Top Ten By Year: 1930


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From In the Picture: Production Stills from the TCM Archives

Previous Top Ten By Year Entries: 
1935, 1983, 1965, 1943, 1992, 1978, 1925, 2005

1930 Coverage:
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1930: A Love Letter
Top Ten By Year: 1930 ‚Äď Poll Results¬†
Movie Poster Highlights: 1930 
100 Images from the Films of 1930 
Favorite Fashion in 1930 Film

Sources:
A Song in the Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film – Richard Barrios
The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution: 1926-1930 – Scott Eyman
From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies – Molly Haskell

For those unaware of my Top Ten By Year project:
The majority of my viewing habits have been dictated by this project since September 2013. Jumping to a different decade each time, I pick weak years for me re: quantity of films seen and/or quality of films seen in comparison to other years from said decade. I use list-making to see more films and revisit others in a structured and project-driven way. And I always make sure to point out that my lists are based on personal ‚Äėfavorites‚Äô not any notion of an objective ‚Äėbest‚Äô.

Reel talk: 1930, seminal touchstones notwithstanding, is seen as one of the weaker years in cinema. At the very least nobody really talks about it. I like to get feedback on what my followers are interested in seeing, so while debating my next year for this project I presented Twitter with a choice between 1930 and 1934. Only a handful chose 1930. The further 1934 pulled away with the win, the less interested I was in choosing it. And there are no regrets; I’ve learned more about film from 1930 than any other year within the Top Ten By Year Project.

Before settling into what turned out to be six months of 1930 film hibernation, I’d never truly grasped why the resistance to talkies at the time was so staunchly uniform, seen and experienced by the industry as a cultural apocalypse. I’d never fully grasped why so many couldn‚Äôt see the possibilities of a revolutionary technology in its infancy. Well, of course the transition would be rough, with many new adjustments, restrictions, and considerations in the mix. But didn‚Äôt they see it‚Äôd be worth it? Didn’t they see it was the obvious next step in the evolution of cinema?

Richard Barrios writes¬†in his book A Song in the Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film that “the face of hindsight can, quite often, wear an unpleasant sneer‚ÄĚ(59). As I sank deeper into hibernation, the¬†patronizing remnants afforded by that cocky over-the-shoulder perspective from the future slipped away. Now I’m quite amazed anyone had the foresight (I’m looking at you Sam Warner) to see sound’s potential and the positive ways it could and would transform product and industry.

This foresight/hindsight angle relates to books that I read about the dawn of sound period (1926-1930), legitimately rocky years that qualify as ‚Äúone of the most chaotic times in American culture…a time of immense upheaval, enormous change, and a quite singular mix of uncertainty and confidence‚ÄĚ(Eyman, 4). Uncertainty because the studios didn’t really consider what sound meant for artistic parameters regarding the technology’s initial suffocating limitations. After Warner Brothers opened the gates to a new frontier, everything was turned upside down as studios rat raced through a “brutal crude transplantation”(Eyman). The process of filmmaking was now made up of “physical claustrophobia, narrative obfuscation, and an unimaginably confusing technical nightmare of crossed cables and purposes”(Eyman). The name of the game became Dialogue, Dialogue, Dialogue. It doesn’t matter what they say, just make the stars say it!

While sound men enjoyed their short reign as set Kings, actors braced themselves for make-it-or-break-it performance reviews in the form of sound tests. It didn’t matter who you were, veteran¬†star or bit player; your entire career was uncertain until pass/fail tested for sound by your studio. Suffice it to say, fear¬†ran rampant. William Haines described this period as “the night of the Titanic all over again” (Barrios, 75). And this from an MGM star! MGM was the most apprehensive studio when it came to sound, and that extra time presumably provided them with a slightly less chaotic stretch than most. Star personas had to be reconfigured and reestablished. Many couldn’t successfully make the leap, most famously John Gilbert, whose catastrophic fall from grace came from being unceremoniously hung out to dry by hackneyed¬†dialogue and poor direction (I’m looking at you Lionel Barrymore). The ever-savvy MGM may have botched Gilbert, but they also made genius publicity out of the ‘what do the stars sound like’ craze, making “Garbo Talks!” the movie event of 1930. While the star machine had a great fall, and tried to put itself back together again, countless young Broadway performers were flown out and audience tested via shorts and features, largely primed for failed movie stardom.

The Movie Musical, the only genre made entirely possible by sound technology, is the industry’s key microcosm from this time. Skipping ahead to 1929, the success of The Broadway Melody spawned a riot (we’re talking endless, folks) of imitators, with little to no creative expansion, quality control, or narrative variety. Stage musicals were adapted left and right with most of the hit songs inexplicably dumped and replaced with forgettable warblings. Song and/or dance scenes remained stuffy and square. There was no frame of reference for putting song and dance on film. Within twelve months, save for a few smash successes like The Love Parade and Rio Rita, musicals went from being the genre du jour to enough already! Now, this sort of thing happens all the time. The rush for product and for more of the successful same. But with a new technology, with musicals that were “obviously conceived in panic and manufactured in ignorance”, this cash sprint re: musicals can be more broadly applied to this brief unsure era (Barrios).

All of this context is to say that¬†1930 is the year Hollywood shook itself off and regained its footing. By this time, film¬†rhythm and consistency was illustrating¬†that,¬†for all their troubles, Hollywood was on the other side of the sound barrier. The year saw a record film attendance of 110 million (compare that to 65 million in 1928 and 60 million in 1932) (Barrios). Blimps had been developed that allowed cameras to be more mobile, free of their initial soundproof booths. The studios were well on their way towards working with sound-on-film technology as opposed to the cumbersome sync-sound. New film stocks made the monochrome spectrum wider. Formal freedom was still coming around but there was a wild sense of trial-and-error¬†experimentation. In 1930, nearly every musical incorporated Two-color Technicolor to some degree. Some studios were trying out inventions that would live and die within 1930, such as 65-70 mm formats like Magnafilm and Grandeur. Sound films began to step out on the streets and into the wilderness. Genre was like a stacked buffet plate,¬†a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Sci-fi, horror, mystery, and gangster films (The Doorway to Hell really established this one, though the films of 1931 get the credit) were just around the corner, but they crop up in the unlikeliest of places in 1930. Pre-Code hit the salacious stride it continued until the Code’s enforcement four years later. Directors in the US and overseas, such as Hitchcock, Hawks, Gr√©millon were already experimenting with sound in ways covert and overt. International film industries were catching up, beginning to make their transitions¬†from silent to sound.

Sure, some films from 1930 come across as quaint and static in their awkwardness, but far less than you’d think. Editing rhythms and camera set-ups had loosened up considerably by this time, and it’s easy to see sound film finding its own groove thanks to filmmakers committed to making improvements and trying things out. I’ve learned that stilted is the misguided adjective of choice when it comes to present-day reviews of 1930 films. When films like The Bat Whispers and The Divorcee are described as such, it’s unfortunate and downright perplexing, not just for its falsehood, but because there’s a world of difference between what ‘stilted’ means to modern day cinephiles and what it actually means within the scope of 1930 releases. Watch Let Us Be Gay and then get back to me (whether you’re a fan of this one or not, it’s an excellent encapsulation of what 1930 ‘stilted’ actually looks and feels like).

Time and time again I was beside myself by visual flourishes and caution-to-the-wind spiritedness. Cinematographers were finding ways to navigate and convey exterior worlds. Directors were finding ways to communicate interior worlds. Screenwriters were figuring out how to inject nuance and quality over quantity. Actors were adjusting to the modern and getting at core truths. On their own, many of these films stand tall and proud, but collectively, they lift each other up.

With the advent of sound, many thought something had been irretrievably lost. Perhaps rightly so. Sensuality, fantasy, and the translucent magic of silent cinema needed to be redefined from the ground up. And the films of 1930 begin to show what that would look and sound like for the decades to come.

Nitrate Diva wrote a great piece on 1930, which, I’m honored to say, was inspired by this project! She also includes her 10 picks! It‚Äôs a beautifully written portrait of the undiscovered riches of the year. Her prose capabilities are far beyond mine, so please do yourself a favor and check it out!

Biggest Disappointments:
Anybody’s Woman
Her Man
Just Imagine
A Notorious Affair
Not So Dumb
Paid

The Five Worst 1930 Films I Watched:
1. Golden Dawn
2. Feet First
3. Romance
4. Free and Easy
5. A Notorious Affair

TOTAL LIST OF FILMS SEEN IN 1930
(bold = first-time viewing, italic =  re-watch)
10 Minuten Mozart (short) Aimless Walk (short),
All Quiet on the Western Front, Animal Crackers, A Notorious Affair, Anybody’s Woman, Au bonheur des dames, The Bat Whispers, The Big House, The Big Trail, Blood of a Poet, The Blue Angel, Borderline, City Girl, Dance of Her Hands (short), The Dawn Patrol, The Divorcee, Die drei von der Tankstelle, The Doorway to Hell, Fast and Loose, Feet First, Follow Thru, For the Defense, Free and Easy, Golden Dawn, Hell’s Angels, Her Man, Just Imagine, King of Jazz, L’age d’Or, Ladies of Leisure, Laughter, Let Us Be Gay, Light Rhythms (short), Liliom, Madam Satan, Mechanical Principles (short), Min and Bill, Monte Carlo, Morocco, Murder!, Mysterious Mose (short), Not So Dumb, Our Blushing Brides, Outward Bound, Paid, La petite Lise, People on Sunday, Prix de beaute, Romance, Street of Chance, Swing You Sinners! (short), The Tale of the Fox, Tomatoes Another Day (short), Under the Roofs of Paris, Way for a Sailor

Honorable Mentions: The Big House, Blood of a Poet, Animal Crackers, Monte Carlo, The Divorcee, Follow Thru, The Dawn Patrol, Morocco, Our Blushing Brides (I have such a fondness for each of these films, it must be said)

KEY:
RW = Rewatch
FTV = First-time Viewing

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10. Au bonheur des dames (France/Le Film d’Art/Duvivier) (FTV)
With its go-for-broke commitment to evoking the rhythms of modern Paris, watching Au bonheur des dames feels a little like skydiving without a parachute. Silent film is nearly extinct, the bottom has dropped out, and Julien Duvivier is using everything in his arsenal to send it off in style. I watched this after consuming nearly three dozen 1930 talkies. Though sound films of the year are far less collectively creaky than history gives them credit for, it was still a considerable jolt to be unclipped from the technological constraints of fuzzy sounds and rational worlds.

