42nd Street (1933)

42ndstreet

Starring: Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, George Brent, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers

Director: Lloyd Bacon & Busby Berkeley (Musical Numbers)

Summary: A director puts on what may be his last Broadway show, and a major complication at the last moment threatens to ruin everything

Other nominations: Sound Recording

Positives

-Warner Baxter is great as the director who feels at all times like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and became the archetype for demanding broadway director characters afterwards

-The choreography is extremely impressive and is lightyears ahead of the other musicals that had come out up to this point, with the title song that caps off the film being outright spectacular. Additionally, the musical numbers are all shot and staged really, really well; this film saved the movie musical, and these are the reasons why.

-I haven’t mentioned him before, but the always entertaining character actor George E. Stone shows up again here-his 6th film already that he has a bit part in so far (7th Heaven, The Racket, Cimarron, The Front Page, Five Star Final, now this).

Negatives

-Anytime Baxter isn’t on screen, the movie takes a big nosedive, as the other actors are mediocre and the story and other characters are dull and uninteresting

-While the title number is great, the rest of the songs don’t do anything for me and feel antiquated

-While this is the movie that started most of these cliches, this movie is extremely predictable and feels routine if you’ve seen any other musicals/movies that take place backstage during the production of a musical

Overall

42nd Street is known as a classic movie musical and I can see why fans of the genre like it, with its strong choreography and at least one great number that caps the whole film off. However, there’s quite a few dead spots where the movie drags and I lost interest in all the other characters besides Baxter’s. Overall, it’s solid but I didn’t love it or anything.

Rating: B-

A Farewell to Arms (1932)

farewell

Starring: Helen Hayes, Gary Cooper, Adolphe Menjou

Director: Frank Borzage

Summary: An American serving in WWI falls for a spirited nurse

Other nominations: Cinematography*, Art Direction, Sound Recording*

Positives

-The lighting is great (use of soft lighting for romantic scenes, effective use of shadow) and there is some really creative camera work for the time. For example, I was surprised to see a 1932 movie use a first-person perspective for an extended scene, with part of it being done in a single take.

-There’s a really great 5-minute war sequence that’s immensely better than anything else in the film with its energy, camera work, music (The Ride of the Valkyries) and drama. Sadly, it comes and goes and we don’t see anything close to as good as that before or after it

Negatives

-I’ve seen him be good before of course, but Gary Cooper is incredibly wooden here-he has one expression and one voice tone for 95% of the movie and it kills whatever possible chemistry he might have with Hayes (who is solid).

-Cooper’s character such a rebound-Hayes just lost her boyfriend of 8 years to the war, and only a day or so after that, meets Cooper and they of course fall madly in love the first time they meet each other

-Super melodramatic, it does way more talking about the characters being in love than it does actually showing why they are.

Other Stuff

-When this film was first released, the studio gave each theater an option to either show the happy ending or the sad ending which is hilarious given how well-known the source material is.

Overall

This is Borzage’s second WWI romance movie (after 7th Heaven, the very first movie I reviewed), and this one is clearly inferior despite being much better on a technical level. Cooper’s poor performance as the lead and his lack of chemistry with Hayes doom whatever prospects this movie had of being good. It’s easily available online since it fell into the public domain due to a failure to renew copyright, but it’s not worth watching.

Rating: D+

*Cavalcade (1933)*

cavalcade

Starring: Diana Wynyard, Clive Brook, Una O’Connor, Herbert Mundin

Director: Frank Lloyd

Summary: Offering a view of English life from New Year’s 1899 through New Year’s Day 1933, a British family survives war and changing times

Other nominations: Director*, Actress (Wynyard), Art Direction*

Positives

-The acting here is perfectly solid and is not the source of the problems with this movie

-You can see the effort put into this production, considering the amount of actors, extras and sets the movie has

