Essential: NOTORIOUS (1946)

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TB: This weekend we’re looking at another collaboration between Alfred Hitchcock and Ingrid Bergman. While SPELLBOUND had been released a year earlier through United Artists, this production was done at RKO. It seems rather obvious that producer David Selznick has a guiding hand behind the scenes. This was the first time that Bergman had been cast in a film with Cary Grant.

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The two would be reunited in 1958 for the European flavored romantic comedy INDISCREET. Grant had already made SUSPICION with Hitch, and of course would go on to make two more films with the director in the 1950s. NOTORIOUS benefits not only from its strong cast which includes Claude Rains in a pivotal role, but from Hitchcock’s direction, and from a finely crafted script.

JL: When discussing  SPELLBOUND, I failed to give credit to screenwriter Ben Hecht. Perhaps it doesn’t matter because he was essentially a co-writer there with Angus MacPhail and its ventures into psychoanalysis were not “typical” Hecht. The subsequent NOTORIOUS, which Hecht wrote on his own, is a much more the expected combination of Master Screenwriter Cynic with the Master of Suspense. The screenplay for NOTORIOUS includes a few prominent juicy and subtly sexist lines like “A man doesn’t tell a woman what to do… she tells herself” and “Dry your eyes, baby; it’s out of character.”

TB: What do you think Hecht was trying to say with this particular story?

JL: In Hecht’s view of the world affairs in 1946, those who merely sat idle while fascism destroyed a continent must now work hard to compensate for their idleness. Ingrid Bergman here plays party girl Alicia, the daughter of a Nazi spy, who has done a bit too much drinking and carrying on. Had U.S. agent “Devlin,” a diabolical name for Grant’s character, not been around, she would be in jail for a DUI. Hecht kind-of/sort-of makes a parallel between her and the people of Germany who, in his personal view and those of many other Americans as well (since we revisit similar themes in later Hollywood perspectives like JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG), the Germans allowed their country to slip into the dark side without fighting as hard against it as the opposing side.

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TB: That seems like a lot of drama to hang on poor Alicia. Of course, Bergman excels at these kinds of flawed heroines who strive to become more virtuous by the end of the film.

JL: Alicia must now counter everything Daddy had done by working hard, very hard. She must now start rooting out future Nazism in areas it managed to escape to after the war. Even though she falls in love with Devlin her recruiter, she is forced to marry the best friend of her late father, Alexander Sebastian, played by Rains.

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TB: Rains does a truly superb job  here. In many ways his character leads the story, even when he is not even on screen! Plus we have the intriguing subplot of Sebastian’s relationship with his mother. It sort of foreshadows the mummy-son scenarios in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and PSYCHO.

JL: Alicia and Devlin attempt to get evidence to convict Sebastian down in Rio de Janeiro. However, Sebastian isn’t naive since both he and his mother Madame Anna (stoically played by Leopoldine Konstantin) decide to poison Alicia slowly to death once Alicia’s plot is uncovered. As far as lady spies goes, even Mata Hari had it easier than Alicia!

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TB: Care to comment on other aspects of the storyline? Maybe specific scenes that seem to capture viewers?

JL: There isn’t a whole lot of story to this one, but it doesn’t matter. It is still a fan favorite of the Hitch filmography for a multitude of reasons. There are several great set-up scenes like the spectacular panoramic shot over the mansion banisters. Plus a shot through a crowd before a zoom-in to a wine cellar key that Alicia is handling under Alexander’s watchful eyes. Not many classics, even among the Hitchcock films, have achieved such a stunning visual effect and this image gets discussed in the movie history books often.

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Each time I watch this scene, I am oddly reminded of those famous scenes of Jacques and Gus the mice stealing a key from stepmother Lady Tremaine in Walt Disney’s adaptation of CINDERELLA. Since that film began production after this one, I have to wonder if the Disney animation staff studied it to steal a few, um, “key” ideas.

TB: It is certainly possible.

JL: Naturally this is one of Ingrid Bergman’s finest performances since she has so much to do on screen. Hher face is full of emotional expression in practically every shot. Like the famous key zoom-in, the zoom-ins to her and Cary Grant kissing have been discussed almost as much as Marion Crane’s shower scene. This is primarily due to the clever way Hitch’s team got around the Production Code.

TB: What do you mean?

JL: The performers were only allowed a certain number of seconds for kissing so we get a lot of short kisses, stopping and starting in quick procession. Personally I feel more “heat” coming from Bergman than Grant here, although he compensates in the final act when he becomes her knight in armor saving her life and, to be fair, his character is supposed to be a bit cool and distant due to his jealousy of her marrying another man in the service of her country. The way she constantly fondles his face with her hands is pretty hot stuff for the forties.

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TB: So while Alicia is married to Sebastian and being “romanced” by Devlin, she is desiring some sort of extra-marital affair. Again, that would violate the production code, which would technically be in favor or her making the marriage to Sebastian work…even if Sebastian is still a villain!

JL: I especially like the scene when Sebastian almost tears up in front of his mother about his discovery that his beloved wife, whom he does genuinely love at first, is betraying him. I do feel his sense of hurt after Devlin’s devliish line of “I knew her before you, loved her before you, only I’m not as lucky as you.”

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We don’t often feel sorry for the villains, but Rains plays his role with tremendous sympathy. One possible criticism here is that he may play his role TOO sympathetic and is, therefore, less convincing as a villain. After all, before he and Mother plan their scheme against Alicia, he is a very caring husband who demonstrates more verbal affection towards her than aloof-until-the-finale Devlin.

TB: That’s an excellent point to make. Sebastian and Devlin sort of switch roles during the story, in terms of which one is meant to anchor Alicia and give her some definition in a domestic sense. Since Hitchcock, Hecht and the studio wanted the two more attractive youthful leads to end up together before the final fadeout, Sebastian’s villainy needs to overtake him, and Devlin’s heroism needs to become more evident.

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JL: Supposedly there were three separate endings planned, according to the DVD extra commentaries for this movie. One ending actually had Alicia die from poison and Devlin is seen alone at a cafe hearing other people discuss her as a “notorious” woman while he mourns her.

TB: I don’t think that ending would have worked very well. It would have been way too somber. Audiences of the 1940s, conditioned to have romantic happy endings, would not have cared for it.

JL: There were also plans to make her character more of a “tramp” than already suggested (in lines like “You can add Sebastian’s name to my list of playmates”), but it was decided to make Bergman more pristine and steam cleaned for the screen. This was an example of the Selznick influence still in effect since the producer made sure his star (under contract to him) remained respectable in terms of her screen persona. It was also a major reason why her scenes were edited out of the bizarre Salvador Dali dream sequence in SPELLBOUND.

