Monday, October 5, 2020

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The First Quarter: 1931-32, Day Four

Today and into Thursday, we're looking at the films released in each quarter of the qualifying period. Excluding the nominated titles, I present the films of August 1, 1931, through October 31st, 1931:

Le million
Early 1931

A winning lottery ticket launches adventure and shenanigans from artist to opera star, cop to criminal and beyond. RenĂ© Clair's musical-comedy ensemble film takes us through class struggles and the healing power of money. Bookended by a high-flying party that mixes all peoples high and low, with plot turns that include mistaken identity, secret police run the same way as secret criminal organizations, temperamental artists, bureaucracy, love triangles, and an overcoat. Joie de vivre!

Pardon Us
August 15th

Laurel and Hardy wind up in prison in their first full-length sound star vehicle. Highlights include a musical interlude and an appropriately kooky prison riot. Otherwise, it's...fine.

Waterloo Bridge
September 4th

A chorus girl turned prostitute finds genuine romance with a young American soldier in wwI London. Like I said, I grew up on Frankenstein, and didn't know Mae Clarke from much else (she was replaced by Valerie Hobson for The Bride of...), so this performance was a revelation for me. So seamless, so natural, it could exist in any decade of cinema and be praised. Harrowing London bombing scenes make for extensive sets, impressive camera work, explosive special effects, and a blunt, disappointing final shot.

Street Scene
September 5th

Gossip, drama, and trauma, all happening on the stoop of a New York apartment building during a heat wave. Its stage origins are ever-present, right down to Beulah Bondi's showy (though appropriate!) performance. Frank conversations about class, racism, xenophobia, religious bias; you know, all of America in one Hell's Kitchen street corner. It's a little uneven: Act One is the most stage-y, Act Two is suspenseful and incredible, and Act Three feels overlong. King Vidor directs the hell out of the crowd scenes.

Palmy Days
October 3rd

A psychic's assistant fails upward into becoming an efficiency expert for a bakery. The sets are to die for, the costumes worn (and sometimes not worn!) by the Goldwyn Girls do their job, and Charlotte Greenwood steals the show as a brassy health expert who shows the staff of beauties how to keep their figures. Eddie Cantor is the star; he looks better in drag than he does in blackface (yeesh!). Some fine musical numbers!

Chinatown After Dark
October 15th

A valuable knife inspires murder, kidnapping, and more. Oddball story elements include: a comical detective convinced he has his culprit based on little except instinct, a classic "dragon lady" stereotype played by a white woman sans makeup or accent, and a white girl adopted by a Chinese man who has adopted a Chinese name ... and accent. A curious, cheap little film, casually racist but even out of its depth there.

Platinum Blonde
October 31st

Cheeky journalist weds socialite. It's a funny flick with an appealing cast, even if it wildly veers from smart and witty to cartoonish and over-the-top (Walter Catlett - what's he doing, exactly?). Jean Harlow, Halliwell Hobbes and Louise Closser Hale all share MVP distinction; Loretta Young is kind of wasted. I really loved the floors in this movie, marvelously showcased during a party sequence. 

Other First Quarter Films
Bad Girl
Five Star Final
The Sin of Madelon Claudet
The Smiling Lieutenant
The Star Witness

Tomorrow: November 1st, 1931-January 31st, 1931

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