Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Just a quick note before raising a glass of champagne to 2006: Ben Ohmart of Bear Manor Media emailed me with the news that Scott O'Brien's "Kay Francis: I Can't Wait to Be Forgotten" ships today! Looking forward to reading that along with my copy of Mick LaSalle's "Complicated Women" I received for Christmas.

Also, in case you missed it earlier in 2005, the Balboa will be running the newly restored "Baby Face" along with another Barbara Stanwyck pre-code classic, "Night Nurse" in early February. Kudos to the Balboa for putting together some wonderful schedules sure to please film buffs in the Bay Area.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Young Loretta Young

TCM is offering quite a few pre-code treats in January, including a bevy of Loretta Young's early films on the anniversary of her birth on Friday, January 6th.

(all times Pacific)

3:00 AM Road To Paradise (1930) Loretta plays a dual role in this early talkie thriller.

4:15 AM Big Business Girl (1931) How far can Loretta and Joan Blondell go in business - on brains alone?

5:30 AM The Right of Way (1931)
A married lawyer with amnesia falls in love with another woman.

6:45 AM Life Begins (1932)
First National/Warner's favorites Aline McMahon and Glenda Farrell add some witty retorts to this drama set in a maternity ward.

8:00 AM Play-Girl (1932)
Early Vitaphone singing sensation Winnie Lightner shares the bill with Loretta in this romantic drama.

9:15 AM Weekend Marriage (1932)
When her husband loses his job, a woman risks her marriage to become the breadwinner.

10:30 AM The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933) One of TCM's January Cult Movie Picks - with Aline McMahon and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

TCM is also showing Young's famous "The Bishop's Wife," while Fox Movie Channel is showing some more Young pre-codes in January: 1933's "The Devil's in Love" and "Born to Be Bad" (1934) with Cary Grant and The Aldrich Family's Jackie Kelk.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas!

It's a White Christmas here in Maine at the parents' house. Not much news on the classic movie front lately, but Amazon has posted the Busby Berkeley box set for preorder. Also, a reminder for those in San Francisco that the Castro Theatre will be showing many Busby films during the holiday week, so enjoy the season!

Happy Holidays and happy movie viewing!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"The Busby Berkeley Collection" DVD Box Set Due in March

As expected, Warner Home Video has officially announced a six-disc "Busby Berkeley Collection" box set dancing your way on 3/21/06. Joining "42nd Street" on DVD and exclusive to the set are the classics "Gold Diggers of 1933," "Footlight Parade," "Dames," and "Gold Diggers of 1935." Each disc is chock full of extras, including new featurettes showcasing the behind the scenes stories of the films themselves, in addition to trailers, radio promos, and vintage cartoons and featurettes from the Warner Brothers library. And the sixth disc? It contains a compilation of 20 Busby Berkeley musical numbers and rarities (nearly three hours of his signature showstoppers), including "The Lady in Red" from 1935's "In Caliente," and the finale from "Gold Diggers of 1937." MSRP is $59.95, but most stores will discount to around $40-$45. Don't miss these restored and remastered dancin' feet!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Busby Berkeley for the Holidays

Some holiday treats are coming soon to The Castro: Busby Berkeley's greatest all-singing, all-dancing extravaganzas. From Dec 26 through the 30th, we'll see his eye-popping choreography in a series of films from Warner Brothers, MGM, United Artists, and Fox.

Schedule highlights include:

The classic backstage musical "42nd Street"

His celebrated pre-code "Gold Diggers" films.

And perhaps the most exciting feature, the rarely seen 20th Century Fox three-strip Technicolor production "The Gang's All Here." Carmen Miranda's "Tutti Frutti Hat" number is a camp classic.

Though Berkeley's larger-than-life production numbers demand to be seen on the big screen, Warner Home Video will be coming out with a Busby DVD box set sometime in 2006. And it also appears Fox will be issuing "The Gang's All Here" on DVD in the near future as they start to mine their library of musicals.

In the meantime, don't forget to buy tickets for another all-singing, all dancing spectacular at the Castro: the SFGMC Home for the Holidays concerts on December 15th and the 24th!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Notorious Gertrude Michael

One of the lesser known stars of the pre-code era has been featured in six of the films in the Balboa's Paramount series - and once you see Gertrude Michael, you immediately want to know more about her.