A minute into ‘Au bonheur’, Denise (Dita Parlo), an orphan arriving in Paris to work for her uncle, is immediately swallowed up by Capital-C Capitalism. A train rushes into the station while feet scurry in all directions, a symphony of urban life’s hurried routine. Denise’s eyes dart everywhere, trying to take it all in¬†as she’s shuffled to and fro, smothered by the crowd of people and superimposed images. The second she exits¬†the station, she notices a plane flying overhead. Flyers are dropped like confetti.¬†She grabs one out of the sky, reads it, and smiles as if she’s just found one of Wonka’s Golden Tickets. It says “Everything You Want at ‘Au bonheur des dames'”. It’s an¬†advertisement for the behemoth department store across the street from her uncle‚Äôs failing dilapidated¬†shop. Capitalism is relentless, and giving in makes you feel good.

Lively Soviet montage and overt expressionism coincide with blinking electric lights and aggressive razzmatazz to show “progress‚ÄĚ as pervasive. Duvivier utilizes the accumulation of silent cinema stylings¬†for an inadvertent send-off to the now obsolete era. ‘Au bonheur’ is alive and immediate, building to¬†an impossible-to-shake feverish crescendo that¬†thankfully obscures¬†the¬†cop-out ending to follow.

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9. Liliom (US/Fox/Borzage) (FTV)
Available on youtube

There are two kinds of spaces in Liliom. The first is inside the carnival. That mockup hallucinatory carnival made of miniatures, dazzling lights, and bustling sounds. It’s a magical space where anything can happen, but only if you keep up. The second is anything outside the carnival, most notably domestic spaces. The carnival is always visible from the outside but the outside is never visible from within. The interiors are spacious, barren, minimalist, surrounded by gaps of frustrated silence. There is a clear delineation between the two. All this to say that Frank Borzage and his collaborators at Fox go to great length to make theatricality modern, presenting a weird vision of fantastical artificiality that easily transitions into the equally weird metaphysical final act. (Let me also take this moment to say that I am a huge fan of early cinematic depictions of the afterlife. By far the most alluring period for this kind of story.)

At the end of Liliom, the Chief Magistrate (H.B. Warner) says this of what he has witnessed: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs touching. It‚Äôs mysterious‚ÄĚ. Simply and succinctly, that‚Äôs also Liliom. This is a story about two people who should not be together, but can‚Äôt not be together. This is a film that ends with a speech about, to put it bluntly and without context, domestic abuse being okay if it comes from the person you love. But the tragedy of that, and it, are so genuinely and oddly moving. Because this decree of sorts¬†is true for Julie. Liliom is told through a romantically fatalistic lens. Fatalism in the apparent wrongness of the couple. Julie‚Äôs (Rose Hobart) only other romantic option is¬†a carpenter named Carpenter who speaks in monosyllabic monotone. He is seemingly alive for the sole purpose of asking Julie¬†(for years and years mind you) if¬†she¬†is free and interested (‚ÄúNo, Carpenter‚ÄĚ). This is also a film¬†that resolves with this statement; ‚ÄúThe memory of you makes them much happier than you ever could‚ÄĚ. Talk about brutal. But Liliom is about the messy complexities of individual truths. The unchangable and unswayable.

The technical achievement and formal ambition of Liliom are two of its defining characteristics. This was the first film to use rear projection, and its use of miniatures is woozily magical. Borzage uses space so well, in part by utilizing blocking and emphasizing body language. The camera has the mobility of a sophisticated silent. Take the feverish moment where Julie and Marie (Mildred Van Dorn) first enter the carnival. The camera actually deserts them, so eager it is to explore the place itself.

Full review here

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8. Laughter (US/Paramount/d’Arrast) (FTV)
Very poor quality version available on youtube

Halfway through Laughter, pals¬†Paul (Fredric March) and Peggy (Nancy Carroll) (the newly married ‘one-that-got-away’) are out and about on¬†a daytime drive (in¬†this scene, Paul impulsively kisses the back of Peggy’s neck while driving and it’s one of the sexiest gestures ever committed to film).¬†Their car suddenly¬†breaks down and, of course, an impromptu¬†rainstorm follows. They seek shelter by¬†breaking and entering,¬†where they¬†promptly¬†begin to roleplay marriage as the ‘Smiths’ (Why? Because why not?). They trade traditional gender roles, with ‘Mr. Smith’ dutifully offering¬†‘Mrs. Smith’ her slippers and pipe, adding that he¬†baked a strawberry pie for dinner.¬†The¬†pair¬†is oh-so-pleased with their flirtation-as-evasion¬†repartee, but somehow it’s not cloying. Instead, it’s goddamn charming. Eventually, the sequence takes a turn for the weird as Peggy¬†puts on a¬†black¬†bearskin rug from the living room floor (Why? Because why not?), crawling and growling around in circles. Paul, highly amused, quickly joins in by putting on the other¬†bearskin rug (this one white) across the room. Our romantic leads have gone¬†from one kind of pretend to another. This is all part of what is perhaps¬†Laughter‘s¬†most memorable sequence, and it’s indicative of how the film operates as a whole.

Laughter is made up of characters vibing off each other, transforming and controlling (or failing to control) the interior spaces around them. The sequence described above illustrates this. Paul and Peggy take over a foreign space and use it for their make-believes, becoming spouses and wild animals. They drape their wet clothes all over the furniture, and drink coffee in the kitchen while they lounge in their bearskins.

Long-shot dependence tends to indicate stagnancy by 1930 film standards, but in Laughter they are critical, used to establish the importance of spaces in relation to character. Towering Art Deco rooms threaten to isolate characters with lonely wonder until Paul comes in and livens up the joint. Sterile business offices echo with the dependable sound of typewriters. A spacious apartment above a club is overrun with clutter, accompanied by the far-off boozy drawl of horn instruments.

There is an uncommonly natural touch to everything in Laughter. Plot shows its face when summoned, but the characters refuse to be tethered to it. They lead the way, sometimes with spunk, sometimes with somber resignation.

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7. Prix de Beauté (France/Sofar-Film/Genina) (RW)
I simply cannot deny Louise. Prix de Beaut√©¬†is the last European hurrah for my all-time favorite screen presence. After this she’d¬†return to Hollywood, land of¬†bit parts and bankruptcy. She led a long life post-Prix de Beaut√©, but this is the film that siphons off¬†her celluloid legend. If Louise fills the frame, if the film knows how to showcase her¬†effortless and unaffected¬†mythic energy, down-to-earth and beyond us all with that¬†irrepressible¬†glow, does the film itself matter?

I happen to enjoy the by-turns awkward and arresting Prix de Beaut√©¬†very much. One of the first sound films made in France (it also has a 1929 silent version), it resembles a rough cut¬†in that, though there’s vision in its organic images, nothing, except Brooks, is completely locked into place. It’s a talkie with an entirely silent sensibility, made possible by the fact that the sound, including dialogue, took place during post-production. This frees up the camera for rambunctious mobility at every turn, and it’s supported by the zeal that drives Lucienne toward her dreams. She wants to participate in a beauty contest, but her boyfriend won’t allow it. With a choice of being owned by her¬†beau¬†or worshiped by the public, she deserves more than both but achieves neither. The famous final sequence, dizzying in its flickering destruction, strikes Lucienne down just as her (screen) life begins. As sound ushers in, Louise Brooks is ushered out, her physical body left behind for something incorporeal, an eerily fitting finale¬†to her immortal¬†image.

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6. Ladies of Leisure (US/Columbia/Capra) (FTV)
Available on youtube

Ladies of Leisure features Barbara Stanwyck in her star-making role, the first of several collaborations with Frank Capra. It also happens to be some of her best work and in one of her best films. I‚Äôm not used to seeing her this vulnerable, yet this is how the country at large became acquainted with her. Barbara Stanwyck is down-to-earth glamour. Relatable glamour. Even at this very early stage it‚Äôs impossible to miss that she is in stark contrast with other actors from her time. This is a woman performing in the ‚Äėnow‚Äô. Her body language isn‚Äôt practiced. She breaks through the conventional with seeming spontaneity. She‚Äôs the perfect person for Frank Capra to direct, because in Ladies of Leisure he not only gives her plenty of backlit close-ups defying audiences not to fall in love with her, but devotes an uncommon (for 1930) length of time lingering on confidential and intimate moments that map out Kay‚Äôs internal longing.

Despite being based on a play, Frank Capra already shows an adept hand at visual storytelling in addition to fluid pacing. Bypassing sluggishness, even as the film nosedives into the saccharine, there is a clarity and distinct visual perspective supporting Kay’s story.

Take the erotically charged rainy night sleepover that comes mid-film. It’s erotically charged in the silences, in what isn’t happening, in what Kay wants to happen, in what could happen. The pace of this sequence is different than the rest. The situation slowly develops, as Kay gradually allows herself to believe in the possible. It builds to a simple act of kindness that produces the film’s most telling and heartfelt moment. A lone doorknob turns. Footsteps reveal that Jerry the painter (Ralph Graves) has left his room in the middle of the night. He slowly approaches Kay’s bed. In another film the scene would be eerie, bad intentions assumed. Kay is sleeping. Jerry lays a blanket over her and heads back to bed. Close-up on Kay. She wasn’t asleep at all. The camera lingers on her face and closes in further, tears glistening. She pulls the blanket to her mouth. Everything we need to know about Kay occurs in this moment. This simple act of kindness means the world to her, and it has left her shaking and crying with joy.

