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 – 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 Heartand 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 – can 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 Beauté

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

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

♫♫ We’re going somewhere
We’re going nowhere
We’re going everyyyyywhere ♫♫
(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’s ‘half-caste’ 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)

♫♫ She wanted to take it further
So she arranged a place to go
To see if he
Would fall for her incognito  ♫♫
(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)

“It’s that coin that makes them so sassy Cassidy”
(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)

“Well, do you see my flowers here?”
“You’re crushing them”
“Oh, what does it matter? They were born to die”
(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)

“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”
(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!)

 

 

 

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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: Günther Rittau)The Blue Angel (director: Josef von Sternberg/cinematographer: Günther 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 Schüfftan)
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 Schüfftan)

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 Buñuel/cinematographer: Albert Duverger)

People on Sunday 7Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer: Eugen Schüfftan)

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 Schüfftan)

tumblr_ny80z5zTyp1ufel7co1_540Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer: Eugen Schüfftan)

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: Günther 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)

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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)

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Borderline (director/cinematographer: Kenneth MacPherson)

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

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

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L’Age d’Or (director: Luis Buñuel/cinematographer: Albert Duverger)

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L’Age d’Or (director: Luis Buñuel/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: Günther 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: Günther Rittau)

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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer: Eugen Schüfftan)

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

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Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (directors: Siodmak, Ulmer, etc/cinematographer: Eugen Schüfftan)

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 #1-4)


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Let Us Be Gay (US, Leonard)
“I know how men feel about these things now”

It’s par for the course that if you’re watching Pre-Code Norma Shearer, at some point she’ll say something explicit about her newly transgressive way of life. I love Norma. I really do. But not for her depth of presence. Her Pre-Code persona brings a very specific brand to the table, and it’s made up of two parts. The first is permanent coy. She talks as if putting on a show; the woman’s got a secret and she’s the only one in the room who knows it. The second is prideful speechifying, daring proclamations that temporarily air out the collective frustrations of many women, calling out double standards and announcing sexual freedom (eventually of course, the film will hit the reset button in its last 30 seconds).

Shearer’s transformation from devoted wife to the ultimate sampler of sex is never more extreme than it is here, and that’s all due to how her character (Kitty) is introduced. For the first act of Let Us Be Gay, Norma Shearer goes full-dowdy. I’m not talking about movie dowdy. I’m talking about actually dowdy. It’s as plain and homely and normal as I’ve ever seen a golden age star allow themselves to look onscreen. The sheer jolt of this easily makes for the film’s high point, because let’s face it; despite the promise of an ensemble cast crossing paths during a weekend in Long Island,  Let Us Be Gay never picks up anything resembling momentum, a critical trait for a film at that one point suggests it is nearing French farce.

Some Notes:
– This was shot in 26 days because Norma Shearer was pregnant. It’s an adaptation of a play. The Shearer role was originated by Tallulah Bankhead.

– Between my previous experiences with 1930 films and the ones I’ve watched for this project so far, I know that many of the films will have moved passed the potential and often found awkwardness of early talkies. But this one does not. But there were admittedly times during this where the strange pacing, pausing, lingering were hypnotic to me. There is a shot of Norma Shearer on a couch. She moves, and the camera lingers for several second on said  couch as the scene continues. I really loved this unintentional moment.

Something else I fully expect to run into with 1930 are dull-as-fuck leading men. For every one of them I’m sure there will be a leading man I love and cherish (Robert Montgomery owns part of my heart, didn’t you know that?) But Holy Mother of God: Rod La Rocque. Worst actor ever? I mean ever? As in, of all-time? See, he’s not just bad in the sense that he’s stilted and lacks charisma. He goes the extra mile by being that special brand of bad: the silent actor who has no idea how to adjust his acting in the advent of talkies. He makes Chester Morris look like Gary Cooper.

– Shout-out to Marie Dressler for being Marie Dressler and playing to the back row and to Sally Eilers for playing a great sloppy drunk.