I first saw Gertrude Michael in "Search for Beauty" which plays the Balboa November 16th. Her sharp tongue, comic flair and somewhat manic energy make her a standout in the film. I soon discovered she had a long and varied career spanning the stage and screen, even scoring several lead roles while at Paramount in the 1930s. She appeared most often as a hard-edged woman who was not to be tangled with (see "Murder at the Vanities.") Perhaps her best starring role was the title character in "The Notorious Sophie Lang." She plays a glamorous master jewel thief trying to one up a male rival from across the pond. Good pacing, clever dialog, and a touch of risque humor made this comedy a big enough hit to spawn two sequels. "Sophie Lang" was the mystery feature mentioned in my last post, and I have a feeling Gertrude gained a few more fans after the screening. Though bouts with the bottle may have hurt her career, she continued to work into the '60s. A manuscript for a Michael bio exists, so let's hope that it will be published someday to shed some further light on this versatile performer.

Michael also appears in DeMille's "Cleopatra," playing this Saturday at the Balboa and turning up from time to time on TCM.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Billion Dollar Scandal (1933)

I finally got my first look at the Balboa's Sin in Soft Focus series featuring Paramount pre-codes last Monday night. The rainy and foggy weather seemed fitting for the evening's mystery and crime thriller theme.

First up was a very rare 16mm print of 1933's Billion Dollar Scandal. The plot meandered a bit, but it revolved around a lovable ex-con named Fingers Partos (King Kong's Robert Armstrong), who tries to make good by working for an oil baron (Frank Morgan in a sinister role). Said oil baron is up to no good, working with his bigwig government pals in a scheme to take control of America's oil reserves. Partos decides to take on the corruption by testifying his against his boss in Senate hearings. One can't help comparing the drama on screen to the today's reality as Partos says, "What this country needs right now is a few good squealers!" The plot takes quite a few twists and turns, but everything is tied together in the final minutes, though, refreshingly, the ending is not necessarily storybook. Great acting leavens the story, with Sydney Toler (later famous as Charlie Chan), a young Frank Albertson ("Chico and the Man"), and Russian actress Olga Baclanova ("Freaks"). Baclanova authority and local film collector Paul Meienberg did the introductory honors for all three films on Monday. The female lead, lovely Constance Cummings, is one of the few remaining living female stars of the era.

The next film on the marquis was "Guilty as Hell," a macabre 1932 murder mystery with a sense of humor. The audience sees who commits the dastardly deed in the opening moments, but we don't know if he will get away with it. There is some very entertaining banter between the police detective (Victor McLaglen) and the newspaper reporter (Edmund Lowe) at the crime scene. The wonderful Elizabeth Patterson (known to many as Mrs. Trumbull from "I Love Lucy") plays a dotty employee of the murderous Doctor Tindal. There is some inventive camera work from Oscar-winning cinematographer Karl Struss in this surprisingly engrossing crime drama. Problem is, the 16mm print the Balboa obtained was riddled with problems, and after several stops and starts, the theater decided that the remaining 20 minutes of the film could not be shown (just as the mystery was being solved!). Balboa management handled it nicely, though, and offered to schedule a special screening of the film for Monday ticketholders if a better print could be found in the future.

Most of the remaining films in the series are 35mm prints and in better shape than "Guilty as Hell." This series is getting some great press (listen to Mick LaSalle's podcast) and it's worth a trip (or two) to the Balboa. If the attendance is good, maybe they will be persuaded to make it an annual event (like the extremely popular Noir City fest).

More tomorrow on the "special mystery bonus feature" screened Monday night.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

TCM Schedule, November 1-12

There's always something to watch on Turner Classic Movies, but here are some pre-code highlights coming your way in the first part of November:

THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932), Sunday, 11/6, 2:00 am - Irene Dunne, Ricardo Cortez, and a pre-Nora Myrna Loy. Atmospheric RKO horror film.

BACK PAY (1930), Saturday, 11/12, 2:00 am - Grant Withers, Corrine Griffith. Directed by the reliable William Seiter, this early talkie melodrama is based on a novel by Fannie Hurst (Imitation of Life, Back Street).

