really fun to watch as she is quite a spitfire. Reckless shifts too much in tone to be considered a great movie. But the witty repartee between Harlow and Powell carries the day.

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: 1935

Director: Stephen Roberts

Starring: William Powell, Ginger Rogers, Paul Kelly, Gene Lockhart, Ralph Morgan, Leslie Fenton

The screwball mystery was an extremely popular film genre throughout the 1930s. Following The Thin Man in 1934, studios began putting out several knockoffs to cash in on the film’s popularity. Some were good, some weren’t. The two best knockoffs, The Ex-Mrs. Bradford and Star of Midnight, starred William Powell, who was also the star of The Thin Man. The Ex-Mrs. Bradford was a charming remarriage comedy costarring Jean Arthur. Star of Midnight, slightly better than Bradford, featured Powell as a high power lawyer with a particular knack for solving crimes.

Powell’s ends up working the case of Mary Smith, a popular, but mysterious singer when she disappears in the middle of one of her shows. Star of Midnight has a slightly more mysterious, even surreal, feeling to it because we never see the subject of the case. Whereas in films like The Thin Man we usually see the victim before they are murdered or disappear, in Star of Midnight Mary Smith is just as mysterious as her disappearance. This is what helps to set this film apart from so many other films of this type. The comedy in a screwball mystery is usually by far stronger than the actual mystery part. But the absence of Mary Smith throughout the entire film makes Star of Midnight a but more evenly balanced. The comedy is fantastic and sharp, but the mystery matches up and is really very intriguing.

Powell’s partner and romantic match in this film is the wonderful Ginger Rogers. This was the only film they made together, and they’re such an excellent match it’s actually sad that they didn’t do any others. Powell was almost always several years older than his leading lady, but it was never brought up or made an issue of. That’s another unique thing that Star of Midnight has going for it. Powell was 19 years older than Rogers, and that’s actually a fact used in the film. Rogers plays the daughter of an old friend of Powell’s. It’s a childhood crush turned into love, and it’s completely adorable. They’re a great match. They trade verbal quips with complete ease and their chemistry is completely on the mark, and the writing for them is excellent. Because of the noted age difference, they have an interesting dynamic and their dialog makes great use of it.

With a sparkling script, a fun and interesting mystery, and the brilliant pairing of Ginger Rogers and William Powell, Star of Midnight is one of the very best screwball mysteries of the 1930s.

Availability: http://www.freemoviesondvd.com

By: Katie Richardson