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TB: Interesting. Yes, I think Selznick’s financial stake in Bergman’s services as an actress determined whether she played redeemable heroines. There is no way she would have been allowed to play a woman of ill-repute or a “bad girl” / villainess in any way. Not during this phase of her Hollywood career.

JL: Selznick’s fingerprints are all over this movie and his name appears on the credits, but he pretty much sold it outright to RKO Radio early in production because he was burning his pockets with DUEL IN THE SUN and needed the quick cash. The resulting film does resemble a Selznick International production in feel if not reality, almost as if it was being distributed through RKO instead of the usual United Artists but somehow missing the familiar sign-and-plantation house logo. While this is a classic romantic movie with plenty of Production Code Era love making, the music score by RKO regular Roy Webb tones everything down much more than in the previous SPELLBOUND and other Selznick pictures so that it is less gushy-slushy than we expect.

TB: Despite Selznick’s behind the scenes control over Bergman’s performance and other aspects of the production, it is of course, still an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

JL: Being one of Hitch’s most famous films, it is somewhat difficult to explain “what it is” that one likes about it. Probably because the story is simple yet presented in a complicated manner with so many special effects that you feel there is a lot more going on than you think. Sometimes the effects in themselves and the primary work of cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff is more impressive visually than functionally.

TB: Care to elaborate on that?

JL: Well, we discover that the wine bottles have uranium powder in them but there isn’t much discussion on that subject like there would be on microfilm leaks in the “pumpkin” that Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint discover in NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

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Yet isn’t it groovy-cooly how Hitch makes sure one bottle gradually slides off the shelf in full view of the viewers while Cary Grant’s Devlin is too busy studying the year labels on each bottle? As if the labels focused on were somehow important to the story as well, when they are more likely “red herrings” to distract us.

TB: That is all we have time for this weekend. Thanks Jlewis. I’ve enjoyed your thoughts and observations about SPELLBOUND and NOTORIOUS.

JL: Sure. By the way, worth listening to is a condensed half hour radio version of NOTORIOUS for The Screen Guild Theater. It was aired on NBC, January 6, 1949 and also features Ingrid Bergman.

https://ia800301.us.archive.org/31/items/ScreenGuildTheater/Sgt_49-01-06_ep408_Notorious.mp3

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Essential: NOTHING SACRED (1937)

TB: Welcome to our theme called ‘Making News.’ This week we’re going to focus on a comedy about the newspaper business, and next week we will cover a drama that centers on the way news is reported.

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TB: Carole Lombard excelled at screwball comedy, and it wasn’t until she made NOTHING SACRED for David Selznick that she had ever been photographed in Technicolor. So it’s a real treat for Lombard’s fans, and for fans of the genre, since the early use of Technicolor seemed to be reserved for musicals or big scale epics.

NOTHING SACRED is only 77 minutes. Ben Hecht is the credited screenwriter, though supposedly at least a half dozen other writers contributed material.

JL: Oh yes…Budd Schulberg, Ring Lardner Jr. Dorothy Parker, Sidney Howard, Moss Hart, George S. Kaufman and Robert Carson all contributed but I still think of this as…oh heck, Hecht’s film.

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JL: NOTHING SACRED is a title I have seen quite a few times, stretching back to the early-mid 1980s when it was frequently seen on PBS late at night and widely available on public domain VHS. My copy is from Kino Lorber that is mastered from Selznick’s 35mm print, although a supposedly better upgrade was also put out by Kino for Blu-Ray a year ago that might be worth comparing it to.

TB: Sounds like you are a real fan of the movie.

JL: Yes. But although it is a fun screwball comedy, it is a bit blah for a Technicolor 30s film in comparison to Selznick’s other pre-GWTW efforts: THE GARDEN OF ALLAH, A STAR IS BORN and THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER. The Wikipedia article indicates it sports a number of firsts, like the first all-color montage sequence and use of back projection, but that can be questioned. The earlier Warner Brothers Technicolor short subjects of 1936-37 that feature cinematographer W. Howard Greene are quite experimental if ignored by many modern movie buffs merely because they are “shorts.” UNDER SOUTHERN STARS was a two-reeler released in February 1937, nine months before this feature, and it boasts an impressive battle scene montage with various flags superimposed.

TB: No idea who added the information on the wiki page, but maybe we can say these so-called firsts were firsts for feature films. Let’s talk a bit about the cinematography. What are your thoughts about the way the scenes are lit and photographed?

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JL: My basic problem is that everybody is lit much the same apart from a few night and sunset scenes and, as a result, there is a pink blandness to all of the faces, in addition to Carole Lombard looking a bit too pale. (Yes, she is pretending to be sick, but still.) The one plus is a certain New York grittiness being preserved in thirties color since this is not your usual period costume drama, fantasy or flashy musical.

TB: Agreed. In some ways the grittiness of the setting reminds me of a Damon Runyon story. There are outlandish situations and colorful characters, and it all blends together in a frenetic and rather amusing way. This is kind of new territory for a David Selznick picture, since his productions tend to be much more high brow and focusing on members of the upper class.

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JL: The film has Ben Hecht’s super cynical stamp pounded on it with a hammer. I always think of him by that prediction he made for Hollywood’s future twenty years later in a famous 1957 article: “It’ll be a tourist spot like Tombstone, Arizona, before the century’s done.” Likewise, he is particularly pessimistic of the newspaper business, the dominant “mass media” before the television and internet age; THE FRONT PAGE is the obvious precursor here with its “anything for a story” theme.

TB: Oh yes. It’s that sort of theme and its inherent outlandishness that makes the film so enjoyable to watch. There are a lot of funny moments. How do you feel about Fredric March playing Wally Cook, the reporter?

JL: Frederic March is good, but more of the straight man. He is given plenty of memorable lines and is believably gullible as a reporter who does not mean to deliver “fake news.” He defends himself to his boss by saying he did not know the Sultan of Marzipan was a fake and we the viewers want to believe him with those baby eyes looking innocent. His boss’ remedy is “removing him from the land of the living” by sending him to the obituaries page, located among basement file drawers with people using ladders above him, which he initially handles with great humility.

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JL: I liked Wally discussing his boss, newspaper editor (not film director) Oliver Stone: “He’s sort of a cross between a Ferris wheel and a werewolf. But with a lovable streak if you care to blast for it.” Playing Oliver is the ever hyper Walter Connolly, who probably plays his role a bit too over the top here.