Critically, Capra foregrounds Kay’s (Stanwyck) love as a character-driven arc rooted in class, lifelong struggle, and hope. You don’t have to buy into Kay and Jerry (and you won’t) to buy into the film. Forget the lame egg basket in whom Kay places said hopes and dreams. Just focus on witnessing a downtrodden woman who, for the first time in her life, experiences what happiness is, what it can mean, and its potential in her own life. The fortuitous union of Barbara Stanwyck’s startling modernism (I still can’t imagine how jarring her vivid physicality must have played for 1930 audiences) and Frank Capra’s intuitive prioritization of the inner life.

citygirl

5. City Girl (US/Fox/Murnau) (FTV)
Available on youtube 

I’m going to let a couple of paragraphs from Daniel Kasman’s MUBI piece speak for my love of City Girl. Suffice it to say that it is every bit as great as Sunrise, and may just be my personal preference:

“Murnau is realism + poetry, and slimming down his materials to such a leanness as inCity Girl lets his hand water, flower, and blossom every element at his disposal.¬† You have never seen a city diner in American film, felt its heat, its hubbub, its routine, its turnover, its charm, its tedium and its spunk until you have seen City Girl and you see how Farrel casually meets and unconsciously courts Duncan at the diner counter.¬† You have never seen the loneliness of life in the city until you see the light of a passing elevated train sputter across Duncan‚Äôs face and her tiny potted plant in her cramped apartment.¬†The enchantment of a farm has never been put on film‚ÄĒand perhaps has never been found again‚ÄĒuntil Ernest Palmer‚Äôs camera follows with expressionist joy the gleeful run of the young married couple across the family‚Äôs wheatfield upon their arrival.”

king of jazz 84. King of Jazz (US/Universal/Anderson) (FTV)
Since seeing King of Jazz four months ago, it has been restored and has screened at MOMA for their series Universal Pictures: Restorations and Rediscoveries: 1928-1937. There even a book coming out!

King of Jazz was the first of the revue craze of 1929-mid 1930 to enter the planning stage, and the last of the major efforts to be released. It went hugely over-budget (which is abundantly clear while watching), and was released at the wrong time. By the time it finally hit theaters, audiences were thoroughly ‚Äėrevued‚Äô out. I hardly have anything to compare it to, but it is said that King of Jazz stands out from others of its kind¬†in every way. Paul Whiteman and his orchestra are the center from which a¬†series of musical numbers and skits revolve. His nickname, the title of the film, seems ridiculous because it is, but also keep in mind¬†that jazz in this time period has a much broader implication. Think of how ‚Äėpop‚Äô is applied today.

Universal threw everything, and I mean everything, into this project. Surely one of the weirdest movies to come out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, it’s also the most elaborate and audacious spectacle film I’ve seen from the early 30’s. It features the first Technicolor cartoon, a shrunken orchestra marching out of a box, a giant larger-than-life scrapbook, ghost brides, the world’s longest bridal veil, extravagant mobile sets, superimposed images and related special effects, and, in what must be the scariest image in 1930’s cinema, Paul Whiteman as a winking moon in the sky. And the whole thing’s in Two-Strip Technicolor to boot.

The conceptual center of the impressive ‚ÄúMelting Pot‚ÄĚ finale is what you might guess; promoting diversity while completely whitewashing a convoluted ‚Äėhistory of jazz‚Äô. The¬†pointed absence of African Americans is unsurprisingly everywhere. The one time African culture makes any kind of appearance is the prologue bit to the ‚ÄúRhapsody in Blue‚ÄĚ number, at once breathtaking and troubling. Dressed in Zulu chief garb, dancer Jacques Cartier stands on an oversized drum for a stage. His projected¬†silhouette is made giant on the wall behind him. He begins to dance with direct ferocity. The eroticism of it is hypnotic, but the sexual nature of the thing reeks of the blanket exoticism so often depicted through ‚ÄėOtherness‚Äô.

King of Jazz works because the Universal team and director John Murray Anderson (Paul Fejos also contributed at some point before leaving) understand that there are different kinds of spectacle. There‚Äôs¬†the special effects spectacle, which comes in all forms throughout here. There is also the music-centric spectacle. An¬†early scene features copious close-ups of ‚ÄĒ not even musicians playing their instruments but something even more up close and personal;¬†instruments being played. Another scene takes a different approach by¬†capturing the interplay between a band and its components. Without cutting, the camera keeps up with the music by quickly panning over to each soloist. Finally, there is the grand scale production spectacle, and boy does¬†it deliver on that front.

Though his rotund self has a welcoming energy, Paul Whiteman seems quite the random figure to construct a film around. But it falls in line with the early sound period¬†trend of¬†bringing in band leaders¬†as well as¬†talent from vaudeville and theater¬†in order to give them film vehicles. Even when it‚Äôs boring, it‚Äôs not, if that makes sense (I realize it doesn‚Äôt. Maybe one day I can describe this sedate sensation). It moves along at such a clip, and its sheer audaciousness coupled with genuine spark makes this a ‚Äúseen to be believed‚ÄĚ kind of film. It‚Äôs also beautifully, and I mean beautifully, photographed (Ray Rennahan, one of the film‚Äôs three cinematographers, was an innovator in the development of three-strip Technicolor).

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3. Dance of Her Hands (short) (US/Nutshell Pictures/Bel Geddes) (FTV)
Available on youtube

Dance of Her Hands¬†features dancer/choreographer/actress Tilly Losch at the height of her lithe¬†powers. This short stages¬†“The Hand Dance”, a collaborative conception between Losch and¬†Hedy Pfundmayr. At the start, Tilly’s head is¬†behind netting while the titular¬†hands take center frame.¬†Her hands lilt and quiver, they scurry and contort. But most of all there’s a palpable yearning to¬†her movements. We soon meet the rest of her, a witchy puppetmaster that¬†casts spells with¬†her digits. Her¬†performance is further abstracted by the pitch black negative space, a presentation that emphasizes the sensual and dislodges Losch from any kind of concrete reality. The hands lead and her body follows. Self-expression manifests as a delicate ache that can only be resolved through movement.

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2. Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (Germany/FilmStudio Berlin/Siodmak, Siodmak, Ulmer, Zinneman) (RW)
Available on youtube 

Menschen am Sonntag¬†looks far ahead to the¬†French New Wave and Italian neorealism. It also looks ahead to the¬†substantial careers of Billy Wilder, Edgar G. Ulmer, Robert Siodmak, Curt Siodmak, and Fred Zinneman. It incorporates a humanistic¬†and carefree take on the city symphony film while keeping with the signatures of New Objectivity. Menschen am Sonntag is notable for near-countless¬†reasons.¬†These distinctions matter, enormously¬†so, but while¬†watching it,¬†you’re too busy basking in the impermanence of its direct sunlight to intellectualize its images.

There’s a special twinkle to films¬†that capture an¬†immaculate specificity of time and place. In Menschen am Sonntag, 1930 Berlin¬†radiates¬†loud and clear, from roaming streetcars and chaotic intersections to now-immortalized store window displays and sparse graffiti. Individual Berliners get snapshots taken,¬†a moment from their random Sunday saved for posterity as they self-consciously stare¬†into the camera. Berlin¬†hustles and bustles¬†with an¬†energy that carries over into the scenic¬†Nikolassee, suggesting that weekend reprieves must be seized upon with a¬†joie de vivre that suggests¬†not a recreational moment should be¬†wasted. The forcefulness of the sunlight matches the youthful characters scene for scene.

There’s a shrewd perceptiveness to¬†how¬†Menschen am Sonntag hones in on the¬†unspoken that goes on between young men and women. The participants may or may not be aware, but a game made of almost imperceptible moments is always in motion. Anything seems possible. These connections are both monumental and fleeting, a coexistence only possible in youth. Glances are had, love is made, betrayal is imminent. All in the same day, all under the surface. Both extraordinary and just another Sunday.

Every once in a while we check back in with Berlin. Annie sleeps all day, surrounded by pictures of movie stars. People sit on benches and look out their windows. Life being lived, or not, all at the same time.¬†Films didn’t convey this in 1930. They don’t even convey it now, though a handful¬†sure as hell try. Recent¬†attempts¬†to examine the¬†scope of everyday life¬†can be found in¬†the ham-fistedness of the hyperlink film. When these work¬†it’s through the scope. The ‘everyday’ part is substituted¬†with melodrama or a deliberate larger-than-life feel. That doesn’t take away from those films;¬†they just have a different prerogative. Conversely, plenty of films capture the everyday of transitory youth but aren’t aiming for that¬†scope. This rare combination demands flexibility in the nonexistence of story, and by¬†floating¬†back and forth from our¬†frolicking quartet¬†in order to incorporate the character of Berlin,¬†Menschen am Sonntag creates magic in reality.

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1. Madam Satan (US/MGM/DeMille) (RW)
As often happens,¬†I’m at a loss when the time comes to describe¬†my love for #1. The following write-up will¬†probably operate as¬†groundwork for something I wish to eventually expand on.

Cecil B. DeMille also had a film on¬†Top Ten By Year: 1925, the outrageously fun time-travel romance The Road to Yesterday. When¬†DeMille isn’t overtaken by his preachy paradoxes, when¬†he finds his brand of balance within the at-times absurd imbalance¬†of his films,¬†you get something that doesn’t exist anywhere else.¬†In 1928, DeMille signed a three-picture deal with MGM. Madam Satan was the second of these films, with Dynamite and The Squaw Man coming before and after respectively. Unsurprisingly, Madam Satan was a major flop, with MGM posting a 390,000 loss. Even then, audiences had no idea what to make of this thing. What was it? What is it? It’s everything, but is it anything?

