At first, making my picks for the week, it appeared that I’d be able to point out all ’30s films, and decided to go with that—but then I ran into Sunday and the pickings became more scant; thus only the first three are 1930s gems. Even so, our final two picks for the week are both very funny comedies, so I think it evens out, don’t you? As a tribute to my attempt to go all-1930s, I thought I’d at least include photographs I’ve taken of things from the 30s. Sound fair?
The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex ’39
Bette Davis played Elizabeth I better than anybody else had or has, and that’s that. Though Private Lives plays very fast and loose with real history, it’s just too much fun to resist: the costumes, the sets, the acting, the drama! And any time we have the opportunity to see Errol Flynn play a hothead (even a treasonous one) is fine by me. Olivia de Havilland, Alan Hale, (Star Of The Month) Vincent Price, and Donald Crisp also star. Really: It’s from 1939, Hollywood’s best year. Don’t miss it. You’ll be so sad you did.
TCM aired this several months ago, and both Hubby and I really ended up enjoying it; though labelled a drama, it has good humour (some of it inadvertent, considering the distance in years between its making and viewing) and is thoroughly enjoyable. Ruth Chatterton stars as a female automotive company CEO who is also a bit of a predator—one that devours men, not other auto companies, and is brash about her intent. “A long time ago, I decided to travel exactly the same open road that men travel. So I treat men exactly the way they’ve always treated women…I know for some women men are a household necessity. Myself? I’d rather have a canary!”
Living more like a man than a woman of the 30s, Chatterton finds herself utterly flummoxed when she realizes she’s actually falling in love with George Brent, whom she’d selected as her next victim—particularly considering his repeatedly turning her down.
A Pre-Code film, Female is simply very interesting with a good cast and amazing sets—Depression? What Depression? The early 30s dresses don’t hurt, either. They don’t even hurt Brent’s resolve. Definitely worth a viewing.
The Bitter Tea of General Yen ’32
So, last time this Barbara Stanwyck drama was on, I DVRd it…only I didn’t. Don’t you hate when that happens? But I’d still very much like to see the film, in which Stanwyck, a missionary, is rescued and held captive by a Chinese warlord, and falls in love with him—and he with her—during a civil war. Cultures collide, and as one would expect from a film made in the 30s, it’s not always culturally sensitive, but apparently the acting and story are both marvellous, and darnit, I intend to catch it this time, not the least so I can write more intelligently about it! (Unless there’s a Red Wings game.)
Columbia Pictures spent a fortune making General Yen—more than ever before, in fact, to the tune of $1,000,000—and paid a handsome fee to make it the film that first graced Radio City Music Hall’s silver screen. Director Frank Capra considered it one of his best films, and it’s definitely an unusual one for a man most connected to It’s A Wonderful Life.
Mister Roberts ’55
This cargo ship-bound comedy gets funnier every time I see it: Great (true) stars of sometimes quirky characters (a palm tree aboard ship?) and a fine, witty script are seamlessly matched for a film that provides plenty of hearty laughs, but also…well…heart, for we come to care about these characters stationed away from action during WWII.
Mister Roberts (Henry Fonda) is often all that stands between the longsuffering crew’s sanity & humanity and their testy Capatain (James Cagney, still delightfully white-hot in 1955). Despite daily battles with his commanding officer, Roberts longs to be placed on the front lines; even so, he does his best to make life easier for the Reluctant‘s crew, keeping morale high even in the face of the captain’s attempts to drag it down. He’s boosted by shipmates William Powell (the doctor) and scene-stealing Jack Lemmon (an ensign); director John Ford brought favourite Ward Bond along for the cruise as well.
This cast works together beautifully in the film despite a mid-shoot change in directors (from Ford, who didn’t like bowing to Henry Fonda, to Mervyn LeRoy, I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, Quo Vadis, Random Harvest, Little Women). Mister Roberts is a wonderful comedy, very funny and extremely enjoyable—perfect for settling down ahead of the coming week with.
By the way, TCM is screening Ensign Pulver ’64 after Roberts, but I’m not really sure it’s worth watching.
Support Your Local Sheriff! ’69
I’ve not seen this since I was a kid, but even now remember it being a fun ride. It’s definitely a late 60s western, the sort Hollywood began producing when they became embarrassed of the more old-fashioned, John Wayne-and-Jimmy Stewart sort of Western, but unlike some, this doesn’t look down its nose at its predecessors; it chugs along in its genre affectionately, tongue firmly in cheek. James Garner stars as a man headed to what he considers the last real frontier—but going through an out-of-control western town, he’s offered the job of sheriff, accepts, and hires the local drunkard as his deputy (of course, right?). In the process of trying to establish law & order, the new sheriff angers the old guard, and there is (also of course) a final shootout ah, inspired by Wyatt Earp’s shootout at the O.K. Corral. All told, it’s a fun movie to watch.