All times Pacific.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Ann Carver's Profession (1933)

As we look forward to another bevy of rare pre-codes at the Balboa, I wanted to add a belated note on "Ann Carver's Profession," a Fay Wray vehicle that played the Castro a couple weeks ago. This Columbia picture about a law school grad (Wray) who marries her college football star boyfriend (Gene Raymond). Ambitious Ann can't stay away from the law, however, and soon gets drafted into taking a high-profile case. When Ann's jaw-dropping courtroom stunt earns a victory in the courtroom, she becomes the toast of the town and a media sensation. Meanwhile, Ann's husband, reluctantly relinquishing breadwinner status to his wife, is forced to bear the shame of appearing as a second rate crooner in a local nightclub. Apparently, this is almost as embarrassing as it was for Mildred Pierce to be (GASP) ... a waitress! When he becomes mixed up in the death of his co-star on the nightclub marquis (a boozy and over-the-top Claire Dodd) , it's up to Ann to save the day by defending her estranged husband.

The film is typical of the genre in spotlighting a career girl rising to the top of a male-dominated profession. But it wants to play it both ways - Ann seems to be punished for her success in that her marriage crumbles as soon as she hits it big. The finale has Ann promising the jury she will give up her career should she succeed in clearing her husband's name. So much for girl power.

Raymond perfected playing the weak, ineffectual male throughout his early films (check out "Red Dust"). Wray is pleasant, if not particularly forceful, in the title role. Check out Wray in her most famous pre-code film, "King Kong," coming soon in an eagerly awaited Warner Home Video special edition DVD loaded with extras.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Virtues of "Virtue"

Film buffs convened on the Castro Friday night as the Columbia Before the Code series continues. On the double bill: the 1932 comedy/drama "Virtue" and an unusual Depression drama from director Frank Borzage, "Man's Castle."

"Virtue," though typical of the era, sparkles with snappy dialogue from frequent Frank Capra collaborator Robert Riskin. It helps that the film stars two fast-talking actors, Pat O'Brien and the wonderful Carole Lombard, who make the most of his script. Lombard plays Mae, a tough prostitute who the cops try to run out of town. She ignores orders to leave New York City, and while she lies low, she meets another tough but lovable sort, cab driver Jimmy (O'Brien). They fall in love and marry with a promise that her past is behind her. Money troubles and a murder threaten to break up the union half past "just married." Lombard is perfect, adding some trademark vulnerability to her "just one of the guys" act. O'Brien has never been a favorite of mine, but his bluster also fits well in this role. Mayo Methot (third wife of Bogie) is a standout as Mae's heart of gold pal with bad taste in men.

Frank Borzage is not particularly well-known as a director among the general public, but he directed some of the most interesting, socially relevant films of the Depression era. His romantic drama "Man's Castle" is an unusual film in that it deals frankly with issues of class and poverty that were plaguing the country at the time the film was made. Loretta Young (playing the most beautiful homeless person you've ever seen) meets equally down and out Spencer Tracy. He invites her to live with him in a shantytown overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. The set for this sea of shacks (including a stylized skyline in the background) gives us one of the most interesting shots of the movie. It's charming yet ugly at the same time. Borzage wants us to see the dignity and beauty in the homeless people's lives, but he's not afraid to show us the warts as well. It's hard to like or understand Spencer Tracy's character when he cheats on the devoted Loretta Young, and seems to be threatening violence against her for most of the movie. Young becomes pregnant, and Tracy begrudgingly decides to marry her. But he considers robbing a toy factory to leave her some money before he rides the rails to leave her to single motherhood. After the code, nearly everyone in the film would have to be "punished" for their misdeeds and flaws. Though the film seems disjointed in that it is trying to be too many things at once, it offers a far more realistic picture of the time than the escapist fare about well-to-do people that was drawing audiences in the early 30s.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"The Cocktail Hour" and "Child of Manhattan"

The Castro's "Columbia Before the Code" series got off to a great start last night with a couple of vintage romantic dramas with two very different female stars. "The Cocktail Hour" featured Bebe Daniels as a working girl artist "making $60,000 a year" and enjoying her independence. Her boss, played rather unconvincingly by Cary Grant's then-roommate Randolph Scott, has other ideas - namely that she should get married to him and ditch the career. Bebe goes on a transatlantic cruise to escape his chauvanistic ideas and promptly meets the suave but oily Sydney Blackmer. That's about as forward thinking as this film gets - Bebe's character is seemingly punished as it turns out her new man (Blackmer) is a married cad who ditches her before disembarking. The movie starts out with some clever dialogue and a nicely handled deck chair flirtation scene, but it gets increasingly heavy-handed with its message. Bebe Daniels has an easy charm and confidence, which makes it all the more distressing to see her lose her backbone and beg Randolph Scott for forgiveness at the end. Kudos to the Castro for getting a great print of the film.