Madam Satan tends to be regarded as¬†a cuckoo collectible. Oddity, trainwreck, loony, bonkers, bizarre; you get the gist¬†of attributed adjectives. And, yeah, it’s all of those things. My love for this film often defies logic. Hell, outside of “Low Down” the songs¬†aren’t¬†even good (!), and they certainly aren’t helped by¬†the poor sound quality of the era which renders sopranos incomprehensibly¬†shrill. At¬†times it seems like the film is about to¬†indulge¬†itself into oblivion, so caught up it is in¬†exhausting¬†every aesthetic or tonal¬†thread.

(Sidenote: even fans of Madam Satan¬†tend to universally¬†disregard the supposedly¬†“lethal first hour”, a bedroom farce involving¬†the central four characters. I will never understand this (Barrios)! It’s a¬†zany concoction of shade throwing, false niceties, and lots of physical scrambling. It’s actually my favorite section of the film. It also¬†stands as a perfect example of DeMille’s whim for hitting the reset button halfway through one of his pictures.)

Madam Satan¬†could only exist in 1930;¬† ‚Äúin its very derangement, it embodies a distinctive trait of original musicals: they tended to treat the medium as a collage of found objects, jamming the most ordinary conventions alongside some truly lunatic notions‚ÄĚ (Barrios, 252). This¬†first wave of¬†movie musicals would soon be extinct. The¬†second wave, which came a couple of years later, emerged with already clear-cut delineations between the real (backstage romance) and the unreal (the insular world of a Berkeley number).

A boudoir sex comedy, a disaster film, a remarriage romance, a momentary tribute to electricity, an Art Deco orgy, a misshapen musical. Madam Satan is all of these (like I said, it’s everything, but is it anything? I say yes).¬†Some of these designations¬†will¬†suddenly disappear, the aforementioned boudoir sex comedy for example, but DeMille goes all-in on each one for¬†the duration of its stay.¬†Madam Satan¬†is a case against cohesion. If DeMille wants the zeppelin to crash, doggone it, that zeppelin is going to crash. If he wants to spend twenty minutes¬†on the grand entrances of¬†Adrian-draped costume-ball attendees with names like “Fish Girl” and “Spider Girl”, he’ll do it. The story will catch up when, or if, there’s a moment to breathe. .

The Art Deco sets and costumes, by Cedric Gibbons and Adrian respectively, are used to unite fantasy¬†and glamour. The iconic look created for Kay Johnson’s alter-ego is a sequined nude-illusion for the gods. As archaic as a lot of Madam Satan‘s sexual politics are, this is the image people remember, this presentation¬†of defiant transformation and reclamation. That entrance, with its unintelligible trilling and costume-reveal-as-magic-act, drips with a hard-earned heroic self-regard.¬†It’s easy to forget that Angela has turned herself into a sex goddess superhero to seduce¬†her philandering and entirely unworthy husband back into the fold. But DeMille, in a radical act for the time, strove to make marriage sexy by “daring to suggest that the married woman was as desirable and exciting as the pubescent party girl” (Haskell, 76). So Madam Satan can also add “domestic fantasy” to its resume.

Madam Satan also stars¬†Lillian Roth, one of my silver screen obsessions. A gifted¬†comedienne with a crinkly nose, dimples for days, and a practiced yet untouched vivacity, her Trixie is a pure¬†delight.¬†Weaponed with a¬†“fleshy impertinence”, she¬†brings a humanity to the “other girl”, but not by hiding her vindictiveness (Barrios). Her unapologetic immaturity becomes attributable to age. She’s as spunky as Angela is supposedly dowdy; in fact, it’s hard not to root for her. The rest of the cast is legitimately great. Kay Johnson conveys her¬†piety with¬†sophistication. Reginald Denny is, against all odds, lovable as a womanizing cad. And Roland Young is an idealized Charles Ruggles; a stammering spacey drunk¬†that doesn’t over-chew¬†the scenery or outstay his welcome, and lands genuine laughs to boot.

Madam Satan is one of the first ‘sincere trash’ movies. I wrote about this a little, and hope to expand on it, in regards to my undying love of Valley of the Dolls. There’s an awful misconception that everything has to work in a movie you love, and if it doesn’t, your love derives from the compartmentalization of what works from what doesn’t. That, if you profess your love of something, you have to answer for all the reasons¬†it may or may not fall short (whether that comes from others, yourself, or both). Statements like “the plot’s ridiculous and the ending is shite, but I don’t care, I love it!” or people asking “well how do you account for this?” in response to hearing that you love something.

Sure, OK, sometimes this is how it works. But just as often, it doesn’t. “I don’t care, I love it”? But I do care! I care about all of it!¬†Madam Satan‘s very identity is dependent on its messiness, good or¬†bad, strong or weak, entertaining¬†or¬†dull. Its very existence excites me, lights me up inside. Its camp qualities and, to quote the great Latrice Royale, its romper-room fuckery, is singular, and I crave films that are singular. But make no mistake. Singular alone doesn’t make for the¬†more interesting products of greatness. Just Imagine, also from this year, is singular, and it also sucks.¬†But this, this¬†is an excessive extravaganza of the best kind;¬†an unironically pleasurable¬†proto-spectacle rendering of Kate Bush’s “Babooshka”. Madam Satan is one of the key ways in which¬†the oft-spoken-of magic-of-the-movies registers for¬†me.

This only scratches the surface of why Madam Satan has become one of my favorite films. These scattered thoughts are meant to work through the basics, so I left the details of its lunacy¬†out, for now. I’ll leave the last words to Richard Barrios, who says that “in one clean sweep, it seems to embody the end of the Jazz Age, the collapse of American prosperity, the death throes of early musicals, and, most literally, the flop of this last baroque grasp of twenties frivolity.‚ÄĚ(252).¬†Mic drop.

What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1930: A Love Letter


My What I’ll Remember posts are an ongoing tradition in the Top Ten By Year Project. A logbook of sorts, they pay tribute to all the year-specific viewing I’ve done over the past however many months. It also stresses that, while the Top Ten list is the crux of this whole project, it’s really a means to an end. It goes without saying, but the process and journey of watching and re-watching these films is most important. I’ve recently looked back on previous What I’ll Remember posts and they evoke the feeling of a photo album, flipping through filmic memories of all shapes and sizes. Top Ten By Year: 1930 will be up by the end of the month.

Posts in the What I’ll Remember tag: 1925, 1943, 1958, 1965, 1978, 1992, 2012, 2013, 2014

Top Ten By Year: 1930 Coverage
Top Ten By Year: 1930 ‚Äď Poll Results¬†
Movie Poster Highlights: 1930 
100 Images from the Films of 1930 
Favorite Fashion in 1930 Film

1930 aka The Year Garbo Spoke and The Year Lon Chaney Died

The oh-so-brief but oh-so-magical forerunners of the widescreen format, the too ambitious for its time 70mm Fox Grandeur film (The Big Trail, Song o’ My Heart)¬†and¬†MAGNAFILM (The Bat Whispers)

As much as anything else, for me 1930 is The Year of Lillian Roth. She is one of my favorite screen presences and esoteric pop culture figures of all time, a gifted comedienne with a crinkly nose and a practiced yet untouched vivacity. Her initial film career only lasted from 1929-1930, and 1933. She only appeared in 13 feature length films across her lifetime. Five of those were in 1930 when she was 20 years old.  They were The Vagabond King, Honey, Paramount on Parade, Madam Satan, Animal Crackers, and Sea Legs.

The bedroom farce that is Madam Satan, the disaster film that is Madam Satan, the awkward musical that is Madam Satan, the outrageous and doomed masquerade party on a zeppelin that is Madam Satan, the rekindled love story that is Madam Satan. In short; Madam Satan

LetUsBeGay11May I Present The Dull As Fuck Leading Man Brigade of 1930: 
Rod la Rocque (Let Us Be Gay), Douglass Montgomery (Paid), Chester Morris (The Divorcee), Clive Brook (Anybody’s Woman), Charles Starrett (Fast and Loose), Gavin Gordon (Romance), Jack Buchanan (Monte Carlo), Ralph Graves (Ladies of Leisure), John Garrick (Just Imagine), Ben Lyon (Hell’s Angels)

Spotting Ann Dvorak, another all-time favorite of mine, as a chorus girl in Free and Easy

Introducing!
(actors in their feature film debut in something more substantial than extra/bit part):
Spencer Tracy (Up the River), James Cagney (Sinners Holiday, The Doorway to Hell), Miriam Hopkins (Fast and Loose), Jean Harlow (Hell’s Angels), Laurence Olivier (The Temporary Widow), Irene Dunne (Leathernecking), Bing Crosby (King of Jazz), Herbert Marshall (Murder!), Una O’Connor (Murder!), Rose Hobart (Liliom), Una Merkel (The Bat Whispers, Abraham Lincoln, etc.)

the big trail 7The American West in The Big Trail 

MGM starlets playing characters named Jerry/Gerry Рcan we please bring back this trend? (Norma Shearer in The Divorcee, Joan Crawford in Our Blushing Brides)

The sing-song jury meeting scene in Murder!