TB: Lombard’s character, Hazel Flagg, is brought into the story in a very clever way.  After Wally has been sent by Oliver to work in the obituary department, he reads a blurb about some Vermont woman named Hazel who apparently has radium poisoning and is dying. He then travels to Vermont to learn more and to meet Hazel. They have an interesting first meeting. But then of course, things become quite exaggerated. At first, I wasn’t sure if she was really sick or not. We know that whether or not she is, that’s besides the point. The main point is that March’s reporter is going to milk it for what’s worth, to generate a ton of sympathy for her.

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JL: Yes. Headlines constantly exaggerate Hazel Flagg’s situation and funny little shots get tossed in to showcase just how disconnected the writers of those headlines are with the general public reading them. For example, one reads “Hazel sets new high point of courage,” according to the mayor who is up for re-election. This is followed by a shot of a construction worker thousands of feet up eating his lunch while reading that very paper with little excitement. A subsequent shot shows a lady at market using another key headline to wrap the raw fish she bought, a bright red one with dead eyes to match.

TB: I took these moments to be Hecht’s disdain for “important” news. That he was saying most of what is printed is barely worth wrapping up a fish, or lining the bottom of a birdcage. It’s very tongue-in-cheek, most of these quick scenes in the movie.

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JL: When Hazel faints from too much champagne and everybody but Charles Winninger’s good doctor Enoch “Downer” (what a name!) thinks she might have died, greedy Oliver the news editor whispers “Doctor, I wanna know the worst. I don’t want you to spare our feelings. We’re going to press in 15 minutes!”

TB: That part made me giggle. The dialogue is definitely over the top in that scene. Winninger’s line delivery is great. But even though this is supposed to be funny, there is a bit of tragedy on screen. Mainly the fact that everyone else is deeply concerned about Hazel Flagg, thinking this is the end for her.

In the next part she is taken to a hotel suite where they think she is going to die. And in that sequence, we get some ironic commentary about Hazel’s life and the thought of her passing from this life so young. All more poignant since Lombard herself would die just four years later.

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JL: After she is exposed as a fraud who is not dying from radium poisoning, Wally counter-attacks Oliver: “Remember she was just a circulation stunt for you. You used her like you’ve used every broken heart that’s fallen into your knapsack to inflame the daffy public and help sell your papers.”

TB: What did you think of some of the other supporting characters?

JL: Lots of minor characters are borrowed from Hollywood’s stock supply of wonderful supporting players. Hattie McDaniel’s part is brief but she practically steals the show exposing an African “prince” that Wally made famous through the Morning Star paper, a man who was really a Harlem shoe shine man (Troy Brown).

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JL: In another sequence we have Margaret Hamilton playing a Warsaw, Vermont drugstore lady who gives Wally a lot more words than the standard “yup” and “nope.” Then there’s the head of the goofy doctor team who expose Hazel’s big lie. He is wonderfully played by Sig Ruman.

TB: And don’t forget the maintenance man!

JL: The maintenance man played by boxing champ Maxie Rosenbloom is quite funny. Particularly in his reactions, since apparently he used to sell papers as well, just not like Oliver but as a street corner boy in his youth. “That’s enough about sellin’ papers!” he shouts before attacking Wally with full force. (Off camera, Rosenbloom taught Carole Lombard how to properly sock Frederic March in the jaw, making their later skirmish all the more effective.)

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TB: I love the scene where Hazel socks Wally in the jaw. I think it’s definitely Lombard’s best moment on screen, and it’s easy to see why Lombard would tell people this was her favorite film. She really gets into it. It’s a very well-rehearsed choreographed moment for her. And it ends with her collapsing on the bed. It’s perfect from start to finish.

JL: Although it is a very minor scene, I love the nameless gray squirrel who follows a singing children group visiting Hazel’s hotel. When it wanders into her bed, her reaction is much the same as if it had been a rat. Her reaction is so spontaneous, I suspect director William Wellman did not prepare Lombard for that surprise.

TB: Watching something like this, you really get a sense for Lombard’s greatness. I think she was ahead of her time in many regards. I especially like her impersonating Garbo in a Paramount picture she made around this time with Fred MacMurray. In this film, she is also doing a bit of a caricature; and her timing is impeccable. She likes to satirize things, to spoof situations and Hecht’s story is right up her alley.

JL: I personally prefer her performance in MY MAN GODFREY but she does display a wider range of emotions here. As a bored young lady eager to see the Big Apple and get away from her confining hometown like so many other bored young ladies stuck dealing with Depression woes, she is willing to fool millions that she is gravely ill when she’s not. Then she gets emotionally invested in how emotionally invested others are in her.

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TB: I think that’s it exactly. It starts as a ruse. But then the ruse becomes something very real to Hazel. And Lombard accomplishes that transformation with the character expertly. But she never lets it get maudlin; she keeps it fun.

JL: The scene with her calling Wally’s attention to “the man with the toupee” (Alex Melesh) gets me every time! When handed the key to the city, she can not figure out where to put it and almost sticks it through the bosom of her blouse. Clearly she enjoyed every moment of her performance, almost as if Hazel Flagg discovered that she was dying for real and must enjoy every last moment of her life to its fullest.

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JL: Over the years, this film has mellowed a bit. If you think about it, the story is deceptively simple even if it does raise some interesting commentary on the notion of famous-for-fifteen-minute celebrities (as Andy Warhol defined us all decades later) and the cutthroat business of news reporting. It is surprising to learn that it lost money in its initial release, which could be blamed on Selznick producing it in Technicolor and increasing the budget past a million as a result when most screwball comedies were more economical.

TB: Thoughts about the ending?

JL: I must admit that it took me many viewings to finally understand the ending and I have a feeling many thirties audiences also missed the sophistication of the humor as I had done. As our couple slink away married with her name changed as the public “mourns” Hazel’s passing (headlines declared that she left to die alone like an elephant), a fellow passenger thinks she recognizes her on a cruise ship. Of course, Hazel denies she is Hazel and is merely mistaken for “that fake”, prompting a how-can-you-say-that? response from the still mourning lady. Hazel then tells Wally her new husband “Why, right now, millions of people are crying just thinking about me.”

When I first saw this movie as a teenager and heard a drunk Dr. Downer holler “Run for your life! The whole town is flooded!”, I initially thought that the ship itself was sinking and the real Hazel was going to die on her honeymoon. Actually Hecht and Wellman were merely having one last dig at the “crying” town of New York City.

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NOTHING SACRED may be viewed on YouTube.

