Wednesday, January 27, 2021

THE HOME SWEET HOME BLOGATHON: Make Way for Tomorrow, 1937

Gill at Realweegiemidgetreivews and Rebecca at Taking Up Room are hosting The Home Sweet Home Blogathon featuring movies about home and family, and family connections in movies. The blogathon runs from January 27th to 29th. The blogathon wrap-up and bonus.

For those not familiar with the film's plot or reputation, my look at Make Way for Tomorrow contains spoilers.

Lucy and Barkley Cooper (Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore) have long since raised their family and sent them out into the world. The middle-aged children are comfortable in their lives and the years have made them, if not neglectful of their aged parents, they have placed the older folks comfortably in the back of their minds. Of course, to parents, the age of the children has nothing to do with their pride and love in what was once that happy little group of children. 

The home in which these children were reared has been lost to the bank. Bookkeeper Barkley has not worked for four years and the six months grace period given is about to expire. The adult Cooper children are shocked, they wish they had known sooner, perhaps something could have been done.

Thomas Mitchell, Ray Mayer, Minna Gombell, Elisabeth Risdon

George (Thomas Mitchell) and his wife Anita (Fay Bainter) live in the city and their daughter Rhoda (Barbara Read) is about to go to college. Nellie's (Minna Gombell) husband Harvey's (Porter Hall) business is doing as well as it should. It also is not doing badly. Harvey doesn't like the existence of in-laws.

Cora's (Elisabeth Risdon) husband Ralph (Bill Payne) has nothing against in-laws, but their house is small and Cora has a natural coldness. Robert (Ray Mayer) is the "baby" of the family and a bachelor. He isn't even considered as a caretaker of his parents. Addie lives in California and hasn't really been in touch with anyone for years - not even an orange!

Quite naturally, Lucy and Barkley do not want to be a burden, but that is just what they are in the eyes of their children. Quite naturally, Lucy and Barkley wish to remain together, but that is impossible given the various circumstances of their brood. It is decided that Lucy will live in New York with George and Anita, sharing a room with granddaughter Rhoda. Barkley will remain in the country, sleeping on Cora's couch. Of course, this will only be for three months or so until something more permanent can be sorted out. Like their parents facing eviction, the Cooper children hope for "something to turn up."

Anita cares as much about Lucy "as any daughter-in-law can, but..." Lucy can't help but be a hindrance to the family, taking up space, interrupting the Bridge classes that Anita teaches, keeping Rhoda's friends from the apartment, keeping Mamie (Louise Beavers) from her night out. In a letter to Barkley, Lucy describes the visit to a Home for Aged Women arranged by their daughter Nellie; how dreary it was and how lovely Nellie thought it. Lucy can see what is coming and she is frightened.

Beulah Bondi

During one of Anita's Bridge classes, Lucy receives a welcome phone call from Barkley. The audience and the room full of card players hear one side of the conversation. The loneliness expressed is heartbreaking.

Barkley becomes ill with a bad cold under Cora's loving care. His only friend, shopkeeper Max Rubens (Maurice Moscovitch) helps by commiserating, providing encouragement, and offering chicken soup. 

Barkley's health becomes the impetus for the Cooper children's solution to the problem of what to do with mom and dad. Addie is told that Pa must move to California for his health. Addie agrees, but she can only take one of them. Lucy discovers a letter to George confirming her enrolment in the Home for Aged Women. Lucy's innate dignity and thoughtfulness will not let George tell her the plans. She requests the move to the Home which we know she despises. George knows this as well and will always bear the shame.

Lucy and Barkley have a few hours to spend together as he comes to the city to board the train taking him west. Lucy orders the children to keep the news of her move to the home a secret. As far as Barkley is concerned, Lucy will continue to be cared for by her favourite child.

Beulah Bondi, Victor Moore

Memories of their honeymoon 50 years earlier, bring the couple to the Vogard hotel. The kindness which should have been their due from their children is found in the strangers in the city. The hotel learns of the couple's earlier connection with the establishment and treats them with consideration worthy of one human being to another. These scenes are treated with a delicacy and dignity that keep the emotions the audience has shared and are experiencing simmering until they fill our hearts.