Failed Bids for Sustained or Successful Hollywood Fame
(mostly musical-based careers, not exhaustive):
Marilyn Miller, Lawrence Tibbett, Vivienne Segal, John McCormack, Fanny Brice, Dennis King, Winnie Lightner, Paul Gregory, Zelma O’Neal, Helen Kane, Betty Boyd, Bernice Clare, Sharon Lynn, Jeanette Loff, Alice White, James Hall, The Sisters G, Ona Munson (later character actress), Claudia Dell, Charlotte Greenwood, Norma Terris, Ethelind Terry

The sequence in Follow Thru when Jack Haley and Eugene Pallette sneak into the girls locker room to steal a ring. They come up with hand signals. They pretend to be plumbers. The girls are in various stages of undress. It all builds to a moment of perfect anarchy

The Rise Of:
Marlene Dietrich, Robert Montgomery, Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, William Powell, Barbara Stanwyck, John Wayne, Kay Francis, Helen Twelvetrees, Ann Harding, Jean Harlow

Two-Strip Technicolor! (Follow Thru, King of Jazz, portion of Hell’s Angels)

The sheer existence of King of Jazz, the most elaborate and audaciously overproduced spectacle film I’ve ever seen from the Golden Age of Hollywood

HellsAngels11

hell's angels
The privilege of seeing Jean Harlow in color and with natural eyebrows (Hell’s Angels). Also realizing that tomboy Jean Harlow is the most attractive Jean Harlow

The last year before the modern movie genre begins to get in formation, allowing for a final round of bizarre and unrepeatable genre hybrids (Madam Satan, Liliom, The Bat Whispers, King of Jazz, Just Imagine)

Knowingly playing with artificiality (Murder!, Liliom, The Blue Angel)

The unintentional meta symbolism of Louise Brooks’s onscreen death in¬†Prix de Beaut√©

the big trail 3The eye candy that is John Wayne in The Big Trail 

Movies Interacting with Other Movies:
Joan Crawford in MGM’s¬†Paid going to see MGM’s¬†Let Us Be Gay in the theater, Fast and Loose playing Follow Thru’s “Peach of a Pear” in the background during a scene, King of Jazz giving a shout-out to Universal’s upcoming All Quiet on the Western Front

‚ôę‚ôę”Look out, look out the dumb police are on your trail”‚ôę‚ôę (Liliom)

‚ôę‚ôę We’re going somewhere
We’re going nowhere
We’re going everyyyyywhere¬†‚ôę‚ôę
(Madam Satan)

CaY_X48WEAALkhh
Meta Moments:
(Murder!, Die drei von der Tankstelle, The Bat Whispers, Free and Easy)

Alfred Hitchcock using Murder! as a platform to blatantly experiment with sound from all conceivable angles

Jean Grémillon using La petite Lise as a platform to inconspicuously experiment with integrating sound as tapestry

Loaded glaring and ample cowardice in The Big House 

Howard Hawks using sound in The Dawn Patrol as a platform for more natural dialogue and an immersion into the communal and isolated male experience of wartime

Realizing I’d much rather see an all-male story¬†over a film that clearly wants to be¬†an all-male¬†story but throws a woman in the mix that it has zero time or respect for
(The Dawn Patrol and All Quiet on the Western Front vs. Hell’s Angels and The Big House)¬†

scary
Scary Images of 1930 Cinema:
Chester Morris’s shadowy confrontational glare (The Bat Whispers), Paul Whiteman as a winking moon (King of Jazz), Jack Haley’s spastic eyebrows (Follow Thru), the creepy man-baby (King of Jazz), Emil Jannings: The Humiliated Clown (The Blue Angel), Buster Keaton: The Humiliated Clown (Free and Easy)

Electric fans as plot point! (Anybody’s Woman)

My first wholly depressing experience with Buster Keaton’s trademark bassoon baboon talkie moron in Free and Easy. The humiliations endured by Keaton here are a¬†special level of cruel, not to mention that he’s forced to act in an MGM film within an MGM film

Learning to appreciate Chester Morris when his characters operate outside the confines of the typical romantic lead (The Bat Whispers, The Big House as opposed to The Divorcee)

People on Sunday 2
The four central¬†day-trippers¬†in People on Sunday are great and all but I’m all about Annie (Annie Schreyer), the beautiful lazy loafer who sleeps¬†all weekend

The Dawn Patrol > All Quiet on the Western Front > Hell’s Angels¬†

Finding eroticism and profundity in rain and simple gestures (Ladies of Leisure)

American sound films that feel refreshingly free from the pressures of plot
(Laughter, The Dawn Patrol, King of Jazz, Animal Crackers)

Ahh Golden Dawn, a movie with bottomless racism and a song (“A Tiger”) that features a woman singing about explicitly wanting a man to straight-up beat her

Getting to watch one of my favorite men, Robert Montgomery, in his early career mode of sexy cad (Our Blushing Brides, The Divorcee, Free and Easy)

That damn car horn in Die drei von der Tankstelle 

One of my favorite niche genres in film: Department Store Gals (Our Blushing Brides, Au bonheur des dames)

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That kiss in Morocco

The unforgettable schizophrenic feeling of Borderline 

Uncle hits a breaking point in one of the most unsettling and feverish sequences in silent cinema (Au bonheur des dames)

The Fall Of:
(once major stars declining in popularity or quality of work, either momentarily or permanently)
Clara Bow, John Gilbert, Al Jolson, Corrine Griffith, Norma Talmadge, Charles Farrell, Mary Pickford, Dolores Costello, Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks

the dawn patrol 8Douglas Fairbanks Jr’s adorably playful drunken interaction with the German officer who shot him down in The Dawn Patrol¬†

The way Kent (Robert Montgomery) is used to subvert audience expectations in The Big House

The radical modernity and spontaneity of Barbara Stanwyck’s performance in Ladies of Leisure

herbertmarshall
Herbert Marshall looking like a straight-laced Jack Lemmon in Murder!

Everywhere, Everywhere, Miniatures Everywhere:
(including but not limited to Ladies of Leisure, Liliom, Madam Satan, Murder!, The Bat Whispers, Under the Roofs of Paris, Outward Bound)

Haunting¬†child deaths¬†(L’age d’Or, The Doorway to Hell, Blood of a Poet)

Doorway to Hell 6My favorite moment in The Doorway to Hell: Doris (Dorothy Mathews) is talking on the phone to Mileaway (James Cagney) about how lame Louie (Lew Ayres) has become now that he’s removed himself from gangster life. Then Louie comes in wearing the above outfit and says “I’m a fine golfer”

The rigorous¬†tailoring of¬†Marlene Dietrich’s image is born in the short time between filming¬†The Blue Angel and Morocco (though American audiences saw Morocco first)

Marjorie Rambeau playing a kindly pitiful drunk (Her Man) and a wretched pitiful drunk (Min and Bill)

Hells_Angels107
Watching the incredible aerial footage of Hell’s Angels knowing that several pilots died because of¬†Howard Hughes’s unstoppable ambition

The tiresome trend of introducing unrelated low comedy subplots to lighten things up (Min and Bill, The Big Trail, Her Man, Golden Dawn)

The formal rule-breaking of the prison sequence in La Petite Lise

Running through the wheat fields in City Girl

Tale of the Fox (2)
The staggering stop-motion animation of Le Roman de Renard (The Tale of the Fox). Figures, flow, range of expression. Like watching Fantastic Mr. Fox eighty years before the fact

The Claire Denis-esque way that Tilly Losch’s dance and body¬†movements are shot in the short Dance of the Hands¬†

Great Character Names:
Tripod McMasters (Wallace Beery; Way for a Sailor) Mrs. Bouccy Bouccicault (Marie Dressler; Let Us Be Gay), Amy Jolly (Marlene Dietrich; Morocco), Mileaway (James Cagney; The Doorway to Hell) Pansy Gray (Ruth Chatterton; Anybody’s Woman), Arabella Rittenhouse (Lillian Roth; Animal Crackers), Dulcinea Parker (Marion Davies; Not So Dumb) Countess Olga Balakireff (Kay Francis; A Notorious Affair), Lem Tustine (Charles Farrell; City Girl)

Being hypnotized by the close-up movement of gears in the avant-garde short Mechanical Principles 

fane
Esme Percy‚Äôs ‚Äėhalf-caste‚Äô homosexual drag performer killer in Murder!

The messy but unshakable loyal friendship between Morgan and Butch (Chester Morris and Wallace Beery) in The Big House

Wanting to live in the proto-French New Wave romantic bloom of People on Sunday and its immaculate footage of 1930 Berlin

three good friends 3

The angle of this shot, which takes place during a song,¬†should give you a sense of how sophisticated and ahead of its time Die drei von der Tankstelle is within the context of ‘1930 musical’

Mops/Mopsi; Lilian Harvey’s nickname for her father in Die drei von der Tankstelle

Jean Cocteau’s trademark surrealist special effects, showing us a portal to another world and a statue that clings to¬†its¬†maker in Blood of a Poet¬†

Being reminded that The Blue Angel disturbs me more than most films

norma9Norma Shearer going full dowdy (Let Us Be Gay)

The bleak ending of¬†Street of Chance, with an unseen level of implied violence that makes way for the much more famous ending of¬†1931’s The Public Enemy¬†

Films with a leftover from silents; intertitles
(including¬†Anybody’s Woman, The Big Trail, Liliom, Follow Thru, A Notorious Affair, Not So Dumb)

A Notorious Affair 2Kay Francis giving interior life to her¬†intoxicating Countess vamp in one of the worst films I’ve ever seen (A Notorious Affair). Her work, and the above image, deserve¬†so much better

Sound films that don’t capitalize on dialogue, instead using sound¬†as an extension of silent film (Prix de beaute, L’age d’Or, La petite Lise, The Blue Angel, Blood of a Poet. Basically; the non-American films)

The confirmation that I don’t much care for the¬†two most canonized¬†films of 1930, L’age d’Or and The Blue Angel

nutshellThe Nutshell Pictures Corporation logo, which features an animated dog pissing into a plant (Dance of Her Hands)

Busby Berkeley choreography appears on film for the first time ever in Whoopee!

Discovering the sassy greatness¬†that is¬†Marie Prevost. Once a leading lady, by 1930 (because of weight gain and alcohol abuse) she was relegated to the goofy “best friend” roles which she used to steal every film she appeared in (Paid, Ladies of Leisure, War Nurse)¬†

Only in an MGM film would a character have an art deco loft hidden in a tree (Our Blushing Brides)

Josef von Sternberg’s trademark absolute¬†submission to love and desire in The Blue Angel and Morocco. The former filled with despair, the latter with triumph and a dash of hope.

