Libeled Lady

This 1936 film, shown by TCM in its Summer under the Stars series on a day featuring William Powell (and available from Prime Video), is a sardonic comedy starring Myrna Loy (Connie Allenbury) as the wealthy daughter of business tycoon JB Allenbury (played by Walter Connolly).  Connie is falsely accused of breaking up a marriage and sues the NY Evening Star newspaper for $5 million for libel.  The paper’s managing editor, Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) is desperate to make the suit go away (so he doesn’t get fired for the misreported front page story) and so turns to a former reporter of the paper (who he previously fired), Bill Chandler (William Powell).  Bill has quite the reputation as a ladies’ man which is the key to Warren’s plan. The movie revolves around an amusing scheme whereby Bill is to manipulate Connie into being alone with him when his wife shows up so that the suit will have to be dropped.  Because Bill is not married, Warren volunteers (over her strong objection) his fiancée, Gladys Benton (Jean Harlow) to marry Bill in name only.  While working through his scheme, Bill falls in love with Connie and Gladys falls in love with Bill.  Who will end up with whom is ultimately and amusingly resolved in a final scene skillfully pulled off by all four of the film’s major players.  Powell and Loy exude the on-screen chemistry that made everyone at the highpoint of their careers think that they were in fact married (in real life) – appearing in 14 films together will do that!  Jean Harlow is at her screwball comedy best; and, Tracy, with his natural performing style, executes his role flawlessly.  If you are a fan of any one of these stars (or, even better, all of them) this is a “don’t miss film” for you.  We give it a Worth the Search rating.  And as a post script, the movie was one of many mentioned in The Movie Palace Mystery Series. Since “Sally Lee” doesn’t have a review on her blog, we just knew we had to give her a shout-out on ours!

Desire

This 1936 romantic comedy-drama stars Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper and was directed by Frank Borzage, who is best known for his films where love triumphs over adversity (e.g., war, the Depression, Titanic disaster).  That predisposition is clearly evident in this film (we recorded it in June when TCM featured Dietrich as the star of the month, however the film is available from Prime Video). Madeleine de Beaupre (Dietrich) is a professional jewel thief who uses her charms to con a jeweler out of an expensive pearl neckless in Paris and then heads for San Sabastian in Spain where her partner in crime, Carlos Margoli (John Halliday), awaits..  Speeding along toward the border in her car, she passes and nearly runs off the road a vacationing American engineer, Tom Bradley (Cooper). Once at the border, seeing that guards are checking the luggage and purses of those entering the country, she slips the necklace in Cooper’s pocket as he caught up with her at the checkpoint. After assorted shenanigans, Madeleine seizes an opportunity to steal Tom’s car, leaving him standing in the road and, ultimately, crashes the car while evading police.  Upon arriving in San Sabastian, Bradley, with the help of the police locates Madeline, but is reluctant to finger her as a car thief.  Margoli, who is present for the encounter with the police, offers to pay for the repair of Bradley’s car and they soon move on to his villa where they stay and become friendly. Bradley still unknowingly has the pearl necklace in his jacket pocket, and it becomes the focus of Margoli’s attention because he wants to quickly sell it, split the proceeds with Madeline and move on to another caper. During the stay at the villa, Madeline finds herself falling in love with Bradley and tells Margoli who tries to convince her that Bradley will never accept her once he finds out she is a professional thief. True to Borzage’s directing style, love overcomes adversity – Bradley learns the truth about her, convinces her to return the necklace and go “straight” and to marry him, all in very quick order after several scenes to get us there.  Although the film’s run time is only 90 minutes, it seems longer because there is a lot going on that you must pay attention to.  The dialogue is at times quick-paced and there are some “leaps of faith” in the storyline between scenes.  Nonetheless, Dietrich and Cooper turn in solid performances and if you are a fan of each (or both) it is worth the watch.  We give a Good of an Afternoon rating.