Beulah Bondi, Victor Moore

The children are waiting for the couple at home with a roast beef dinner. They are making a celebration of this parting. Barkley phones to let them know that he and Lucy have other plans. We do not hear what Barkley says to his children but we see their reaction.

Robert: "That's funny, isn't it? We've known all along that we're probably the most good-for-nothing bunch of kids who were ever raised, but it didn't bother us much until we found out that Pop knew it too."

George, in his one unselfish act, delays the time when they should have left for the train station. 

Nellie: "Why didn't you tell us? That wasn't a very nice thing to do, George."

George: "I think so. I kind of thought they'd like to be alone."

Beulah Bondi, Victor Moore

Pa: "It's been very nice knowing you, Miss Breckenridge."

Leo McCarey

Josephine Lawrence's 1934 novel Years Are So Long was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection which was adapted as a play by Helen and Nolan Leary before being purchased by Paramount Pictures where the screenplay by Vina Delmar was produced and directed by Leo McCarey.

Leo McCarey thanked the Academy for his 1938 Best Director Award for The Awful Truth with "Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture" as he considered Make Way for Tomorrow his finest film. 

Director/writer Yasujiro Ozu and his collaborator Kogo Noda were inspired by Make Way for Tomorrow in creating their acclaimed classic Tokyo Story, 1953. Exploring multi-generational issues are central to many of Ozu's works.

Make Way for Tomorrow was placed on the National Film Registry in 2010.

Monday, January 18, 2021

TECHNICOLOR NOIR: The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, 1952

The man who watched trains go by, particularly the Paris Express is Kees Popinga. Kees has a comfortable life in Groningen, the Netherlands. Set in his ways, he is a reliable bookkeeper and a reliable husband and father. It is the trains that spark the romance in his soul. He imagines the places they go and the things the passengers will do. Claude Rains who plays Kees Popinga shows us the extent of the pleasure these contemplations provide in his open and happy face when we first meet him watching the trains go by.

Kees assumes the respect of his employer Julius de Koster played by Herbert Lom, but we see the boss treat Kees with subtle ridicule. Kees assumes the love and devotion of his family, but we see his children giggle at his pomposity, and his wife Maria played by Lucie Mannheim deride his passion for "silly trains."

Claude Rains

The arrival at the de Koster factory of Inspector Lucas of Paris played by Marius Goring sparks Kees imagination. Inspector Lucas is following a trail of black market Dutch currency to this town and this factory. Why should he end up here? That Kees's books are in order is beyond question. 

Kees is so intrigued by the Inspector that he breaks a long-standing habit and attends the local chess club, not on his regular night, but on the night his boss will be there with the Inspector. Kees watches the two men's conversation with interest as they say one thing but seem to mean another. On his way to the club, Kees witnessed an indiscreet kiss between de Koster and a beautiful girl leaving on the Paris Express. Kees covered for his boss, unhesitatingly lying about the indiscretion to the Inspector.

Nonetheless, the loyal Kees is disturbed and returns to the factory late at night to find de Koster burning the books over which Kees has laboured for 18 years. Everything the bookkeeper owns is in the business and he knows now that the boss has looted the firm, robbing him personally. In a struggle, de Koster falls into the river and drowns. Kees decides to no longer watch the trains pass by, taking the case of money de Koster had stolen to start a new life.

Marius Goring

Kees is joined on the train to Paris by the seemingly all-seeing and all-knowing Inspector Lucas and they begin their own cat and mouse game. Subtly, as is his way, the Inspector leaves an opening for Kees to clear his mind and conscious but Kees is a passenger at last and he must ride the train wherever it takes him.

Inspector Lucas: "Mr. Popinga, I hope you appreciate that my questioning of you last night was merely an attempt to be of some service to you."

Kees Popinga: "Was it?"

Inspector Lucas: "But when we arrive in Paris my position may become an official one."

Freeing himself from the Inspector, Kees's first act in Paris is to locate de Koster's girlfriend and confederate, the beautiful Michele Rozier played by Marta Toren. Kees tries to act the sophisticate, to take the place of de Koster in the scheme and in Michele's affection. He does not fool the woman, who believes the money is now out of her grasp. She throws him out but their relationship is just beginning.