Speaking of, the incredible final scene and shot of Morocco. The radical act of linking up with a group of women following their men into the desert and the unknown

Rooting with all my heart for Lem and Kate (Charles Farrell and Mary Duncan) in City Girl 

Doorway to Hell 51930’s James Cagney is as sexy as sexy gets in case you needed to be reminded (The Doorway to Hell)

Frances Marion dominating the early world of talkie screenwriting with credits for Min and Bill, Anna Christie (adapted by), The Rogue Song, Let Us Be Gay (continuity and dialogue), Good News (scenario), and for being the first woman to win a non-acting Oscar for her work on The Big House.

The use of interior space in Laughter

monte carlo 10Jeanette MacDonald going bonkers and rustling up her precious hair in Monte Carlo

Favorite Characters: Kate (Mary Duncan; City Girl), Douglas Scott (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.; The Dawn Patrol), Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich; The Blue Angel), Annie (Annie Schreyer; People on Sunday), Paul Lockridge (Fredric March; Laughter), Countess Olga Balakireff (Kay Francis; A Notorious Affair), Trixie (Lillian Roth; Madam Satan), Jimmy Wade (Roland Young; Madam Satan), Dot Lamar (Marie Prevost; Ladies of Leisure)

Least Favorite Characters: Jack Martin (Jack Haley; Follow Thru), Professor Emmanuel Rath (Emil Jannings; The Blue Angel), Andre (Georges Charlia; Prix de beaute), Mr. Tustine (David Torrence; City Girl), Paul Gherardi (Basil Rathbone; A Notorious Affair), everyone in Golden Dawn, Count Rudolph Falliere (Jack Buchanan; Monte Carlo)

Laughter 11Fredric March suddenly kissing Nancy Carroll behind the neck while driving in Laughter, one of the sexiest gestures ever committed to film

The sketchy but catchy “Trimmin’ the Women” song in Monte Carlo¬†

Proto-screwball comedies (Not So Dumb, Fast and Loose)

The mock-up symbolic hallucinatory carnival in Liliom

The most unintentionally hilarious bit from any 1930 film (Golden Dawn)

The forgotten and incomprehensible mega-fame of El Brendel (Just Imagine, The Big Trail, Her Golden Calf, New Movietone Follies of 1930).

Orgasm from hair treatment in Monte Carlo  

Based on a Play (Paid, Romance, Fast and Loose, The Bat Whispers, Liliom, Ladies of Leisure, Follow Thru, Murder!, A Notorious Affair, Animal Crackers, Her Man (well, kind of), Not So Dumb, Let Us Be Gay, Outward Bound)

paid 4The revelation that Joan Crawford is, at least in Paid, a dead ringer for Sigourney Weaver

The onscreen persona of Wallace Beery amounts to a real-life Baloo the Bear (The Big House, Way for a Sailor, Min and Bill). He manages the impossible by remaining lovable even when talking about his murder rap or domestic abuse. A rare gift that.

¬†The distinct hilarity Miriam Hopkins¬†wrings out of “I’m sorry”¬†is¬†the epitome of what makes her so great (Fast and Loose)

‚ôę‚ôę She wanted to take it further
So she arranged a place to go
To see if he
Would fall for her incognito ¬†‚ôę‚ôę
(Madam Satan & “Babooshka” by Kate Bush)

The wholesome sex comedy is born with Follow Thru 

Marie Dressler beating the piss out of Wallace Beery and tearing apart his room in Min and Bill 

Laughter 16Fredric March casually drinking coffee in a polar bearskin rug in Laughter 

The wordless sequence in which Jerry (Norma Shearer) allows herself to be illicitly seduced by playboy Don (Robert Montgomery) in The Divorcee

The names of the party guests in Madam Satan (Miss Conning Tower! Mr. and Mrs. Hot & Tot! Mr. & Mrs. High Hat! Miss Victory! Miss Movie Fan! Fish Girl!)

The “I Want to Be Bad” number in Follow Thru

QUOTES:

“I’ve balanced our accounts”
(Norma Shearer in The Divorcee, talking to her husband about her promiscuity)

“I know now how a man feels about these things”
(Norma Shearer in Let Us Be Gay, talking to her husband about her promiscuity)

‚ÄúIt‚Äôs that coin that makes them so sassy Cassidy‚ÄĚ
(Paid)

“I’m an orchid and he wants to change me into a lily” (Barbara Stanwyck in Ladies of Leisure)

“I never knew you had pale blue eyes. I hate pale blue eyes. Funny, I never noticed it before” (Kay Francis in¬†A Notorious Affair)

Ted: “Who’s the man?”
Jerry: “Oh, Ted, don’t be conventional!”
(Chester Morris and Norma Shearer in The Divorcee)

“The memory of you makes them much happier than you ever could”
(The Magistrate in Liliom)

“What are you doing with those fingers?”
“Nothing. Yet.”
(Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in Morocco)

“Wise as a tree full of owls, that’s me”
(Paid)

“Oh, and a cup of coffee”
“Large or small?”
“Do I look like a small cup of coffee?”
(Marie Prevost and a waiter in Ladies of Leisure)

‚ÄúWell, do you see my flowers here?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYou‚Äôre crushing them‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúOh, what does it matter? They were born to die‚ÄĚ
(yes, this is actual dialogue in Romance)

“Oh baby. Don’t think I’m such a heel just because I am!” (John Gilbert in Way for a Sailor)

Groucho: “Go away. Go away. I’ll be all right in a minute. Left-handed moths ate the painting, eh?”
Chico: “Yeah, it’s a-my own solution.”
Groucho: “I wish you were in it. Left-handed moths ate the painting. You know, I’d buy you a parachute if I thought it wouldn’t open.” (Animal Crackers)

“Press the flesh. Who’d you croak?” (The Big House)

“If you don’t watch your step you’re gonna find a way to treat yourself to a handful of clouds” (The Doorway to Hell)

“When a man begins to talk about inhibitions, it’s time to look at the view.” (Joan Crawford in Our Blushing Brides)

“It already has proved dangerous to wipe yourself off on the furniture”
(Blood of a Poet)

Groucho’s Strange Interlude bit in Animal Crackers, particularly:
“This would be a better world for children, if the parents had to eat the spinach.”

“Oh Mary, don’t be so 1890”
(Paid)

“When does she dunk her body?”¬†(of course this is Eugene Pallette’s way of asking when a woman takes a bath in Follow Thru)

‚ÄúFour years ago you took my name and replaced with with a number. Now I‚Äôve taken that number and replaced it with your name‚ÄĚ
(Joan Crawford in Paid)

Angela: “Here’s the newspaper”
Bob: “Anything new?”
Angela: “Not much. Only that you’re a bigamist” (Madam Satan)

animalMargaret Dumont and Lillian Roth in Animal Crackers (I forget whose tumblr this comes from; I’m very sorry!)

 

 

 

100 Images from the Films of 1930


Full disclosure: there are more than 100 images here. But 100 Images from the Films of 1930¬†sounds better than 105 images from¬†the Films of 1930,¬†doesn’t it? Well, I’ve finally come to the end of the¬†1930 Watchlist. It feels good, but¬†it also right on¬†time. Momentum plummeted towards the end, so it was a snail’s pace cross over¬†the finish line.

Over the next two weeks I will be rounding out my 1930 coverage. Posts will consist of, in addition to this, the¬†What I’ll Remember post and the Top Ten which will include write-ups on the films and the year in general. Previous 1930 coverage can be found here:
Top Ten By Year: 1930 Poll Results
Movie Poster Highlights: 1930 

What follows is a visual celebration of 1930. While¬†viewing¬†over fifty 1930 films in the past six months, I gradually collected¬†screenshots of images that jumped out as something I wanted to capture and cherish for the future. For this post I chose personal favorites from that sizable collection. The images are arrange purposefully. I tried to group together shots that had something visually in common, whether it be content or blocking. I hope you enjoy them. I started doing this with 1978. You can find a sampling of my favorite shots from that year in my What I’ll Remember post. But it was 1925 where this aspect of the Top Ten By Year Project really took off. You can find that here. I promise you won’t regret it; there are¬†so many incredible images from 1925. The same goes for 1930, or at least, I hope you agree.

What are some of your favorite shots or images from 1930 film? 

Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis NéePrix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

liliom 7Liliom (director: Frank Borzage/cinematographer: Chester Lyons)

The Doorway to Hell (director: Archie Mayo/cinematographer: Barney McGill) The Doorway to Hell (director: Archie Mayo/cinematographer: Barney McGill)

The Blue Angel (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: G√ľnther Rittau)The Blue Angel (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: G√ľnther Rittau)

For the Defense (director: John Cromwell/cinematographer: Charles Lang) For the Defense (director: John Cromwell/cinematographer: Charles Lang)

City Girl 13City Girl (director: F.W. Murnau/cinematographer: Ernest Palmer)

The Dawn Patrol (director: Howard Hawks/cinematographer: Ernest Haller) The Dawn Patrol (director: Howard Hawks/cinematographer: Ernest Haller)

City Girl 2City Girl (director: F.W. Murnau/cinematographer: Ernest Palmer)

Blood of a PoietBlood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

way 2Way for a Sailor (director: Sam Wood/cinematographer: Percy Hilburn)

People on Sunday 14Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer:¬†Eugen Sch√ľfftan)
The Dawn pateolThe Dawn Patrol (director: Howard Hawks/cinematographer: Ernest Haller)

liliom 5Liliom (director: Frank Borzage/cinematographer: Chester Lyons)

CeWCkXrUIAEnNZCBorderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

citygirlCity Girl (director: F.W. Murnau/cinematographer: Ernest Palmer)

Morocco 10Morocco (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: Lee Garmes/Lucien Ballard)