Coda

This 2019 film starring Patrick Stewart and Katie Holmes is a departure from our focus for the blog on viewing (and, reviewing) Hollywood classics (‘30s-early ‘50s).  At the recommendation of a friend, we watched this film over the Labor Day weekend (it’s available to rent on Prime Video). It is both touching and incredibly sad because it is, in part, about love lost – twice! The story in a nutshell is about Henry Cole (Stewart), a world renown pianist, late in his career.  He returns to the stage after a long absence following the death of his wife to find he suffers from stage fright and mental instability. Enter Helen Morrison (Holmes), a music critic for The New Yorker, who wants to write a story about Henry and asks for an interview, which he politely declines.  Helen, by the way, is also the narrator for much of the film.  Nonetheless, they meet up again several days later at Steinway Hall where Henry suffers another panic episode. Helen joins him on the bench, rescues him from embarrassment and earns his trust.  He agrees to do the interview.  Throughout the next several scenes, Henry’s mental condition worsens and his manager, Paul (Giancarlo Esposito) is concerned that the comeback tour, particularly a premier recital in London, will need to be cancelled.  Helen, now Cole’s frequent companion, encourages him to travel to Sils-Maria in the Swiss Alps to hear another famous pianist for the benefit of the mind-altering effects of the pianist’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Sonata op. 111.  While things do take a turn for the worst, Henry ultimately emerges and decides to give the recital in London – a crowning achievement.  In our opinion, there are three reasons to watch this film: 1) The three principal actors turn in superb performances; 2) The story is gripping and at times unexpectedly suspenseful; and, 3) The music and the scenery, particularly in the Swiss Alps, is breathtaking.  We rate it:  Worth the Search.

Meet John Doe

This is a 1941 political themed drama directed by Frank Capra and staring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. The theme of an unimportant man who becomes a political figure and goes on to affect American politics was first introduced to us in Capra’s 1939 film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.  The Doe film was featured during Barbara Stanwyck day in August’s TCM Summer Under the Stars schedule so we saw it on the TCM channel,. However, it is available for streaming through Amazon Prime Video.  As fans of Stanwyck, we were enticed to view the film (even though we had not heard of it) and, we were not disappointed.  She turns in a stunning performance scene after scene; initially, somewhat comedic (through rapid fire delivery of her lines) and ultimately quite serious in a dramatic manner.  The film is complex, howeve here is a brief plot summary.  Stanwyck plays Ann Mitchell, a reporter who is fired as part of a downsizing move.  She writes her last column with a made-up letter written by John Doe.  Angered and desperate at the ill treatment of little people in American society, Doe threatens to jump off the roof of city hall on Christmas Eve.  Publication of the phony letter creates a media sensation.  The Managing Editor (James Gleason) sees an opportunity to boost newspaper circulation and agrees to a scheme to find and hire someone to pose as John Doe; enter Gary Cooper (found after a long search).  The John Doe philosophy and movement takes off attracting the attention of newspaper published D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold) who harbors presidential aspirations.  Norton fuels the movement as Doe clubs pop up all over the country. Cooper agrees with all of this until he discovers that Norton plans to exploit Doe to create a new political party and impose his authoritarian rule, if he wins, on the country.  Cooper tries to stop Norton and is disgraced in the process.  He does attempt to jump off City Hall on Christmas Eve, however, you guessed it, Stanwyck intervenes and rescues him!  Cooper turns in a very compelling performance as Doe, playing quite well off both Stanwyck and his friend, The Colonel (Walter Brennan).  Somewhat intense and particularly sad and dark in the final scenes, we give it a Worth the Search rating.  If you’ve seen “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, you’ll see the political theme similarities, however, like us you may not enjoy Doe as much as Smith!

All of Me

This 1984 fantasy comedy film was directed by that master of comedy, Carl Reiner. Right after he passed in June, TCM featured several of his films in their July line-up.  If you missed it, All of Me is available to rent/stream from Prime Video. It stars Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin. The principal reason to watch this film is to see Steve Martin at his comedic best (early career days when he did Charlie Chaplin-like stunts; his body language is utterly amazing as he conveys two totally different people).  The film’s plot is this:  Roger Cobb (an attorney played by Martin) is summoned to help eccentric millionairess Edwina Cutwater (Tomlin) make some unusual final changes to her will. Edwina, who has been bed-ridden since childhood, enlists the help of a mystic who specializing in transferring human souls. Edwina has made a deal with Terry Hoskins (played by Victoria Tennant) to be her soul beneficiary so she, Edwina, can experience youth and health!  The transfer goes wrong, and Edwina’s soul ends up in Roger’s body (thus, the two completely different roles Martin has to execute which he does beautifully) and it is at that point that the film becomes absolutely hysterical. Ultimately, souls get sorted out and Edwina’s ends up in the right body (Terry’s) and, of course, Roger ends up with Terry (aka Edwina)!  This is a happy film and, if you are a Steve Martin fan and have not seen it, it is worth the time to watch.  We give it a Worth the Search rating.