"Child of Manhattan" was actually the more shocking of the two. Nancy Carroll plays the part of a naive and fun-loving dance hall girl Madeleine McGonegal. John Boles plays debonaire millionaire Paul Vanderkill, who is leasing part of his estate to the dance hall. The two fall in love after he pays a visit to his tenant. Madeleine and Paul realize they are from two completely different social circles, but they plan to marry. Madeleine then learns she is pregnant, and she is worried that it will appear she trapped Paul into marriage for his money. Abortion is hinted at, but Paul won't hear of it and arranges to get married right away. Shortly after, Madeleine goes into labor, but the baby dies shortly after birth. Distraught, Madeleine tries to spare Paul from any social embarassment by rushing to Mexico for a quickie divorce. Further complications ensue, but as with most pre-code pix, there is a neat happy ending.

The script is not particularly sharp-witted, even though it is based on an early Preston Sturges play. But the cast and performances make this a standout. I must confess I had never seen a Nancy Carroll film before. Not only is she luminously beautiful, but she shows an astonishing range. The hospital scene in which she finds out about the death of her child is heartbreaking. She has a nice chemistry with both Boles and his rival for her affections, Western star Buck Jones. Nice to see Nat Pendleton and Betty Grable in small roles.

Looking forward to seeing more of these rarities on Friday...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Counting Down to the Columbia Series

While we eagerly await the start of the Castro's pre-code series this Wednesday, the Chronicle's pink pages preview the coming attractions. Nice to see these rare films getting some early press.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Sin in Soft Focus at the Balboa

The Balboa's new schedule for the remainder of 2005 is out, and it does not disappoint. "Sin in Soft Focus" brings us 43 pre-code films from one of the most daring studios of the day, Paramount Pictures. Pre-code scholar Mark A. Viera helped put together the program, which is presented in conjunction with the San Francisco Film Society and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Though there are some familiar titles like "Blonde Venus" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," most are rarely screened movies not available on DVD and not seen on TV in years.

Here's just a few of the highlights of the program, running November 3 through the 24th:

Friday, 11/4: Viera introduces Mitchell Leisen's "Murder at the Vanities" (with young ingenue Kitty Carlisle) and the 1934 drama "Bolero" featuring tough guy George Raft as a dancer. At 11PM (separate admission), early talkie favorite Miriam Hopkins stars in the infamous "The Story of Temple Drake" , presented along with some ultra-rare pre-code movie trailers.

Monday, 11/7: Crime and Thriller Triple Feature: "Guilty as Hell," "Billion Dollar Scandal" and a surprise feature!

Thursday, 11/10: More rare Miriam Hopkins in 1932's "Two Kinds of Women," directed by Cecil B.'s older brother William de Mille.

Wednesday, 11/16: Check out the recently restored two-strip Technicolor golf musical "Follow Thru" with Paramount stars Buddy Rogers and Nancy Carroll. Don't miss the early feature on the double bill, "Search for Beauty," one of the last gasps of the pre-code era, starring Buster Crabbe and a very young Ida Lupino.

Thursday, 11/17: Buster's on the bill again in "King of the Jungle," playing a Tarzan type opposite Frances Dee as a city-living Jane. Paired with 1933's lurid jungle drama "White Woman."

Tuesday, 11/22: Mae West commits grand theft larceny by stealing the picture in her movie debut "Night After Night." Crime also pays for Alison Skipworth as "Madame Racketeer" in the second feature.

Obviously, there are too many great movies to mention them all. Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, Claudette Colbert, and The Marx Brothers are also represented in the series.

As an added bonus, some Betty Boop cartoons will round out the bill on many evenings.