Essential: DEADLINE U.S.A. (1952)

TopBilled wrote:

For the second part of our ‘Making News’ series we are looking at one of Humphrey Bogart’s lesser known films. It was produced in the early 50s, after the star had left Warner Brothers and had begun to freelance. Jlewis provided such excellent detailed comments there really isn’t anything else I need to add.

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Jlewis wrote:

Despite its big cast of Humphrey Bogart, Ethel Barrymore and rising newcomer Kim Hunter (along with other familiars like Martin Gabel, Paul Stewart, Ed Begley, Audrey Christie and even Jim Backus) and a high profile producer named Sol Siegel, this is not a high profile feature I was all that familiar with. Apparently it did well at the box office at the time and was a key breakthrough for Richard Brooks, one of the fifties darlings-among-directors who would team up with Bogie once more. Yet it tends to be chucked to the sidelines by many modern movie buffs as a lesser Bogie vehicle even if no Bogie vehicle is ever “lesser” in any way.

Yes, this film has plenty of merit too and is quite entertaining in its own way. This rather modest production (but with great inside scenes of a news press facility) was filmed in roughly a month or so just before a much more famous Bogie, THE AFRICAN QUEEN, had its gala premiere, and 20th Century Fox swiftly released it to New York City theaters barely five days before Bogie’s big Oscar win.

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Oh… by the way, Kim Hunter also won an Oscar for A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE so she gets pretty prominent billing in the opening credits despite a relatively small role.

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Opening shots involve a mob boss Tomas Rienzi (Gabel) being questioned by the authorities as TV cameras and press photographers document. He is a respectable member of the community who is careful to eliminate evidence of his crimes. The smug look speaks volumes.

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Then we dive into a newspaper office for The Day with talk about some guy undressing with the shades up and a woman reporting it to the press, followed by talk of another woman found dead wearing only a mink coat and nothing underneath. Both discussions are a sign that the news business needed more “flesh” and morbidity to sell stories during these trying times, competing with the early days of television. This latter story would be an important one to the plot, however, as the woman turns out to be the mistress of Rienzi, who also had ties with her brother (Joe De Santis).

The employees including supervisor Frank Allen (Ed Begley) learn from the Associated Press, no less, that they are being sold by the widow owner Margaret Garrison (Barrymore) and her daughters (played by Joyce MacKenzie and Fay Baker) to a rival news company The Standard that may potentially dissolve it. Poor editor Ed Hutcheson (Bogart) is given the unhappy task to inform the staff that they will soon be losing their jobs.

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At least they have an old fashioned wake at a bar for the business as pessimistic Ed mourns how the tabloid nature of the business has taken over when giving advice to a green-under-the-collar admiring reporter.

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After good drinks at the wake, we are introduced to Ed’s ex-wife Nora. Kim Hunter doesn’t get to do much with her role, although her purpose is blatantly obvious. Even though she divorced him and is ready to marry somebody else, we know Ed still loves her and, like all married or engaged heterosexual men in these crime and war movies, she is his “insurance” for survival. Other instead are destined to perish. She is also cynical of Ed as much as he is cynical of himself and his occupation, but all of this can change suddenly for the better.

You see…our mob boss who opened the movie alters the future of the newspaper by roughing up one of their star reporters, George Burrows (Warren Stevens), who also loses his eye in the process. His boss Ed tries to learn all that happens and soon finds himself involved in a big story that the public needs to read about. As he tells Frank, “if anything saves the paper, this is it.”

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When the first cover story is a success, it even prompting the key editor-in-chief of The Standard to reevaluate his own paper’s sensationalist reporting.

This is another of those investigation stories starting with a woman (Bessie Schmidt is the name of the deceased one found with the mink coat) whom we never see alive but is talked about with various witnesses. Paul Stewart is almost unrecognizable as another involved in the investigation, eventually getting Bessie’s brother to also be a stool pigeon on Rienzi.

Unfortunately we all know what happens to stool pigeons regardless of how much “safety” a newspaper provides, but his blight is more unusual than some of the others when rounded up by henchmen in cop uniforms and literally “stopping the presses.” Ed himself also “takes a ride” with Mister Rienzi and his personal lawyer and, refusing to be bribed, talks his way out of a life or death situation there. One memorable line of Rienzi’s is that he is in the “cement and contract business” and I can only imagine what often might be found underneath quite a few sidewalks.

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Meanwhile the great Barrymore as Madame Garrison over-rides her greedy daughters in preventing the newspaper from being sold. We get some morality talk about how “I will not let this paper die” on account of its renewed integrity on getting a story to the public. Yet even she proves powerless in the final act.

Cyril Mockridge’s music score is not terribly distinctive but I found it interesting how “glory, glory hallelujah” gets referenced whenever Ed is talking at his most pessimistic, then over the victorious end. It is a cue to tell viewers that he is a crusader despite how down and out he sometimes talks.

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Not only does Ed get his co-workers and ex wife to feel highly of him and of themselves, but also his boss owner Mrs. Garrison who even fixes his drink for him when he visits. He reminds her of her late husband who worked so hard to make The Day an all important information source for the general public.

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This is an uplifting story of David the reporter vs. two Goliaths, one a crime boss and the other a bigger rival that wants to take it over. At a court hearing in which the fate of The Star vs. The Standard is decided, Ed gives a sermon on integrity and the journalists’ duties to the public.

Although Bogie gives a good speech worthy of his talents, I found this whole scene too much like so many others I have sat through involving other Good Guys like Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck, all with a similar moral message about some of the biggest causes worth fighting for that are seemingly lost causes. Likewise, we get a fellow Little David, a female version in the form of Bessie and Herman Schmidt’s mother, to provide the final ammunition for Ed to win his battle.

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So…all in all, this is a good if not revolutionary social conscious piece. When I find myself spending more time narrating the plot and less discussing the production aspects and the performances, it doesn’t mean I dislike it in any way. Bogart is always great in just about anything he does. I like Audrey Christie as the good gal committed to her boss and her co-workers, maintaining an upbeat personality even when the times are rough. Jim Backus has a minor comic scene but is mostly playing his role in a serious tone.

Everybody, in short, does their job well for the cameras even if I didn’t get a sense that, aside from Joseph de Santis’ doomed Herman Schmidt, they were particularly challenged in their roles. Martin Gabel is a surprisingly mild-mannered criminal but he does show a bit of noteworthy rage and defeat in the final moments.