Marta Toren

Kees next becomes fleetingly involved with a prostitute played by Anouk Aimee. She gets money out of him but little else. The money proves to be the clue needed by Inspector Lucas and by Michele to Kees's whereabouts. Learning from the Inspector that Kees has de Koster's money, Michele brings him into her orbit and that of her lover Louis played by Ferdy Mayne. 

Michele: "Maybe I feel sorry for him. He's got no future. He doesn't seem to have had much of a past."

Louis: "Well, as long as he's got the money."

Kees is now involved in a much more dangerous game of cat and mouse than that offered by the Inspector. Like the chess he loved to play, Kees tries to stay one step ahead of Michele and Louis but his infatuation with the woman may overwhelm his best intentions.

Inspector Lucas understands the psychology of his little mouse and his goal is to save Kees Popinga from himself.

Inspector Lucas: "He's a hunted man. He's taken a large sum of money. Unless I catch him quickly he is going to do something desperate."

We follow Kees on his downward spiral in this, the adventure he always dreamed of and the unimagined things of which he is capable when his fantasies clash with his realities.

The Man Who Watched Trains Go By is based on a 1938 novel by Georges Simenon and adapted for the screen by its director Harold French (Quiet Weekend) and Paul Jarrico (All Night Long). Otto Heller (The Ladykillers) filmed the story in glorious Technicolor on location in Amsterdam and Paris, and in-studio in England. 

The Man Who Watched Trains Go By aka The Paris Express provided Claude Rains with one of his more exquisite later career performances. Swedish actress Marta Toren is beautiful and dangerous as the scheming Michele. Marius Goring as the sympathetic and quirky Inspector grounds us in this well-paced thriller with its focus on the psychology of its main character. You will add Kees Popinga to your list of lost souls of film noir (in Technicolor).

Monday, January 11, 2021

REMAKE AVENUE: Three on a Match, 1932 and Broadway Musketeers, 1938

Mervyn LeRoy directed Three on a Match for Warner Brothers in 1932 with a screenplay by Lucien Hubbard based on a story by Kubec Glasman and John Bright. The film's 63 minutes is packed with the verve typical of LeRoy's work in this era (Five Star Final, Little Caesar, Big City Blues).

Joan Blondell, Bette Davis

The 1919 hit song Smile plays on the soundtrack while a montage of news headlines and historic events confirms the year. We get up close to three of the students of Public School No. 2. Virginia Davis plays Mary Keaton, Dawn O'Day (Anne Shirley) plays Vivian Revere, and Betty Carse plays Ruth Westcott. When Commencement rolls around 30 seconds and 2 years later, we have gleaned much of the character of these youngsters. Ruth is on her way to secretarial school to help out her family. Vivian is going to an exclusive boarding school. Mary is on her way to the reformatory.

Buster Phelps, Ann Dvorak, Warren William

A decade later through happenstance these three are reacquainted. Bette Davis is Ruth who works in an office. Joan Blondell is Mary who is a chorus girl. Ann Dvorak is Vivian, married to the successful and attractive lawyer, Robert Kirkwood played by Warren William. They have a young son, Bobby played by the precocious Buster Phelps. It looks like Vivian has grabbed the brass ring but she is discontented and looking for kicks. Her husband agrees to let her take Rob Jr. with her on a trip to Europe. Kirkwood has depths of understanding. 

Ann Dvorak, Lyle Talbot

Vivian does not take the trip to Europe. The night of sailing Mary is on board seeing some people off. Tagging along is a Broadway gambler called Michael Loftus played by Lyle Talbot. Vivian and the hotshot have an instant attraction and she takes her kid and hooks up with Loftus, leaving no word with her husband as to her or the kid's whereabouts.

Mary and Ruth are aware of Vivian's neglect of her son and arrange for his return to his father. This act brings Robert and Mary into close contact, and they become a happy couple marrying on the day of his divorce from Vivian. Meanwhile, Vivian loses her money and her self-respect in booze and cocaine, and Loftus is doing no better. He is in debt to gambler Ace played by Edward Arnold. Henchman Harve played by Humphrey Bogart is looking forward to making an example of Loftus.