Negatives

-This movie has many of the same issues as Cimarron did, but is actually even worse. Much like that movie, Cavalcade also uses the whole “show big event, cut to a few years later, show big event, wash rinse and repeat until the ending where the characters talk about their tumultuous lives over the 30 years the film takes place” method of storytelling (which is bad, as it’s incredibly disjointed); this movie is worse since it feels really contrived about it. Instead of the events shown being dictated by important events in the characters lives, whenever those may have been, it instead frames it around significant events for Great Britain during that time (Second Boer War, Death of Queen Victoria, Titanic, WWI) and our characters are (sort of) impacted by each of them. They actually have two of our characters on board a ship on April 14th, 1912, and one asks the other what they would do if she should die tonight; then they reveal they are on the Titanic like this is some surprise or something. They also have characters in 1914 talk about if there is to be war with Germany, how long it would last, with them guessing between 3 and 6 months. What makes these last two examples so bad is that of course the audience knows what’s going to happen, but there’s no reason for the characters in this story to talk like this except that the audience knows things with hindsight.

-There are way too many characters (I just listed the two leads since there are about 8 more with equal screen time) and there’s very little depth to any of them except for maybe the mother (Wynyard). Also, when these events happen to these characters, for the most part they don’t seem to have lasting impact on them (again, except for the mother). For example, one character goes off to fight in the Boer War and seems totally unaffected by it and the only thing it does for him is that he gets knighted; another character goes off to WWI and even after fighting in it for 4 years, doesn’t seem changed by it in any way.

-Lots of other littlier things, like unexceptional direction (lighting is uninteresting, camera barely moves, etc.), the way WWI was represented by showing generic soldiers dying and bombs dropping in 1914…then it does the same for 1915, and 1916, and 1917 and 1918…

Overall

This was the worst watch for me so far. Skippy was annoying, but its spectacularly bad third act kept me engaged with me being stunned at what was happening; Trader Horn was hideously racist and dragged, but at least it was nice to look at. Cavalcade was almost 2 hours (long for movies of this period) and was dull and superficial with nothing interesting about it whatsoever. Even though I know movies like Greatest Show on Earth, Around the World in 80 Days and Crash (which I’ve seen before) are coming up, this almost has to be the worst Best Picture winner for me. However, F’s are only for extraordinary circumstances, for movies like Birdemic, The Room or After Last Season.

Rating: D-

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932)

chaingang

Starring: Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Preston Foster, Helen Vinson

Director: Mervyn LeRoy

Summary: A WWI veteran faces inhuman conditions when he’s sentenced to hard labor

Other nominations: Actor (Muni), Sound Recording

Positives

-Probably the best film I’ve watched so far from a direction standpoint-not only does he do a great job capturing the constant-suffering of the main character and atmosphere, there’s some really inspired choices that elevate certain scenes (such as an underwater shot in total silence, or the famous ending scene.

-Paul Muni is outstanding, especially the way he acts with his eyes and mouth. I really look forward to seeing more of him in future movies here (The Story of Louis Pasteur, The Life of Emile Zola and The Good Earth)

-Great pacing, especially for the first hour which tells a lot of story in a relatively short amount of time, but it doesn’t feel like you’re ping-ponging from one event to another.

-Rare to see a film take on current social justice issues back in 1932. Not only were the Georgia chain gangs as brutal as this film describes, it’s actually closely-based on a true story; the subject was still on the lam at the time the movie was filmed, and he had to meet with the people involved in secret. Additionally, it addresses the issue of how we treated WWI veterans, which in 1932 was a major problem.

Negatives

-Muni’s character is very sympathetic throughout the film, but man does he make an obviously terrible decision towards the end that makes him look really dumb. Particularly annoying in light of pretty much all of his other problems being based on bad breaks that were either based on reasonable decisions of his own, or that were out of his control.

Overall

Thank goodness for this after Cavalcade. Really fantastic movie that succeeds on most every level, even most of the movie failed 100% engrossed me which is why I can’t give it an even higher score.