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DEADLINE U.S.A. may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Essential: CAROLINE? (1990)

TB: This week we are looking at an Emmy award winning telefilm from 1990. Again, the theme is about a woman trying to overcome her past. Only in this case, the woman is dead. Or was she merely presumed dead? One of the ads for this CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation says Caroline is a prodigal daughter who has returned for family reasons. But it may actually be that she’s an impostor, and that she’s here for financial reasons.

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Stephanie Zimbalist has the title role, a short time after her hit series with Pierce Brosnan, Remington Steele, had left the airwaves. It’s a juicy role for the actress and she makes the most of it. I had recently found a copy on YouTube, and because I had never seen it and had heard good things about it over the years, I was eager to take a look. I enjoyed it so much, I persuaded JLewis to also look at it. And we agreed that it should be reviewed here as an Essential.

JL: SEPTEMBER AFFAIR was a vintage Hollywood romance we discussed before, in which a couple try to change their identity and start a new life when they discover that the plane they failed to board crashed with no survivors. This one shares just that one plot element: a plane crash and the possibility that Caroline Carmichael (Zimbalist), the wealthy and rebellious daughter of business tycoon Paul Carmichael (George Grizzard), did not boarding a plane which crashed, and she ended up living a different life for 15 years.

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TB: I was glad the writers established Caroline’s backstory immediately, though we are definitely made to wonder if the real Caroline did in fact survive and if this woman that shows up on the Carmichaels’ doorstep is an interloper. Zimbalist’s acting is so good that we cannot really tell if she’s a fake or the genuine article.

JL: In the 1950s (1952 according to the novel by E. L. Konigsburg, Father’s Arcane Daughter), she returns from “the dead” to get re-acquainted with Daddy. Apparently he was widowed shortly after the tragedy when Caroline’s mother died of grief and, rather shortly later, remarried to Grace (Pamela Reed) and produced two newer children, a very suspicious 12 year old Winston (Shawn Phelan) and his handicapped but very rambunctious sister Heidi (alternate name Hilary, played by Jenny Jacobs in a particularly scene stealing role here).

TB: The supporting cast is amazing. I think Pamela Reed is quite stellar. She nails the b*tchiness of the stepmother character, but also conveys some vulnerability where it is needed. Like the scene where Grace describes how Heidi/Hilary had once been tested and what that entailed. I agree that the child who plays Heidi/Hilary does steal the movie. But Zimbalist and Grizzard are quite strong in their central roles as well. As I said above, Zimbalist does keep you guessing throughout, but of course those scenes with the half-smiles suggest she may very well not be who she claims to be.

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JL: Caroline claims to have lived in India as Martha Sedgewick, which checks out when Grace does an investigation on her. There is much fuss over an inheritance here (which is revealed in more detail at the film’s climax with Dorothy McGuire playing a key role), but Caroline claims her return isn’t about the money. Early on, there is a key shot of a half smile as she is leaving the house after her first reunion scene, and that probably makes viewers question her motives. She also half-smiles in other scenes when the son cross questions her, as if she is mastering some sort of performance.

TB: Zimbalist works well with the boy who plays Winston. Winston is meant to be suspicious at first, then he eventually comes to respect Martha/Caroline, even if she is not really his sister. So the relationship between them evolves during the story. I should point out that Shawn Phelan, who played Winston, had a tragic life. Details can be found on his wiki page. But he did not live very long afterward. He was a good performer and no doubt would have given more great performances over the years if his life had not been tragically cut short.

Let’s discuss some of the other performers.

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JL: Patricia Neal has a standout bit role as Miss Trollope, who cross questions Caroline about India at a party. Cynical and very impish Grace to Trollope: “I think the party is a success and Caroline looks so well. How does she seem to you?” “Peculiar” is the clever response from that fine actress in her role. She does catch-up Caroline on a specific memory detail in a key later scene when Caroline visits Trollope’s school. But Miss Trollope is mighty impressed by her ambition and great affection for the younger siblings.

TB: Neal certainly makes the most of her screen time, and it’s a good role for her. She’s playing a brittle woman, but a woman that also has some softness, or tenderness, towards others.

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JL: Much of the story is shown from Winston’s view-point as a child (reflected later as an adult when Caroline…or her impostor?…dies a second time in the present time. He is suspicious of Caroline just like his mother but is impressed by what Caroline does with his handicapped sister, involving a friend who is a specialist teacher. Meanwhile, a competition begins between Grace and this invader into her and her children’s lives. There is a tearful separation scene and one that dramatically alters the relationship between mother and daughter, the latter getting a taste of the wide-wide world full of possibilities away from her controlled and pampered home life. “Mommy wants me to be a baby forever.” (No, she doesn’t stay a baby forever, as we learn in the finale.)

TB: Anything else that you’d like to mention?

JL: This is fun entertainment, if slightly restricted in its CBS movie-of-the-week budget. For example, although the bulk of the story is set in the 1950s, they did not have the budget as many major theatricals had for getting the settings all accurate historically. The cars and clothes are vintage but domestic situations are more vintage 1989 with a more modern copy of Wind in the Willows being read, electric can openers, more up to date decor, etc. Not that most viewers would even notice since the time frame is far less important than it being a human interest story.

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TB: I googled this phrase: “when were electric can openers invented” and the response is 1931But I agree that some of the film does feel late 80s/early 90s, particularly the attitudes of the party guests.

JL: The can openers were starting to be marketed more widely in the 1950s but were not popular at first, according to Wikipedia. Yet I think you know what I meant there since it looks more 80s-ish than 50s-ish.

TB: Yes, of course. What did you think of Dorothy McGuire’s extended cameo at the end?

JL: We eventually learn the truth of Caroline in a letter written to Winston, which he is given the adult decision (for a 12 year old) to either keep or destroy. Flora, his grandmother, played beautifully by Dorothy McGuire in a hospital bed, has the all important role in getting Caroline as nurse Martha to the Carmichael family. “Those children need you.”

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TB: It is a stretch that Martha would be a true doppelganger for the late Caroline…unless they had just made it that she looked like Caroline to Flora, due to poor eyesight or mild senility. Then Martha could have studied the old photographs and changed her look to become more Caroline-look in appearance. That is how I would have done those scenes. The key point is that Flora believes this is Caroline…or rather that this can be Caroline and save those children. And as we watch the story play out on screen, Martha does succeed as “Caroline.”

What I love most about the story, and it ties into our theme, is that the real Caroline before she died did not seem to have a very positive reputation. But this second Caroline who shows up sort of redeems her, in a most ironic way.

CAROLINE? may currently be viewed on YouTube.

