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...

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