Rating: A-

Lady for a Day (1933)

poster_lady_336

Starring: May Robson, Warren William, Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks

Director: Frank Capra

Summary: A gangster helps an old apple-vendor pose as a society woman to fool her visiting daughter

Poster: http://tinyurl.com/zg4ure8

Other nominations: Director, Actress (Robson), Adapted Screenplay

Positives

-May Robson is really good and it’s interesting to see a Hollywood movie from back then center around the story of an elderly 75 year-old woman considering the average age of female leads back then (of course, things haven’t changed much since either). Guy Kibbee and Ned Stock are also fun in their supporting roles.

-This is exactly what you expect out of a Frank Capra movie: solidly executed in all aspects with a super-uplifting ending where good people get what they deserve. At least in relatively small doses, this is nice to see, even if I might get sick of it seeing it from him a bunch of times after this for the next decade or so of nominees he directed.

Negatives

-Robson kind of disappears for the entire second half of the movie until the very end and the movie suffers for it, as her character is the entire emotional core of the movie and the movie gets wrapped up in other, less interesting characters who don’t really have a lot of real stake in the outcome.

-Not much original about the plot, you’ve all seen variations on it many many times before and it follows that formula to a T.

-Dave the Dude is the lamest name for a mob boss ever

Overall

Robson’s strong performance in the first half elevates an otherwise formulaic and unremarkable movie. Capra would go on to do much better work, although Lady for a Day has is moments.

Rating: C

Little Women (1933)

women

Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas, Frances Dee, Jean Parker, Edna May Oliver

Director: George Cukor

Summary: The four March sisters fight to keep their family together and find love while their father is off fighting the Civil War

Other nominations: Director, Adapted Screenplay*

Positives

-This is totally Katharine Hepburn’s movie, as she’s perfectly cast as the tomboy Jo, giving the character energy and a unique spirit. She would go on to do better work, and her acting goes a bit overboard occasionally, she’s easily the highlight of the movie.

-The story Little Women is of course timeless, as it has been made into a movie six times-it’s simple and “small” in that it follows the times and tribulations of an average family, but has bigger themes about growing up and following your passion even if it’s untraditional.

Negatives

-I certainly wouldn’t call it boring, but it felt slow and failed to fully engage me-I was definitely checking how much time was left more than I should be. The biggest problem is that there aren’t many other interesting characters besides Jo in the story. I haven’t read the novel or seen other versions, but this might be due to the limits of a two hour movie and they may have cut interesting parts of the other characters in order to focus on Jo.

Overall

It’s a fine adaptation of the famous novel simply because Hepburn is great in the central role that everything else hinges upon. With that said, it was otherwise fairly unremarkable for me and dragged at times due to its sleepy pacing.

Rating: C+

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

henry

Starring: Charles Laughton, Robert Donat, Merle Oberon, http://tinyurl.com/qdfdzkx

Director: Alexander Korda

Summary: The famed English Monarch suffers through his many disastrous marriages

Poster: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/8a/The-Private-Life-of-Henry-VIII_-1933.jpg

Other nominations: Actor (Laughton)*

Positives

-Charles Laughton is entertaining enough (and is the spitting image of Henry VIII), even if we don’t get much depth from him until the very end (where he is really good).

-Elsa Lanchester is fun and goofy in her role as Anne of Cleves

Negatives

-It can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a drama. It starts somewhere in between the two with it being ostensibly a comedy but without it being all that funny, then goes full comedy when he marries Anne of Cleves, and then is a full drama after he marries Catherine Howard. The Howard section is easily the best part of the movie, but doesn’t work in context with everything else.

-The problem with knowing my history is that I knew what was coming (well, that and the opening credits spoil who he marries and when). I wouldn’t call it a huge issue, but I probably would have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t familiar with all the events.

Overall

I liked Laughton, but for most of the movie he is just fairly entertaining and nothing else. It picks up near the end when it decides to be a full-on drama, but it’s too late to redeem what was otherwise a sort of comedy that falls flat.

Rating: D+