 

Essential: INTERMEZZO: A LOVE STORY (1939)

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Part 1 of 2

TB: This weekend we are continuing our theme of “impossible love” stories. Specifically, we are looking at the 1939 remake of INTERMEZZO, which was originally called INTERMEZZO: A LOVE STORY. It would be Ingrid Bergman’s first motion picture in Hollywood. Three years earlier she had been in the original Swedish version, which brought her to the attention of producer David Selznick when it screened in America. Selznick quickly signed her to a contract and he made arrangements to bring her to California.

I guess he thought she would be the next Garbo, though we know Bergman’s acting style and persona were quite different from Garbo’s. Bergman made a few more pictures in Scandinavia, one of them being the original version of A WOMAN’S FACE (1938) which MGM would buy and remake with Joan Crawford in 1941. It’s really a shame Bergman wasn’t allowed to recreate that performance too.

By the time the remake for INTERMEZZO was filmed, Bergman had completed her transition to life in America and Selznick was negotiating deals for her to star in other studio projects. Interestingly, her last Swedish movie from this period was JUNE NIGHT (1940), which did not premiere until after the remake for INTERMEZZO. That might have been confusing for fans in her homeland who probably thought she went to America to make one Hollywood picture and had come back. But in reality, Bergman did not go back to Sweden. She stayed in Hollywood for ten years, then went to Italy. She would not make another film in Sweden until 1967’s STIMULANTIA.

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TB: Okay, let’s focus on the INTERMEZZO remake. It’s a carefully constructed tale of love and adultery, inhibited somewhat by the production code.

JL: As you stated, this became Bergman’s vehicle of introduction to U.S. audiences, courtesy of indie mogul David O’Selznick. Famously the producer made Technicolor tests of her in 1938 with the prospect of shooting her first vehicle in color…and co-star Leslie Howard was as well, being cast for Selznick’s next color production, GONE WITH THE WIND. I suspect that the financial loss on NOTHING SACRED and the merely breaking-even results of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER likely prompted the producer to go back to black & white with this one. It was a wise decision since I don’t think color would have added anything substantial here, apart from Bergman looking radiant and maybe enhancing some of the travel scenes.

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TB: Yes. I think this version works just fine in black-and-white. A story about forbidden love and adultery would seem a bit cheery and less dramatic if it had been presented in Technicolor.

JL: Although Bergman would not return to the color cameras until the summer of 1942 when FOR WHOM THE BELLS TOLL was shot, there is little question that she was the big star here even in monochrome. She has a face that is so expressive in emotion that you can’t keep your eyes off of her.

TB: Let’s discuss some of the aspects of the story.

JL: Here, she plays Anita, who is hired by Leslie Howard’s Holger Brandt as a music teacher for his family; Holger being a famous violinist. Holger’s wife Margrit is affectionate if overly sweet at first and I am very thankful that actress Edna Best mercifully only plays it this way in the beginning, getting more sensitive and easier to relate to after she becomes more… aware of things going on that she can’t stop. On the other hand, their daughter, Anne Marie Brandt played by another Anne…Anne E. Todd, is desperate to give us viewers massive tooth decay with awfully cute Bonnie Blue Butler mannerisms.

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TB: I love that expression– “massive tooth decay.” I think Bobs Watson and Margaret O’Brien are the biggest examples of this style of child acting in the 30s and 40s. But that’s another topic!

JL: Anne Marie also has a brother named Eric (Douglas Scott) too, but he doesn’t get nearly as much attention on screen until Daddy gives him a noteworthy speech towards the end as they are shown with their faces in shadow.

Alas… Anita and Holger have an affair, fall in love and he contemplates leaving his family for her. Being that this is post-Code and pre-MPAA ratings, we don’t get concrete proof of it aside from her admitting that they are meeting in “out-of-the-way places” and “little dark corners.” She mourns, “What am I? Your shadow. I don’t exist without you.”

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JL: Of course, you can not help making comparisons to both stars’ most famous roles in GONE WITH THE WIND, with Ashley being “mentally unfaithful” to Melanie as Rhett quips to Scarlet, and CASABLANCA, in which she winds up with Victor instead of Rick in the end.

TB: I’m always a bit cautious when it comes to comparing stars’ work in one film with their work in another film, since they are playing different characters, even if they are playing the same basic type of role. Plus, the on-set atmosphere of each picture varies, and eventually the reality of one performance is rooted in something different than the extra-filmic reality of the performance in the other picture, no matter how well-known it may be. But let’s go on…

JL: Holger tells good friend (of both him and Anita) Thomas Stenbough, played straight-faced by John Halliday, “I suppose you think I’ve behaved disgracefully?” Thomas’ response: “It’s easy to criticize, Holger. I don’t pretend to account for someone else’s feelings.” He is the voice of authority and reason, having discussions with both Howard and Anita separately. He counsels Holger when she must make a heartbreaking decision.

Tomorrow we will continue the rest of this discussion. Please join us..!

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Part 2 of 2

TB: Okay, yesterday Jlewis and I began discussing David Selznick’s Hollywood remake of the Swedish classic INTERMEZZO. Let’s continue the discussion, by focusing on how the basic story in INTERMEZZO comes to a head, and how it concludes. The affair between the characters portrayed by Ingrid Bergman and Leslie Howard cannot really have a happy ending, due to the production code.

JL: A little almost tragedy occurs in the film’s climax that brings the two characters out of their romantic disillusionment. This is a slushy-gushy Selznick production all the way through. The music is especially important here with major credit work going to Robert Henning and Heinz Provost, along with the great Max Steiner himself. The mix of violin and piano heard throughout, again, references that more famous concurrently-filmed-production (GWTW) that was also keeping Howard busy.

As for the stars and their own music talents, Bergman is quite convincing at the piano but Howard obviously was struggling with his role and needed a professional, Al Sack, as a stand-in for close-ups of the instrument being played.

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TB: Ingrid Bergman seems to put a lot of concentration into this story. I love how Leslie Howard plays the role so nonchalantly in the beginning, then all that changes when Bergman’s character performs at the birthday party.

Of course, because it is a drama about adultery, we’re not supposed to root for the main characters. Especially anyone that believes in upholding a certain morality. And the plot threads are all neatly tidied up when he goes back to the wife in the final scenes. But it leaves you wondering what happened to Bergman’s character. She may have provided an intermezzo for him but there’s a sequel in here somewhere. I can’t think that these two never met up again.

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TB: Thoughts about the director?

