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!