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Ladies of Leisure (US, Capra)
There’s a lot about Ladies of Leisure I shouldn’t like. Let’s face it, who wants to see Barbara Stanwyck as a brassy ‘party girl’ who gradually disintegrates into desperate martyr-driven love with a rich and oblivious painter who treats her like nothing? This is not why we watch Barbara Stanwyck!

But this star-making role, the first of several collaborations with Frank Capra, is some of her best work and in one of her best films. I’m 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’s impossible to miss that she is in stark contrast with other actors from her time. This is a woman performing in the ‘now’. Her body language isn’t practiced. She breaks through the conventional with seeming spontaneity. She’s 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’s internal longing.

Frank Capra doesn’t trip into that oft-fallen pit known as the Early Talkie Trap. That assumed pull of talk-talk-talk, aimlessly throwing more dialogue at the screen. Why? Because they can! Despite being based on a play, Frank Capra already shows an adept hand at visual storytelling in addition to fluid pacing, foundational building blocks everybody had to learn and relearn  to some degree when sound came along. 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.

Some Notes:
– We’re back to the Dull As Fuck Leading Man syndrome. I’ve seen quite a few reviews of the film that cite Ralph Graves as a deal-breaker. But I’ve made a vow to myself to put the quality of the leading man aside as best I can while watching these films. Would I like the leading man to have chemistry with his leading lady in a film that qualifies as a romance? Well, of course. Will there be films I watch where the leading man really is a deal-breaker? Probably. But this whole leading man snag is an unavoidable evil from this period. I’d like to be surprised; I’d like the chemistry between leads to elevate whatever 1930 film I’m watching, but I also won’t let the common failures on this front decide whether or not a film works for me. Part of what I love in writing about older films (I’m talking as recent as, say, ten years old) is that time allows the mode of assessment to be so different. New films are often reviewed as A + B + C = great film but it’s missing D so merely good. Time allows us to connect or not connect in ways that feel more organic, less scientific. If the lead in a rom-com from 2015 was bland it’d likely feel impossible to ignore. But in Ladies of Leisure, who cares, this movie is great with or without Ralph Graves. More critically, as I’ve stated earlier, Kay’s love for him is grounded in individual longing. Our investment doesn’t hinge on Jerry as a character.

– Capra already taking on the disparity between the classes. But it’s surprisingly complicated. Ralph’s mother is supportive of her son and empathetic. Her actions are driven by love and a knowing selfishness for the sacrifice she asks of Kay that she cannot ask of herself. Even Jerry’s father isn’t a terrible guy. Just very set in his ways.

– Some other incredible moments of Stanwyck’s spontaneity: “Goody goody goody let’s fight”; Kay throwing food in the air and trying to catch it as an impromptu effort to distract from her tears.

– Such a bizarre party at the beginning! Capra immediately visually distinguishes that class disparity with a shot of a street getting plummeted with smashed bottles as innocent bystanders dodge the wreckage as best they can. We are brought, with an impressive crane shot using models, to the top of a building where upper class debauchery is taking place. Two women carelessly drop the liquor from above. Elsewhere, a man paints a lady’s back. Elsewhere still, ladies pray water at a painting. A woman weaves through the crowd saying “Call for Jerry Strong! Call for Jerry Strong!”

– Marie Prevost = new hero? She was relegated to best friend parts by this time in her troubled life and career. She gets the best lines of the movie and her delivery is hysterical:

“Listen Eleanor Glynn. You can’t–weigh–sex appeal.”

Prevost: “Oh, and a cup of coffee”
Waiter: “Large or small?”
Prevost: “Do I look like a small cup of coffee?”

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Murder! (UK, Hitchcock)
While the result may be weirdly effective and ineffective in equal measure, this is Alfred Hitchcock experimenting perhaps more essentially than ever before or since. Hitchcock, that savior of UK cinema, takes sound and uses it to make every scene its own playful gambit. Murder! is so well known for its use of sound that it’s easy to overlook the essential application of image. Every step of the way Hitchcock shows a critical understanding of how sound can be applied in new ways when married to the image. Seems obvious, but at the time it wasn’t. He brings image and sound together by constantly separating them.