JL: Gregory Ratoff apparently did a good job directing the stars and I’ve read up that William Wyler helped a bit. Gregg Toland’s camerawork is much more conservative than we are used to here. He soon moved on to the more Dorothea Lang photo-realism of GRAPES OF WRATH and all of the deep focus artsy innovation of CITIZEN KANE. He does succeed very well indeed in shooting the faces as their dramatic best, both in shadow as in the father-son talk and in the bright California-lit European settings.

TB: Anything else?

JL: Oh… I must add that Cecil Kellaway has a fun bit role as Uncle Charles. He was always a welcome piece of South African joviality in everything he did. His discussion of a China birthday party eating swallow’s nest, roasted silk worms, snake soup and cricket eggs to the the kids is a delight. “You didn’t eat that?” he is asked. “We had to take a double helping of everything or the mandarin would have murdered us.”

TB: I don’t remember that part. I will have to rewatch it later.

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JL: The film is an acquired taste for many modern viewers. Some may love it because of it is weepy in its score and Bergman suffering in anguish, while others might roll their eyes for being a trifle old fashioned. To be fair, many other films imitated it and often over emphasized its theme of extra-marital romance that is only as good as it lasts. If you have seen its many “offspring” of the 40s and ’50s, then its novelty value may be slim to you. However you can’t complain about it outstaying its welcome since it runs a crisp 69 minutes.

TB: The story does seem a bit rushed in spots. I think we should’ve had the scene where he tells the wife he’s leaving her. The role of the son is very underdeveloped. But overall, the story is great. I haven’t seen the Swedish version. It’s 93 minutes long. So it would be interesting to watch and find out what Selznick and his scriptwriters cut for the remake. The original is available in a restored version.

JL: I watched parts of the 1936 version of INTERMEZZO  and it blows my mind how Selznick’s team really matched the scenery rather closely. I guess Hollywood money and professionals who know their business can do wonders. Bergman’s performance is fascinating to compare and contrast. She is more physically aggressive here, but is much softer and more mannered in the ’39 version. She was a perfectionist trying to correct aspects of her earlier performances she disliked.

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TB: Bergman had extensive lessons in English for about a year when Selznick brought her to America. So she not only was improving her performance but doing it in an entirely new language. Imagine the reverse scenario…being an English-speaking actor and having to redo your entire performance in another country in another language. So that gives us a newfound appreciation of what Bergman accomplishes here.

JL: At first, I thought Bergman was wearing the same dress in the dramatic stairway scene of both films but closer examination revealed they are different but still strikingly similar. I also think Leslie Howard looks much younger despite being less than three years younger in real life, compared to Gösta Ekman in the ’36 version. Ekman died at only 47 a year and a half after filming and Howard, of course, died before his time (but in the line of wartime service action).

I also like how the seasons transition in both films. In this case, I favor the Swedish version over the Hollywood one, especially the shots of changing trees as the camera pans on Holger in his changing emotional state through the months. This is something that Swedish filmmakers mastered to perfection, especially in the great nature documentaries by Arne Sucksdorff that followed in the 1940s and ’50s.

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TB: I should point that that there is some correspondence about the remake, which is included in the book Memo from David O. Selznick.

For example, in the Selznick book, there is stuff about the scenes with the violin playing. Mainly how Bergman was basically a technical consultant, letting her American bosses know how certain scenes were accomplished in the original. There were certain “tricks” with the photography to make it look like the lead actor was actually playing, when a stand-in was doing most of the work.

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TB: The memos also cover how Selznick used this film to get Leslie Howard to do the role in GONE WITH THE WIND, which Howard was quite reluctant to do. Selznick allowed Howard to work and receive credit as an associate producer on INTERMEZZO, as an enticement for the actor to play Ashley in the other film.

JL: Bergman gives the better performance in this 1939 version, because she is much more restrained. They also did a better job on her makeup here, since those earlier fake eyebrows are as distracting on her as they are on Jean Harlow. In ’36, she gets a bit theatrical putting her arm in front of her face when she sees him downstairs, but is far more subtle in the later version. I also favor Leslie Howard’s facial expressions over Gösta’s in that scene because, despite my frequent criticism of Howard’s performances blending in too much in my mind from picture to picture, he has mastered the innocent I-don’t-suspect-she-will-leave-me look perfectly here.

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INTERMEZZO (1939) may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Essential: OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1934)

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TopBilled wrote:

‘Their Love Is Impossible.’ That’s what our theme during the first half of November is called. As the phrase suggests, we will be looking at films where a couple might be facing impossible odds. And in some of these cases, love leads one or both of them in new directions.

This weekend we’re focusing on the original Hollywood studio version of Somerset Maugham’s classic story ‘Of Human Bondage.’ When I was in college, a friend of mine read it and told me what happened in each chapter. There are a few different subplots in the book that have been cut from the 1934 film. And it’s just as well, since RKO was not attempting any epic retelling of the tale; just a simplified version of the central ‘love story.’ And we do have to put those words in ‘quotes.’

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Producer Pandro Berman was in charge of this glossy high-end literary adaptation. Just like the studio’s production of LITTLE WOMEN a year earlier, the sets and clothing are very detailed. The make-up is first rate, especially as Bette Davis’ character becomes more trashy. And there are some finely photographed scenes in terms of lighting and mise-en-scene (frame composition).

Recently Jlewis and I talked about this film after re-watching it (in our separate locations, since we live on different sides of the U.S.). He pointed out that there were two follow-up versions that had subsequently been filmed– one made by Warner Brothers in 1944 (but postponed in release to ’46) and one made by MGM in ’63/’64. We both agreed that this precode version is by far the best.

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I think he’s a bit more enthralled with Davis’ acting than I am. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Bette Davis fan, but I think she does go a bit overboard here, especially in that one memorable scene which everyone associates with the film. Yes, I know it supposedly put her on the map as a star. But there’s a little too much scenery chewing, and she could have dialed it down a bit and still given a highly effective performance. But that’s a minor complaint. She does etch a strong portrait of a troubled woman who causes drama for everyone she meets. And Leslie Howard also does rather well playing a more put-upon romantic lead.

Before I let Jlewis take over and go more in-depth, I want to quote a portion of Pauline Kael’s review. Mainly because I think she expresses something close to how I feel about the picture and about Davis as the ever-impossible Mildred.

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Kael says specifically:

“Bette Davis had a great slouch in the role of Mildred, the scheming deceitful Cockney waitress who sinks her hooks into the sensitive hero (Leslie Howard). Davis makes her role work through sheer will; she doesn’t let it happen, she makes it happen…the other women in the hero’s life are played by lovely young Frances Dee and the unusual, wry Kay Johnson.”

