Tuesday, October 6, 2020

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The Second Quarter: 1931-32, Day Five

Looking at the non-nominated films released between November 1, 1931 and January 31, 1931:
The Speckled Band
November 6th

Sherlock Holmes investigates the mysterious death of a young woman. Really inventive editing: as Holmes goes through the suspects one by one, they don't just appear superimposed over his shoulder, but viscerally react to his hypotheses. Too, this film has Holmes employing multiple secretaries, a fingerprint system, full criminal dossiers, intercoms, and more technological innovations that don't seem quite Conan Doyle but work. Raymond Massey's a respectable Holmes.

The Mad Genius
November 7th

Bum-legged puppeteer becomes dance impresario thanks to child prodigy; years later, the child is a man and wants love, but the impresario tries to ruin it lest it upend their careers. It's the John Barrymore show: big beard, wild eyes and heavy accent - he is giving a performance, honey, and I like it! A great-looking film, its moody cinematography and theatrical sets giving the proceedings an oddly Grimm tone. Not horror, but an undeniably spooky quality, plus a finale that involves hallucinations, paranoia, and hatchet murdering.

November 21st

Doctor makes monster, trouble ensues. Grew up watching this as a kid, but I don't think I fully appreciated all its merits. The cadaverous makeup for the monster; the detailed, decidedly fantastic sets; the cinematography; the sound design selling us both lightning storms above Gothic castles and quiet pastoral flower-picking. Colin Clive leads as the titular doctor, and while history remembers Boris Karloff's sensitive performance as the monster, Clive is just as heartbreaking, going from a confident madness (mad confidence?) to a despair that's almost difficult to watch. It's one of the great performances in horror.  

The Battle of Gallipoli
December 4th

Friends fight alongside each other in WWI trenches. I don't think I've ever seen a film about the Great War that wasn't unbearably bleak. Through the friendship of our two heroes, tested when one becomes a commanding officer, we see how there were no good options and few good decisions. Well-made film, though, some pretty good battle sequences.

The Cuban Love Song
December 5th

A marine falls in love with a peanut girl in Cuba; war separates them. That Lawrence Tibbett is a charmer, isn't he? He carries this film with ease, confidence, and wonderfully calibrated chemistry with...everyone! Holds his own comedically against Jimmy Durante, romantic and winning and boisterous (but not toxic!) with Lupe Velez - and he even sells a duet with himself, not just as individual sides, but actually performing "together."

The Struggle
December 10th

An alcoholic keeps trying to sober up and keeps relapsing. Tough to watch. Griffith's blunt, preachy addiction drama is as creaky as they come, though it rings true in a lot of scenes. The scene where our hero's been sober for months but his friends want to celebrate him becoming a new dad and, well, it's just one... Its gruesome, depressing climax, with our hero so down in the pits of despair he's a wet-brained drunkard in a condemned (or should be) building... Harrowing sequences aplenty, but awfully coarse.

Tonight Or Never
December 17th

An opera star believed to be technically good but not passionate enough pursues a gigolo to unlock her, er, passions. Don't you love a movie whose ultimate solution is not just sex, but gooooooood sex? Shades of The Guardsman in its depiction of sexy-funny romantic duplicity; writer Ernest Vajda contributed to both. Gloria Swanson is the uptight diva; she's absolutely gold. Melvyn Douglas makes his film debut as the object of her affection; he's nice, too. Ferdinand Gottschalk plays the music teacher who pushes the affair forward; he almost steals the show, but gosh, Swanson's just such a hoot.
January 9th

A woman works for a newspaper editor who loves her and hates a powerful politician; problem is, the woman is also that politician's mistress and the birth mother to his and his wife's "adopted" child. I don't know that the opening act establishing her as a spinster librarian is necessary (what's Capra's deal with that, anyway?), even if it is an effective fakeout for the movie to come. Stanwyck, that great portrayer of flexibly moral broads, leads, and is outstanding. Adolphe Menjou and Ralph Bellamy are the men in her life, neither really great or noble, but there's definitely one I prefer! I loved it.

Other films released this quarter:
À nous la liberté
The Champ
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Guardsman

Tomorrow, the films of February 1, 1932-April 30, 1932.

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