Bravo, Balboa, on an ambitious and sure to be well-attended series!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Golden Boy Comes to the Golden Gate

Those folks at the Balboa Theater say their new calendar should be out and about around October 7th. That's when we find out what titles will appear in the Paramount Pre-Code series. One other notable event at the Balboa - '50s heartthrob Tab Hunter will be appearing live at the Balboa on November 1st and 2nd for screenings of camp classics "Polyester," "Lust in the Dust," and the 1958 western noir "Gunman's Walk." Noir afficionado Eddie Muller will do the interview honors. Muller is the co-author of Hunter's coming autobio, "Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star." Based on early reviews of the book, Tab should have plenty to talk about.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Oh, Kay!

A few weeks back, I told you about two soon-to-be-released biographies of glamorous '30s star Kay Francis. The second book is "Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career," co-authored by Lynn Kear and John Rossman. Like Scott O'Brien's forthcoming tome, Kear and Rossman rely on Kay's diaries, scrapbooks, and correspondence which are now housed at the Wesleyan University Cinema Archives. I had heard that the diaries weren't particularly revelatory about her personal life, though the authors claim many diary entries were written in code, and once deciphered, are actually surprisingly frank. Kear and Rossman feature some rare outtakes from Kay's films on their Web site. It's a lot of fun to see some quick glimpses of the real Kay. The biography should be published in late fall '05 or early '06

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Columbia Before the Code

Great news for San Francisco pre-code enthusiasts: there are not one but two pre-code film series hitting the indie houses in the city this fall! Mick LaSalle's article in the Chronicle confirms what we already hinted at: the Paramount Before the Code series which packed them in at New York's Film Forum last summer will be playing in an abbreviated form at the Balboa in October. Titles have not been announced yet, but Mark Viera, author of "Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood" and a new Greta Garbo biois putting together the program. Details as soon as the schedule is announced.

Perhaps more surprising is that The Castro has also announced a pre-code program featuring several rare Columbia releases not available on video or DVD! The nine-day series runs from October 12th through the 20th. Among the highlights:

  • Nancy Carroll in 1933's "Child of Manhattan," based on an early Preston Sturges play.
  • Spencer Tracy and Loretta Young in "Man's Castle" (1933)
  • Jean Harlow, Marie Prevost, and Mae Clarke in "Three Wise Girls"
  • A Fay Wray double feature: "Ann Carver's Profession," written by husband and Capra collaborator Robert Riskin, and 1934's "Mills of the Gods."
  • Early Barbara Stanwyck: "Mexicali Rose" (1929) and "Shopworn" with Regis Toomey.
  • Pre-Code Sopranos-style with the Italian mob melodrama "The Guilty Generation."

When it rains, it pours, as they say! After the success of the PFA's summer series, it was only a matter of time before the other rep houses followed suit. My only hope is that the two series don't conflict with each other. The Castro is already selling a series pass for the Columbia films at $45 for all 18 films!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Kay Francis Remembered

Kay Francis was a huge star in her day, commanding a top salary and getting choice roles opposite such leading men as Joel McCrea, Cary Grant, William Powell, Errol Flynn, and Leslie Howard. Unfortunately, she is largely forgotten amongst today's moviegoers. But she remains a favorite of most Pre-Code fans -myself included! I am happy to report there are not one but TWO upcoming biographies devoted to Francis. Northern California writer Scott O'Brien's "Kay Francis: I Can't Wait to Be Forgotten" will soon be published by BearManor Media. Prior to this book, no full-scale biography of Kay existed. Much of what had been written painted a somewhat sad portrait of the actress, with little information beyond her retirement from acting in the early 50s. Scott tells me he had some amazing sources for his book, including one of Kay's dearest friends (still acting today in her 80s!), as well as her two godsons. Scott sheds light on her retirement years, as well as her disillusionment with the movie industry that made her a very wealthy woman. The book contains many rare and never before published photos of this unconventional beauty. Get in line behind me and preorder a copy today!