Kael doesn’t mention Alan Hale. I think he gives an underrated performance as one of Davis’ conquests. Though I am glad she talks about Frances Dee. I think in some ways Frances Dee steals the picture out from Davis, because we want her to be Howard’s reward in the end, for suffering through Mildred’s cruel machinations. So Dee plays the character we end up rooting for. At least I ended up rooting for her. And of course, Dee is a much more conventional beauty than Davis, but playing a likable character helps considerably.

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Okay, on to Jlewis and his observations…

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Jlewis wrote:

This popular release by RKO made the movie history books because of Warner Brothers reluctantly agreeing to loan out Bette Davis to RKO in exchange for Irene Dunne. Davis was so eager to try something so radically different than the glamour-gal roles in which she was currently being typecast. She greatly impressed the critics and public alike, but failed to get nominated for an Oscar and this resulted in enough buzz in the industry that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was prompted to add write-in ballots and other new features to their voting system so that Davis and others had a greater opportunity next time.

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As history played out, this film was the springboard to two Oscar wins of hers since many, including boss Jack Warner, realized she had plenty of spunk that hadn’t been tapped well previously.

I still have not seen the TCM documentary LESLIE HOWARD: THE MAN WHO GAVE A DAMN, but a few comments to add regarding him. He is very good in this film but I must admit that many of his characters tend to be too much alike in personality. There is little question how much loved he was by his peers and those in the industry, plus those in the stage profession in which he established a name for himself. He served his country in a most fascinating British Intelligence wartime way and died for it (this being a great topic for a movie adaptation itself), but equally important was how he took a back seat so new stars could have their breaks… both Davis here and Humphrey Bogart in THE PETRIFIED FOREST (also with Davis).

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His best Brit pics are perhaps THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL and PYGMALION, even though I favor Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins over his in MY FAIR LADY (but consider PYGMALION a better film overall). When fellow Brit star Vivien Leigh successfully played the most famous Georgia peach in GONE WITH THE WIND, Ashley Wilkes was essentially Leslie Howard playing, well, Leslie Howard and maintaining his Brit accent.

Adapted from a popular 1915 novel by the great W. Somerset Maugham (initially called Beauty from the Ashes), Howard plays a club-foot artist named Philip who moves from Paris to London and start a new profession in medical school, where he embarrassingly becomes the subject of interest over his handicapped foot. (Scenes like these showcase Howard at his best, since his facial expressions of frustration are quite good.)

He dates Mildred (Davis) who plays hard-to-get with her lines of “well… you don’t take me out, some else will”. Apparently she notices his funny walk early on and seems a bit put off by that appearance, but they still go steady for a while… until she rejects him and he is heartbroken.

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Despite his depressing life, Philip has some friends who support him like buddy Harry (Reginald Denny). He then gets engaged to kind-hearted Norah (Kay Johnson), only to confront Mildred again…as a pregnant woman who was rejected by her “husband” Emil (Alan Hale). Emil is revealed to be married to somebody else since Mildred wasn’t honest in her report to Philip. Poor Norah is left on the sidelines because Mildred was Philip’s First Love and she must be catered to. Only Mildred then rejects Philip again by making a move on his buddy Harry! Curiously Philip does not go back to Norah, but meets up with alternative choice #2, Sally (Francis Dee) and her outspoken daddy (a role Reginald Owen makes his own).

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As the title suggests, Philip is in human bondage to Mildred who never loved him like he did her… or does she? Eventually he cools off towards her just as she had been cool and distant with him in the past. After borrowing his flat to raise the baby, she starts to develop a multiple split personality, getting “jealous” and Bette the actress gives us an early taste of later roles spanning from “Jezebel” Julie Mardsen to Baby Jane Hudson. I especially love how director John Cromwell and the camera crew pose her, sometimes strategically in front of Philip’s lady sketches and paintings to contrast her real persona with his earlier fantasized image of her. Being Pre-Code, we see some female nude drawings on display that Philip worked on and Mildred tongue-in-cheep considers “indecent;” such stuff would disappear shortly from screens for a good many years.

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The big climax is one that completely rocked audiences back in the day, but provides the ultimate in high camp today. How can you resist it? 

“Me? I disgust YOU? You. You! You’re too fine! You won’t have me but you sit here looking at your naked females! You cad! You dirty swine! I never cared for you, not once. I was always making a fool of you. You bored me stiff. It made me sick when I let you kiss me. I did it because you begged me. You drove me crazy! And after you kissed me, I always use to wipe my mouth! Well, I made up for it. For every kiss, we laughed at you. Miller and me, and Griffiths and me. We laughed at you. You were such a mug, a mug, a mug! You gippy-legged monster! You’re a cripple! A cripple!”

Soon she takes revenge on his art and books, even overturning his furniture. The classic butcher knife rip-up act is especially Freudian, with Bette the actress expressing her aggressive masculine side in all of its glory. She is equally good in that very last scene hunched with black circles around her eyes and a cigarette dangling from her hand.

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This is a visually appealing production. RKO had the best special effects and montage department in the business post-KING KONG and other classics. Emphasizing Philip’s self consciousness over his foot, many key early shots focus on his shoes and peculiar walk, but we are later shown close ups of other people’s feet walking normally and, even later, he himself is cured of his handicap but not his financial misfortunes as his now normalized walking combines with a montage of want ads and voices of “we have nothing for you.”

While studying his medicine, there is a nice trick shot of a human body diagram morphing into Mildred, which today could easily be done with computers but obviously involved a great more effort back then. There are fantasy day-dream sequences involving multiple exposures that, by 1934, may have been old hat but still visually impressive just the same. Another clever gimmick is Emil telling Philip he refuses to take care of Mildred’s pregnancy and, in the process, accidentally spitting a piece of his cigar on a photograph of his wife and daughter. Also we see theater tickets, a doctor’s report and travel brochures ceremoniously ripped in two.

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I was particularly impressed by the final scene with the two lovebirds (not Mildred involved), but I do wonder about that other lady in his life) walking among honking car horns. This reminds me of later famous scenes like the one in NORTH BY NORTHWEST when airline noise obscures a key conversation that viewers already know about and the filmmakers don’t wish bore them by repeating with more explanations. It is a clever visual and audio trick, this being among the earliest examples.

Key line towards the end that wraps up our delirious drama: “I had to be free to realize that, free to understand that all those years I dreamed of escape was because I was limping through life.” Time to get a taxi.

OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1934) may currently be viewed on YouTube.