For the first time in film (at least it’s credited as such), we hear a character’s thoughts in voice-over, bridging the internal (sound) and external (image). Stage manager Ted (Edward Chapman) and his wife (Phyllis Constam) frantically ready themselves to see Sir John (Herbert Marshall in his first speaking role), their preparations shown in a succession of rapid close-ups coupled with far-off dialogue; sound and image used to compress time. Sir John wakes up for a comic scene of loud chaos with Una O’Connor (in her 2nd screen appearance!) involving a wailing baby, a clingy child, overflowing coffee, and a cute kitten. There’s more too; Hitchcock plays with the rhythm of dialogue in a sequence that plays like a one-act 12 Angry Men. The jury members start as separate entities only to evolve into some sort of theatrical sing-song chorus, like something out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Hitchcock also finds ways to keep things moving in his typically droll fashion. An early scene in which two women talk about the murders is turned into a three-minute uncut visual running joke that completely eclipses whatever is being said. Throughout the scene, the older woman moves between two rooms to make tea. Every time the younger woman sits down, the older woman needs to move the other room. The camera dutifully follows back and forth from Room A to Room B. The punchline? Turns out that the policeman doesn’t even want tea.

The fun of Murder! is discovering the tricks that stick versus the ones that turn out just plain awkward. That this consummately strange film is made up of pieces means it never comes together as a unified whole. Scenes don’t unfold in any kind of conventional way, and never has Hitchcock’s indifference towards plot been more apparent. And since this is a whodunit, a genre he spent his career purposely avoiding, plot is the name of the game. The experimentation often has a slightly surreal and dislodged effect, both intentional and unintentional. All the parts line up but they don’t lock in. And for all its inventions, not even Hitchcock can outwit Herbert Marshall’s Sir John. The longer he takes over the film, the more stilted the film becomes. He drones on and on and on in long shot, so oblivious to his incessant talking that it takes another character interrupting him for things to move forward.

Sir John’s actor status and the role of the theater in Murder! show the makings of another major Hitchcock trademark; his use of the theater as self-reflexive function and metaphor for artificiality. “This isn’t a play. It’s real life!”, Sir John exclaims. An early scene shows cops interviewing actors backstage in the middle of a production and they hurriedly rush on-and-off stage, answering questions in the midst of costume changes. Never mind that the bit doesn’t quite come off. An old woman is fooled (quite easily it turns out, because if we’re supposed to be Sir John’s ruse as impressive then that’s just sad) by a man feigning an old woman’s voice. Hell, Hamlet’s play-within-a-play is used as a strategic tactic to suss the killer out! There’s even a climactic suicide through performance. And the end, a final shot pulls back to reveal that Sir John and Dinah are onstage acting in a play together.

Notes:
– Herbert Marshall is a straight-laced British Jack Lemmon in this movie.
– Esme Percy’s ‘half-caste’ homosexual drag performer killer is disquieting to say the least. Both for how he plays it and how the film sees him. But for all its lesser-than view of him, it’s really surprising to see a film this early depict a ‘perverted’ killer this explicitly.

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Anybody’s Woman (US, Arzner)
I was really hoping for more being that this is from the great Dorothy Arzner. Alas, this was a disappointment, although there are a few significant takeaways to appreciate. The protagonist is a down-on-her-luck woman with the awesome name of Pansy Gray (Ruth Chatterton). She spends the film defying expectations, being unapologetically herself, and trying to do right with the odds against her in an odd situation. She’s got a keep pushin’ through the mud outlook on life. In short, she’s a survivor. And played by Ruth Chatterton with a drawled out conviction, she’s great. Sadly, the film isn’t. It starts strong, with adjacent apartments, eavesdropping, insane drunken logic, electric fans, and Ruth Chatterton casually sprawled out on a couch while singing and playing a ukulele. But it has no inkling where to go from there. I’m not even quite sure how it manages to fill out its runtime.