Aimless WalkAimless Walk (short) (director: Alexander Hammid)

big trail 9The Big Trail (director: Raoul Walsh/cinematographer: Arthur Edeson)

the big trail 7The Big Trail (director: Raoul Walsh/cinematographer: Arthur Edeson)

the big trail 6The Big Trail (director: Raoul Walsh/cinematographer: Arthur Edeson)

Just Imagine 10Just Imagine (director: David Butler/cinematographer: Ernest Palmer)

clocksMadam Satan (director: Cecil B. DeMille/cinematographer: Harold Rosson)

madamsatan3Madam Satan (director: Cecil B. DeMille/cinematographer: Harold Rosson)

follow thru 9Follow Thru (directors: Lloyd Corrigan, Laurence Schwab/cinematographer: Charles P. Boyle)

bridal veilKing of Jazz (director: John Murray Anderson/cinematographer: Jerome Ash, Hal Mohr, Ray Rennahan)

au bonheur 3Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

king of jazz 4King of Jazz (director: John Murray Anderson/cinematographer: Jerome Ash, Hal Mohr, Ray Rennahan)

king of jazz 8King of Jazz (director: John Murray Anderson/cinematographer: Jerome Ash, Hal Mohr, Ray Rennahan)

Au Bonheur 9Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

three good friends 9Die Drei von der Tankstelle (director: Wilhelm Theile/cinematographer: Franz Planer)

au bonheur 8Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

CeV8dS6UMAA5oYcBorderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

doorway to hell 9The Doorway to Hell (director: Archie Mayo/cinematographer: Barney McGill)

CeWB_62UEAAHaAwBorderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

People on Sunday 17Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer:¬†Eugen Sch√ľfftan)

min and bill 2Min and Bill (director: George W. Hill/cinematographer: Harold Wenstrom)

joanPaid (director: Sam Wood/cinematographer: Charles Rosher)

CeWB-3OUkAAvMxpBorderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

CeWC80ZVAAETn5xBorderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

chesterThe Bat Whispers (director: Roland West/cinematographer: Robert H. Planck)

murder 8Murder! (director: Alfred Hitchcock/cinematographer: Jack E. Cox)

au bonheur 12Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

A Notorious Affair 2A Notorious Affair (director: Lloyd Bacon/cinematographer: Ernest Haller)

Ladies of Leisure 7Ladies of Leisure (director: Frank Capra/cinematographer: Joseph Walker)

la petite lise tLa Petite Lise (director: Jean Grémillon/cinematographer: Jean Bachelet, Rene Colas)

The Dawn Ptrol 2The Dawn Patrol (director: Howard Hawks/cinematographer: Ernest Haller)

morocco 8Morocco (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: Lee Garmes/Lucien Ballard)

tumblr_n1yclhICk71qjs1omo1_540L’Age d’Or (director: Luis Bu√Īuel/cinematographer: Albert Duverger)

People on Sunday 7Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer:¬†Eugen Sch√ľfftan)

the big house 6The Big House (director: George W. Hill/cinematographer: Harold Wenstrom)

bloof pwBlood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

The Big House 3The Big House (director: George W. Hill/cinematographer: Harold Wenstrom)

Au bonheur5 55Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

blood of a poet 7Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

Hell's Angels 4Hell’s Angels (director: Howard Hughes/cinematographer: Elmer Dyer, etc, etc)

HellsAngels11Hell’s Angels (director: Howard Hughes/cinematographer: Elmer Dyer, etc, etc)

the big trail 3The Big Trail (director: Raoul Walsh/cinematographer: Arthur Edeson)

liliom 2Liliom (director: Frank Borzage/cinematographer: Chester Lyons)

People on Sunday 6Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer:¬†Eugen Sch√ľfftan)

tumblr_ny80z5zTyp1ufel7co1_540Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer:¬†Eugen Sch√ľfftan)

tilly losch 3Dance of the Hands (short) (director: Norman Bel Geddes)

Blood of a Poet 6Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

blood 3Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

Blood of a Poet 4Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

tumblr_ls1w43jioY1qzzxybo1_500Dance of the Hands (short) (director: Norman Bel Geddes)

street of chance 2Street of Chance (director: John Cromwell/cinematographer: Charles Lang)

morocco vMorocco (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: Lee Garmes/Lucien Ballard)

Our Blushing Brides 17Our Blushing Brides (director: Harry Beaumont/cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad)

the-divorcee
The Divorcee (director; Robert Z. Leonard/cinematographer: Norbert Brodine)

tumblr_nkqvfjrN7q1rgxncdo5_1280The Blue Angel (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: G√ľnther Rittau)

au bonhhh
Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

three good friends 5Die Drei von der Tankstelle (director: Wilhelm Theile/cinematographer: Franz Planer)

king of jazz 6King of Jazz (director: John Murray Anderson/cinematographer: Jerome Ash, Hal Mohr, Ray Rennahan)

king of jazz 10
King of Jazz (director: John Murray Anderson/cinematographer: Jerome Ash, Hal Mohr, Ray Rennahan)

Blood of a pioet 6Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

blood 9Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

CeWC57EVAAA81Cl
Borderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

Laughter 17Laughter (director:¬†Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast/cinematographer: George J. Folsey)

feet first 2
Feet First (director: Clyde Bruckman, Harold Lloyd/cinematographer: Henry N. Kohler, Walter Lundin)

tumblr_mzxdv0cjxI1raq0fho1_540
L’Age d’Or (director: Luis Bu√Īuel/cinematographer: Albert Duverger)

tumblr_mh3510SpEi1qzxrh2o1_540
L’Age d’Or (director: Luis Bu√Īuel/cinematographer: Albert Duverger)

Blood of a Poet 2Blood of a Poet (director: Jean Cocteau/cinematographer: Georges Périnal)

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Borderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

tumblr_nnoz56h31a1sdhfypo2_1280The Blue Angel (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: G√ľnther Rittau)

morocco 6Morocco (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: Lee Garmes/Lucien Ballard)

Ladies of LeisureLadies of Leisure (director: Frank Capra/cinematographer: Joseph Walker)

HellsAngels2-700x410Hell’s Angels (director: Howard Hughes/cinematographer: Elmer Dyer, etc, etc)

tumblr_nkqvfjrN7q1rgxncdo7_1280The Blue Angel (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: G√ľnther Rittau)

swing you sinners 3Swing You Sinners! (short) (director: Dave Fleischer)

tale of the fox 4
Le roman de Renard (The Tale of the Fox) (director: Irene Starewicz, Wladyslaw Starewicz/cinematographer: W. Starerwicz)

tale of the fox 3Le roman de Renard (The Tale of the Fox) (director: Irene Starewicz, Wladyslaw Starewicz/cinematographer: W. Starerwicz)

bonheur 22Au bonheur des dames (director: Julien Duvivier/cinematographers: Andre Dantan, Rene Guichard, Emile Pierre, Armand Thirard)

Hell's Angels 3
Hell’s Angels (director: Howard Hughes/cinematographer: Elmer Dyer, etc, etc)

all quietAll Quiet on the Western Front (director: Lewis Milestone/cinematographer: Arthur Edeson, Karl Freund)

tumblr_mq3ikbRCSR1rjtufgo1_540
Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

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Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

Prix de beaute 2
Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

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Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

tumblr_n3fm6eQYlz1r9ujrco1_540
Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

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Prix de beauté (director: A. Genina/cinematographer: Rudolph Maté, Louis Née)

tumblr_m7fifsoV3V1qea3n2o1_540
Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer:¬†Eugen Sch√ľfftan)

madam satan 25Madam Satan (director: Cecil B. DeMille/cinematographer: Harold Rosson)

tumblr_mufj3dWotB1rsc0mvo4_540
Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer:¬†Eugen Sch√ľfftan)

Ladies of Leisure 5Ladies of Leisure (director: Frank Capra/cinematographer: Joseph Walker)

Our Blushing Brides 16
Our Blushing Brides (director: Harry Beaumont/cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad)

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Just Imagine (director: David Butler/cinematographer: Ernest Palmer)

madam satan 222Madam Satan (director: Cecil B. DeMille/cinematographer: Harold Rosson)

follow thru cocktailsFollow Thru (directors: Lloyd Corrigan, Laurence Schwab/cinematographer: Charles P. Boyle)

follow thru 10Follow Thru (directors: Lloyd Corrigan, Laurence Schwab/cinematographer: Charles P. Boyle)

the big trail 2The Big Trail (director: Raoul Walsh/cinematographer: Arthur Edeson)

Capsule Reviews: 1930 Watchlist (Films #5-9)


In my first capsule review post for 1930, I covered Let Us Be Gay, Ladies of Leisure, Murder!, and Anybody’s Woman. That post can be found here.

liliom 5

Liliom (US, Borzage)
There are two kinds of spaces in Liliom. The first is inside the carnival. That mockup hallucinatory carnival made of miniatures, dazzling lights, and bustling sounds. It’s a magical space where anything can happen, but only if you keep up. The second is anything outside the carnival, most¬†notably domestic spaces. The carnival is always visible from the outside but the outside is never visible from within. The interiors are spacious, barren, minimalist, surrounded by gaps of frustrated silence. There is a clear delineation between the two. All this to say that Frank Borzage and his collaborators at Fox go to great length to make theatricality modern, presenting¬†a weird vision of fantastical artificiality that easily transitions into the equally weird metaphysical final act. (Let me also take this moment to say that I am a huge fan of early cinematic depictions of the afterlife. By far the most alluring period for this kind of story.)