Ann Dvorak

Desperate for money, Mike Loftus kidnaps Kirkwood Jr. for the needed two thousand dollars. Ace muscles in realizing there is much more that can be made. While the gang holds the kid, a freaked out Vivian and on edge Loftus hostage, Kirkwood and the police comb the city. It all leads to a tense and harrowing standoff. I first saw Three on a Match at the age of 12 and the unexpected and violent ending made quite an impression.

The montages, the passing eras, the variety of events, and their emotional impact forge an unforgettable movie that feels epic despite its brief runtime. Bette Davis is pert and cute although the character of Ruth doesn't present the opportunity to hint at her memorable future characterizations. Joan Blondell lets us see a heart under the wisecracks because it is necessary here. Ann Dvorak is outstanding as the mixed-up Vivian Kirkwood. Her fall from grace is as completely believable as it is distressing. Three on a Match is a once seen, never forgotten film.

- - - / / / - - -

Broadway Musketeers released in 1938 was the 7th of 8 movies director John Farrow (The Big Clock, Wake Island) made at Warner Brothers Studios during the decade. Don Ryan and Kenneth Gamet's reworking of Three on a Match was a showcase for up-and-comers Ann Sheridan, Margaret Lindsay, and Marie Wilson. Nonetheless, with the same 63-minute runtime as the earlier film, Broadway Musketeers holds the interest but lacks the drive and excitement of Three on a Match.

The movie begins with our introduction to Margaret Lindsay as Isabel Dowling, a socialite with everything money can buy, an attentive husband Stan played by John Litel, and a darling daughter Judy played by Janet Chapman. Do you sometimes get the feeling that some Hollywood writers and directors have no idea how kids really behave? I think so. At any rate, an ideal home life and no money worries are not enough to make Isabel content.

Marie Wilson, Ann Sheridan, Margaret Lindsay

Isabel is about to get a blast from the past when the radio announces the arrest of entertainer Fay Reynolds played by Ann Sheridan. Ann is a singer with provocative accompanying dance moves. No money for bail lands her a 90-day sentence but two old pals come to her rescue. Connie Todd played by Marie Wilson with the sweet vagueness that made her My Friend Irma so popular, doesn't have quite enough money to help Fay. For Isabel, it is chump change. 

The three friends stop off outside the orphanage where they grew up to goggle at the kids who haven't changed since their time in the institution. They then head off to an afternoon of lunch and exchanging confidences. They promise to meet each year at this time before going their separate ways. 

Margaret Lindsay, Richard Bond

Stan has to leave New York for a month on a business trip and while hubby is away Isabel steps out. Fay had a job at an upscale nightclub and it was there that Isabel meets Broadway gambler Phil Peyton played by Richard Bond. Fay tries to warn Isabel that the guy is trouble, but nothing will do but Isabel spends every day and every night with Phil.

On the night before Stan's return, the lovers are in a car accident. Fay tries to cover for her friend by concocting a convoluted story in which she takes the blame. Stan appreciates Fay's loyalty, but the nanny played by Dorothy Adams has already spilled the beans. The Dowling marriage is not on the rocks, it has sunk.

Janet Chapman, John Litel, Ann Sheridan

You know the rest. Over the course of time, Fay and Stan get married and Isabel hits the skids; no drugs, just booze. All of this changing partners and backsliding looks more neat and tidy than in our earlier movie. One tidy loose end is that Isabel and Phil marry instead of living together. The gambler is still a cheque bouncer, but the kidnapping is more serendipity than planned. Fay had let Isabel have Judy for the afternoon and when Phil arrived home with hoods hot on his trail, the whole kidnapping was made up on the spot. Phil is knifed by the henchmen and Isabel is sought as his murderer.

Dewey Robinson

We get a little too much of a cutesy Runyonesque moment for comfort when one of the henchmen played by Dewey Robinson tries to calm little Judy with a bedtime story about Snow White.