If you aren't familiar with the work of Kay Francis, TCM shows her Warner Brothers films quite frequently. In fact, TCM host Robert Osborne has contributed the foreword to Scott O'Brien's bio. Check out one of her early pre-code films on 8/23 at 4:30am EST on TCM: 1931's "A Notorious Affair." I can't always put my finger on why Kay is one of my favorites. She has a speech impediment and her acting style could sometimes be overwrought. But you literally can't take your eyes off her when she is on screen. She has star quality and charm that elevates her performances, even in her most humdrum films. If you haven't yet discovered her, you are in for a treat.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Cukor's "Girls About Town" (1931)

The Pacific Film Archive closed out its well-attended "Trouble in Paradise: Pre-Code Hollywood" series last Sunday with a fabulous example of the genre, George Cukor's cynically hilarious "Girls About Town." This early Cukor film about a pair of gold-digging beauties is in some ways a precursor to his later masterpiece, "The Women." As a big Kay Francis fan, I was anxious to see this comedy. Always the clotheshorse, Kay looks fabulous - but costar Lilyan Tashman steals the picture. Her acid-tongued lines are delivered with a twinkle in her eyes, while Kay's role is the more serious of the two. It's a shame that Tashman died so young - she showed great promise. Joel McCrea delivers in a role that requires little more than to act as eye candy. Cukor's direction is inventive (I especially enjoyed a champagne filled sequence early in the film) and stylish. It was a lot of fun to see Louise Beavers in a minor role.

If you didn't get the chance to see "Girls about Town," don't fret - it may be coming back to the Bay Area in the near future. In comments before the film, a PFA staffer noted that former Castro programmer Anita Monga is working on putting together a Paramount Before the Code series similar to the program at New York's Film Forum earlier this summer. I would bet this series is for the Balboa Theater. I'll keep investigating!

Sunday, July 31, 2005

If I Had a Hammer...

Cinecon has posted the tentative schedule for its upcoming classic film festival in Los Angeles over Labor Day weekend. Among the pre-code films being screened is the early Cary Grant/Edward Everett Horton feature "Ladies Should Listen" (pictured) from 1933. Also on the docket is the 1934 Universal comedy release "Gift of Gab," directed by Karl Freund ("The Mummy") with fellow Universal horror standouts Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and "Titanic" star Gloria Stuart. There are some very rare silent features booked, including the long thought lost Oscar-nominated film "Sorrell and Son." Scheduled guests include Nanette Fabray, Patricia Neal, Diane Baker, and famed director Delbert Mann.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Solutions for B.O. Doldrums - The Lubitsch Touch

Seems like everyone and their brother is offering opinions on why domestic box office is down drastically this year. We've heard many potential explanations: the popularity of home theater, the shortened DVD window (the time it takes from when a film hits the first-run theatres to its release on DVD), and the cost of going to the movies. But a simpler explanation may lie in the fact that today's movies just aren't very good. Knight-Ridder columnist Mary Pols recently took in some pre-code gems at the PFA series in Berkeley, and she thinks there are lessons to be learned from these classic films.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Cinecon 41

The 41st annual CINECON, one of the biggest and oldest classic film festivals, has just updated details of this year's event. The festival takes place September 1-5 in Hollywood at the Egyptian Theatre. The full movie line-up has not been announced, but they have confirmed they will show the newly restored and uncensored "Baby Face." Also on the schedule is the 1951 melodrama "I Can Get It for You Wholesale" featuing Susan Hayward and Dan Dailey. This one has been running on Fox Movie Channel lately, and though it isn't Pre-Code, it is waiting for me on my TiVo!

Cinecon programmers usually goes to great lengths to find rarely screened silents and pre-codes, as well as forgotten classic films from 30s, 40s, and 50s. Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it this year, but I'll keep you posted as more information becomes available.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

July TV Schedules

Upcoming movies of note at a cable box near you:


