Flick Clique: April 8-14
I’m No Angel (1933). Having some extra time to myself this week, I decided to check out some older unwatched DVDs in my (modest) collection. I’m No Angel was part of the Mae West Glamour Collection, and it is truly a star vehicle for the curvy, bawdy actress. It really strikes me just how different and weird West was, and this is no exception. In a story written by West herself, Mae plays a hootchie-cootchie dancer turned famous circus lion tamer named Tira. As she works her way up the showbiz ladder (innocently enough) she befriends many men including a horny Texan (William B. Davidson), a New York dandy (Kent Taylor), and the latter’s handsome lawyer cousin (Cary Grant). A scandal involving Taylor and Grant embroils her in a court case, but Mae being Mae she ultimately prevails with all her jewels and gowns intact. This was actually quite a funny, jazzy film with a few odd, spicy songs sung by Mae. It’s interesting to watch how she interacts with her maid and servants in this picture. While the role of Tira’s maid Libby is stereotypical as usual, the role is played in a nice, empathic way by actress Libby Taylor. There seems to be an understanding between Tira and Libby (and the other servants she eventually employs) that women need to do whatever they can to get by, preferably with a lot of sass and humor. Fascinating stuff.
The Last Command (1929). Last week’s Flick Clique included Underworld from the recent Criterion/Josef Von Sternberg silent set; this week we turned our attention to The Last Command. Although this film also stars the enigmatic Evelyn Brent, it’s best known for being one of the performances that got burly Emil Jannings awarded the first Best Actor Academy Award. I’d say Jannings deserved it – he does a nuanced, outstanding job here as a Russian general whose twisted past leads him from his motherland to Hollywood and bit parts as a hollowed-out old man. The film is slickly made and beautifully photographed in that rich way that silents achieved just before sound came in and messed things up for a while. Co-starring a young William Powell as Jannings’ adversary, Last Command benefits from several memorable set pieces, including a train wreck effectively done with detailed model work.
Nothing Sacred (1937). The other vintage comedy I watched with some extra time on my hands. The pleasant yet unexceptional Nothing Sacred follows Carole Lombard’s Hazel Flagg, a simpering small town girl who is diagnosed with a terminal disease. A second visit with her doctor (Charles Winninger) reveals that it was a false alarm. Before she can reveal the truth, however, scooping reporter Fredric March sells her on a gala tour of New York which exploits her sob-sister appeal on the city’s masses to the approval of March’s editor (Walter Connolly). Cute film, somewhat too brisk and short. As in My Man Godfrey, Lombard’s character got on my nerves but she somehow pulls it off in the end. I was going to have an embedded video here of the picture’s sweet opening credits sequence, but you can actually watch the entire film (including the opening!) on YouTube in a nice-looking print.
Salomy Jane (1914). Confusing but moderately interesting early silent is the only still-extant film from the California Motion Picture Corporation, a unique company that operated out of the state’s northern region, making ample use of the redwood forests for its production. Salomy‘s unengaging story concerns a 19th century girl (Beatriz Michelena, the first Latina film star) who rebuffs the advances of an unsavory young man. Instead, she falls for another man (the interestingly monikered House Peters) who comes to her rescue and ends up being wrongly accused in the other sap’s killing. Quaintly filmed and filled with mannered performances, this film definitely feels 88 minutes long (epic-length in 1914 terms). The scenery held our attentions, a little. This was part of a great 3-DVD set, Treasures 5: The West 1898-1938, a collection of lost/ephemeral films that explore the American West with copious notes and documentation/background info. Although Salomy might make one believe it’s full of Westerns, it’s actually a treasure trove of mostly silent documentaries, home movies, newsreels and other fun stuff. This was my “I paid way to much on taxes, but fuck it I’m getting it anyway” gift to myself.
Where Love Has Gone (1965). Trashy, expensively produced soap opera with Susan Hayward as a San Francisco sculptress who is embroiled in scandal when her sulky daughter (Joey Heatherton, terrible) is accused of killing Hayward’s boyfriend. The girl’s architect father, Mike Connors, is brought in to intervene, leading to an extended flashback to when Hayward and Connors first met and their constant disagreements with Hayward’s imperious dowager mom, Bette Davis. This has all the ingredients for a campy, fun ride, but something intangible is missing here. Perhaps it’s the script, which is full of cringeworthy dialogue that never quite reaches the amusing levels of hysteria in something similar like Portrait in Black. Unlike Lana Turner and Sandra Dee in that flick, Hayward and Heatherton have a strange lack of chemistry which drags the film down. There was also not a lot of believability in the Hayward/Davis relationship, either. Hayward herself was enjoyable enough in this watchable yet curiously unmoving soap.