"This Snow White is a swell skirt but the Queen has green eyes on her on account-a Snow White has the edge in looks. Snow White takes it on the lam. She doesn't want to run into any of the Queen's torpedoes so she hightails it to the tall timber and that's where she bumps into the dwarf mob."

They did not mess with Isabel's dramatic end and the sequence comes "this close" to matching that of Three on a Match. We get an extra coda to Broadway Musketeers in a cute wrap-up for Connie's character. All through the picture, this secretary speaks of her boss with stars in her eyes. She finally gets her man and we finally get to see him in the manly form of Jimmy Conlin. Not as downbeat or ambiguous an ending as its predecessor, but perhaps more suitable here.

All in all, if you were to choose one picture to see it would be the pre-code. Broadway Musketeers is more of a choice out of curiosity or fondness for the performers.

Friday, January 1, 2021


Janet (my daughter): "What are you watching?"

Caftan Woman (mother): Design for Living. Ernst Lubitsch from Noel Coward's play. Miriam Hopkins has to choose between Fredric March and Gary Cooper. (pause) Or does she?!

Janet: Ho-ho, ha-ha!

The original Broadway production in 1933, staged by the author Mr. Coward featured the actor with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne had a run of 135 performances. The play was not produced in London until 1939 due to difficulties with the censors. 

The 1984 Broadway revival directed by George C. Scott starring Raul Julia, Jill Clayburgh, and Frank Langella had a run of 245 performances.

The Paramount Pictures film released in 1933 gave us a screenplay by Ben Hecht (Barbary Coast) and Samuel Hoffenstein (Love Me Tonight) directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Victor Milner (The Furies) was the cinematographer and there is a sly soundtrack from uncredited studio stock composer John Leipold. Travis Banton's costumes are to sigh for. 

When commercial artist Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins) meets pretentious artist George Curtis (Gary Cooper) and unpublished playwright Thomas Chambers (Fredric March) aboard a Paris-bound train the attraction is instantaneous. The attraction between Gilda and Tommy, between Tommy and Gilda, and between Gilda and George, and George and Gilda. Circling around this interesting emotional triumvirate is Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton). Max is Gilda's business mentor, a friend of five years standing, and protector. In other words, those of Tommy's, he, Plunkett, never got to first base.

Both Tom and George have professed their love for Gilda and she in return has professed her fondness for the two of them. The friendship between the two artistes abroad has survived 11 years but is in danger of being blown apart by "a little bit of feminine fluff." They determine to treat Gilda with complete nonchalance and to refer to her by Miss Farrell if they refer to her at all.

Gilda has a completely different idea of how to handle their complications. "Well, boys, it's the only thing we can do. Let's forget about sex." ... "I'm going to be a mother of the arts." A gentleman's agreement exists among the three where the boys will work and Gilda will criticize and bully them into success. 

The cock-eyed plan works until Tommy's play opens in London and his absence highlights the "tension" between Gilda and George. They become a couple in the romantic sense, and George becomes a successful artist in the financial sense. Tommy is out in the cold and stews about it for almost a year. Upon returning to Paris and finding George out of town, the "tension" between Gilda and Tommy is highlighted and the morning's light finds them with something to either tell George or not.

Gilda deals with the situation by running away from both fellows. Tommy puts it succintly: "The mother of the arts wants to be a nice girl." What's a girl to do? Well, there is always Max Plunkett, but then there is the issue of the flock of Egelbauers. 

Design for Living
has an excess of wit, a knowing wink at conventions, and the odd piece of broken furniture. It is a polished and satisfying entertainment worthy of being labeled a true comedy classic.

TCM is airing Design for Living on the evening of Thursday, January 7th following two other treats from Ernst Lubitsch, The Smiling Lieutenant with Claudette Colbert and Maurice Chevalier, and Trouble in Paradise with Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins, and Kay Francis. A delightful evening's viewing.

NOTE: Possibly due to rights issues, Design for Living will not be shown in Canada. Make Me a Star, 1932 based on the play Merton of the Movies by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly is the substitute.

"The sorrows of life are the joys of art."


Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...