6:00AM Daybreak (1931) - of note for its stars Ramon Novarro and Helen Chandler.
7:30 AM The Man In Possession (1931) - An out-of-luck heiress falls for the man appointed to dispose of her property. Robert Montgomery
9:00 AM Never The Twain Shall Meet (1931) A young lawyer's society romance suffers when he's appointed guardian of a South Seas beauty. Leslie Howard, Karen Morley. D: W.S. Van Dyke II. MY PICK FOR THE MONTH
10:30 AM Son Of India (1931) More Ramon Novarro, paired here with Madge Evans.
1:30 PM Journal Of A Crime (1934) The great Ruth Chatterton (of "Female") succumbs to amnesia before she can confess to shooting her husband's mistress
7/28 Seven pre-code comedies featuring Warner's star Joe E. Brown:
6:00 am Broadminded (1931)
7:15 am Local Boy Makes Good (1931)
8:30 am Tenderfoot, The (1932)
9:45 am Elmer The Great (1933)
11:00 am Son Of A Sailor (1933)
12:15 pm Circus Clown, The (1934)
1:30 pm Very Honorable Guy, A (1934)
6:00 AM One Way Passage (1932) An ocean voyage leads to romance for a dying heiress and a condemned criminal. Kay Francis, William Powell
7:15 AM The Key (1934) A British officer stationed in Ireland falls for the wife of an intelligence man. William Powell, Edna Best, Colin Clive. D: Michael Curtiz.
5:00 PM THE ESSENTIALS: Ernst Lubitsch's "The Merry Widow"

Fox Movie Channel

7/25 10:45PM Born to Be Bad (1934) Loretta Young, Cary Grant

Friday, July 08, 2005

Blood Money (1933)

Took a trip across the Bay to see this pre-code at the Pacific Film Archive. Very entertaining, fast-paced comedy featuring an unexpectedly showy turn from Frances Dee. Dee, usually cast as a good girl, clearly relishes her chance to play Elaine Harbert, a masochist, nymphomaniac, and kleptomaniac! Dame Judith Anderson (in her film debut) also plays against type as a glamorous if somewhat world weary "nightclub owner." The movie crackles with some great dialogue and inventive direction by Rowland Brown. Brown only directed four films, and was blackballed after some violent run-ins with producers. However, he continued to write for films. Apparently, "Blood Money" has gained cult film status (Danny Peary mentioned it in his second volume of "Cult Movies"). Though never released commercially on DVD or video, you may be able to find it at a specialty dealer. It's worth checking out - if only for a look at the cross-dressing bar patrons!
"Blood Money" shared the marquis with a second feature at the PFA, Raoul Walsh's "Me and My Gal" a comedy/drama starring a young Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett. Tracy and Bennett's abundant chemistry adds a lot to the picture; however the story dragged at times. Perhaps after the breakneck pace of "Blood Money," this film was bound to be a letdown. Bennett is hard as nails as the gum-chewing chowder house waitress, but it is a lot of fun to compare her performance here to her work in "Dark Shadows" 35 years later.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Pre-Code Summer Screenings

There are a few great pre-code series that are underway at art house theaters across the country that have been getting a bit of press. New York's Film Forum has assembled a rare collection of Paramount Pre-Codes, many of which are not available on DVD or video and haven't been seen on the small screen in many years. Paramount stars featured include Kay Francis, Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant, Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Miriam Hopkins, and Gary Cooper. I only wish I could be there to see them! Paramount arguably pushed the envelope more than any other studio until the Hays Office clamped down on things in 1934. The outrageous Murder at the Vanities and Search for Beauty are worth a look if you have never caught these oddball delights.

Over on the left coast, another pre-code series is screening at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California. Though many of the features in this series are screened frequently on TCM, there are still some rarities. The highlight of the series will be Library of Congress motion picture curator Michael Mashon proudly introducing his spectacular find, an uncut version of Barbara Stanwyck's Baby Face. This will be the Bay Area premiere of the restored version, which contains five minutes of racy material that was excised prior to the film's official release. Mashon will also present a few other Warner Brothers classics: Night Nurse, Employees' Entrance, and Two Seconds. Could these all be part of Warner Home Video's planned pre-code DVD box set slated for sometime in 2006?


I recently did a search on the Web for a blog devoted to a subject near and dear to my heart, pre-code movies. Coming up relatively empty-handed, I decided I would start one myself! If you have landed on this page, you probably already know that pre-code films are defined as US movies released by the major studios from the period 1930-1934. It was in 1934 that the Hays Production Code for motion pictures was strengthened and rigidly enforced, and that essentially ended the pre-code era. But the movies live on, thanks to TCM, DVD releases, and showings at repertory movie houses around the world. I hope to keep both new and veteran pre-code fans informed with news about screenings, DVD releases, book releases, and tidbits about that bygone era. Take a seat, have some popcorn, and enjoy the show!