At the end of Liliom, the Chief Magistrate (H.B. Warner) says this of what he has witnessed: “It’s touching. It’s mysterious”. Simply and succinctly, that’s also Liliom. Think Peter Ibbetson mixed with more overt expressionism. But this is a story about two people who should not be together, but can’t not be together. This is a film that ends with a speech about, to put it bluntly and without context, domestic abuse being okay if it comes from the person you love. But the tragedy of that, and it, are so genuinely and oddly moving. Because this decree of sorts¬†is true for Julie. Liliom is told through a romantically fatalistic lens. Fatalism in the apparent wrongness of the couple. Julie’s (Rose Hobart) only other romantic option is¬†a carpenter named Carpenter who speaks in monosyllabic monotone. He is seemingly alive for the sole purpose of asking Julie¬†(for years and years mind you) if¬†she¬†is free and interested (“No, Carpenter”). This is also a film¬†that resolves with this statement; “The memory of you makes them much happier than you ever could”. Talk about brutal. But Liliom is about the messy complexities of individual truths. The unchangable and unswayable.

Rose Hobart is perfect for the part of Julie, though the film swallows her whole by the second half (standout deathbed scene not withstanding). Her eyes have a sharp directness¬†as she communicates her undying love for Liliom through that¬†tunnel vision stare. Her unshakable need to stay by this whiny asshole is seen with a kind of nobility. At the very least it’s seen without judgment. As for Charles Farrell, well… From what I’ve read, audiences apparently adjusted fine to hearing his voice, but¬†let me be the first to tell you it is rough. He sounds like one of the kids on Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island. Close your eyes and you’re back in the schoolyard¬†with the head bully. His Liliom also walks like Popeye, though that bluster is¬†a¬†pronounced character trademark.

The technical achievement and formal ambition of Liliom are two of its defining characteristics. This¬†was the first film to use rear projection, and its use of miniatures is woozily magical. Borzage uses space so well, in part by utilizing blocking and emphasizing body language. The camera has the mobility of a sophisticated silent. Take the feverish moment¬†where Julie and Marie (Mildred Van Dorn) first enter the carnival. The camera actually deserts them, so eager it is to explore the place itself.¬†(I’ve been, and will keep, mentioning camera mobility in these 1930 films. I don’t mean to suggest that camera movement equals higher quality filmmaking, but in 1930 it¬†is a clear and easy sign of¬†formal ambition as studios, technicians, and creative personalities attempt to establish a visual language for talking pictures)

Notes:
– So this is where “Carousel” comes from! I’d eventually like to see that and other adaptations of this Hungarian play (most notably the 1934 Fritz Lang version), not least because it will be sure to illuminate this one.

– Liliom is so quick to kill himself. It’s kind of absurd. Equally absurd? The notion that Liliom is the first person to be given a second chance. Really? This moron?

– The “Look out, look out the dumb police are on your trail” song is now something I sing to myself.

– Of course this movie was a financial (and somewhat critical) failure. How could it not be? How do you even market something like this? It doesn’t fit into any box.

king of jazz 6

King of Jazz (1930, Anderson)
King of Jazz was the first of the revue craze of 1929-mid 1930 to enter the planning stage, and the last of the major efforts to be released. It went hugely over-budget (which is abundantly clear while watching), and was released at the wrong time. By the time it finally hit theaters, audiences were thoroughly ‘revued’ out. I hardly have anything to compare it to, but it is said that King of Jazz stands out from others of its kind¬†in every way. Paul Whiteman and his orchestra are the center from which a¬†series of musical numbers and skits revolve. His nickname, the title of the film, seems ridiculous because it is, but also keep in mind¬†that jazz in this time period has a much broader implication. Think of how ‘pop’ is applied today.

Universal threw everything, and I mean everything, into this project. And it’s kind of a must-see. Surely one of the weirdest movies to come out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, it’s also the most elaborate and audacious spectacle film I’ve seen from the early 30’s. It features the first Technicolor cartoon, a shrunken orchestra marching out of a box, a giant larger-than-life scrapbook, ghost brides, the world’s longest bridal veil, extravagant mobile sets, superimposed images and related special effects, and, in what must be the scariest image in 1930’s cinema, Paul Whiteman as a winking moon in the sky. And the whole thing’s in Two-Strip Technicolor to boot.

The conceptual center of the impressive “Melting Pot” finale is what you might guess; promoting diversity while completely whitewashing a convoluted ‘history of jazz’. The¬†pointed absence of African Americans is unsurprisingly everywhere. The one time African culture makes any kind of appearance is the prologue bit to the “Rhapsody in Blue” number, at once breathtaking and troubling. Dressed in Zulu chief garb, dancer Jacques Cartier stands on an oversized drum for a stage. His projected¬†silhouette is made giant on the wall behind him. He begins to dance with direct ferocity. The eroticism of it is hypnotic, but the sexual nature of the thing reeks of the blanket exoticism so often depicted through ‘Otherness’.

King of Jazz works because the Universal team and director John Murray Anderson (Paul Fejos also contributed at some point before leaving) understand that there are different kinds of spectacle. There’s¬†the special effects spectacle, which comes in all forms throughout here. There is also the music-centric spectacle. An¬†early scene features copious close-ups of — not even musicians playing their instruments but something even more up close and personal;¬†instruments being played. Another scene takes a different approach by¬†capturing the interplay between a band and its components. Without cutting, the camera keeps up with the music by quickly panning over to each soloist. Finally, there is the grand scale production spectacle, and boy does¬†it deliver on that front.

Though his rotund self has a welcoming energy, Paul Whiteman seems quite the random figure to construct a film around. But it falls in line with the early sound period¬†trend of¬†bringing in band leaders¬†as well as¬†talent from vaudeville and theater¬†in order to give them film vehicles. I loved this movie. Even when it’s boring, it’s not, if that makes sense (I realize it doesn’t. Maybe one day I can describe this sedate sensation). It moves along at such a clip, and its sheer audaciousness coupled with genuine spark makes this a “seen to be believed” kind of film. It’s also beautifully, and I mean beautifully, photographed (Ray Rennahan, one of the film’s three cinematographers, was an innovator in the development of three-strip Technicolor). King of Jazz also reminds me that I have a substantial hard-on for Two-Strip Technicolor.

Notes:
– Bing Crosby’s first screen appearance! He shows up as one¬†of the Rhythm Boys. He was originally slated for a solo number but¬†an arrest¬†after drunkenly crashing his car prevented that from happening.

– There are really lame 30 second skits by Universal contract players sprinkled throughout (some of which feature explicitly sexual punchlines). Though I loved the one set at an all-ladies newspaper.

– “Rhapsody in Blue”: First of all, according to author Richard Barrios, Universal may have paid upwards of $50,000 for the use of this piece. Also, the number is an all-blue one, though I’m not sure how it got like this because Two-Strip can’t pick up blue.

– Universal was also on the cusp of another colossal, and much more successful, effort; All Quiet on the Western Front. It even gets a shout-out here!

bat 5

The Bat Whispers (US, West)
What an exceptional experience seeing a 1930 film in 65mm (The Big Trail, which I haven’t watched yet, also falls under this category). The Bat Whispers is a mystery, yes, but the air here is ripe with two other genres; horror and comedy. Something that struck me about this is the way¬†it successfully balances some tricky tones. There is a slight threatening¬†undercurrent coursing through the film. It mostly takes place in one location, but the house is cast in shadows, and there’s a nice depth of setting that hints at what’s hidden. A¬†masked intruder named The Bat, an entity that famously served as one of Bob Kane’s inspirations for Batman, is known to be lurking around the house for most of the film. Disguising his voice, he omits a wholly unnerving shadowy scrawl. A¬†late scene featuring¬†Una Merkel stuck in a hidden room with the Bat quite honestly gave me the willies.

And then the comedy of the thing! As¬†characters tiptoe around in the dark, carefully¬†treading with their different agendas, The Bat Whispers also proves to be light on its feet. It has a gentle comedic air, often aiming for¬†soft laughs (can’t win them all though; a perpetually frightened character named Lizzie grates very quickly). All the tropes you can imagine are here and then some, contained by¬†surprising energy and foreboding.

The Bat Whispers stays put once we get to Cornelia’s estate. So it uses the largely silent first ten minutes for striking formal ambition, particularly in¬†the creative ways it¬†introduces key locations. It also¬†features a very early twist ending! After the film ends, Chester Morris comes out and pleads that the audience not spoil the ending for others. And in such a tongue-and-cheek way too. An eccentric note on which to end an eccentric film.

Notes:
– I really enjoyed Chester Morris doing a weird mix of dapper and dastardly. I so prefer this Chester Morris over the Chester Morris of The Divorcee.

– Features the Laganja Estranga of movie detectives.

paid 4

Paid (US, Wood)
Paid is a touchstone in Joan Crawford’s career. This was a part for Queen of MGM Norma Shearer¬†but Joan, the ultimate self-promoter, rallied hard for this once Norma discovered she was pregnant before filming began. She long ached to move beyond lighter fare of the Our Dancing Daughters variety and establish herself as a heavy dramatic actress. Starting with Paid, Crawford gradually moved away from her flapper persona and into more refined and challenging work. And it’s a good thing she started a career evolution when she did. Between changing times and the enforcement of the Production Code, the flapper persona would soon be outdated, and actresses primarily known for those kinds of roles would have nowhere to go.

Paid has a promising premise. It’s got a prison film crammed into its first ten minutes. It then sets itself up as 80 minutes of Joan Crawford slapping everyone in the face with the law and getting sweet sweet revenge on her former boss by wooing his son. And all that happens. But the second half insists itself into empty melodrama by focusing on the aftermath of a deadly crime, imploding its premise instead of exploring it.

Notes:
– Marie Prevost!!! I’ve noticed that both of the 1930 films I’ve seen featuring her contain¬†scenes where her body jiggles for the camera. I wonder if War Nurse will also have something of the sort.

Paid has lots of zingers:
“Wise as a tree full of owls, that’s me”
“Oh Mary, don’t be so 1890”
“It’s that coin that makes them so sassy Cassidy”
My favorite is “Four years ago you took my name and replaced with with a number. Now I’ve taken that number and replaced it with your name”.

– There are moments in Paid where Joan looks eerily like Sigourney Weaver. I never noticed it before but the proto Sigourney vibes here are off-the-charts.