More than seventy years after its release, Sabotage remains relevant today. In fact, it is arguably more relevant today, considering the world we live in, than in 1936 when it was first released. Based on Joseph Conrad’s short novel, The Secret Agent, the plot focuses on Karl Verloc (Oscar Homolka), a foreigner from an unnamed country. Verloc owns a local cinema in London and is a member of a terrorist group set on crippling London. His wife, (Sylvia Sidney) is completely unaware of her husband’s underground activities. Living with the couple, in an apartment above the cinema, is Mrs. Verloc’s much younger brother, Stevie (Desmond Tester), whose death in the film sparks its most famous, and most infamous, sequence. Continue reading
Week-End Marriage is a “cautionary tale” tale about women attempting to manage both a job and a home life. Based on the 1931 novel by Faith Baldwin, the film pushes all the buttons on the dangers a woman faces by attempting to balance life in and out of the home; a unhappy marriage, an unkempt home, no children and infidelity by the husband. Today, with so many double income families trying to survive, the film seems chauvinistic, narrow-minded and quaint. Continue reading
One of the spiciest of pre-code movies ever made was The Story of Temple Drake. It was based on William Faulkner’s decadent novel, “Sanctuary,” which was considered a scorcher for its time. Published in 1931, the novel dealt with rape, bondage and murder, and can probably be compared to today’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy in its notoriety. By the standard of the studios and the production code it was considered to be one of those books, like The Postman Always Rings Twice some 15 years later, a work that was too hot for the screen and could not be made into a movie. Yet, just two years after its publication, Paramount purchased the rights and it arrived on the screen, though not without some fine major tuning and modifications. The Hays Office refused to allow the studio to name the novel in any way on screen. Subsequently, during the opening credits it reads from a “novel by William Faulkner.” Still, the film remained and remains one of the most controversial and wicked of pre-code films. Faulkner, it is said, based his novel on a true story and wrote it expressly as a commercial venture to sell books with no consideration of artistic intent. Continue reading
Women hooking up with married men. This pre-code (1932) reads like the do’s and don’ts of, as well as the perils of being involved, with a married man. And while Jean Harlow is gorgeous, it’s Mae Clarke, as her long-time girlfriend, and kept woman, who has the meatiest role. Poor Clarke, whenever she teamed up with Harlow she always got the raw end of the lollipop. Here she advises Harlow not to get involved with a rich married man who swears he’s going to divorce his wife. She warns Harlow, “You always end up behind the eight ball.” And that’s exactly what happens to Clarke by the end of this short 68 minute programmer. Of course, in the earlier film the ladies were in together, The Public Enemy, it was poor Mae who got the grapefruit in the face from James Cagney while Harlow just got Cagney. Continue reading
Stereotypes run amuck in this Warner Brothers pre-code from 1933. Yet it is these categorizations that make this pre-code interesting to watch. It begins on the Lower East Side of New York, Orchard Street to be specific, an ethnic neighborhood which at various times was filled with Jewish, German, Italian and Puerto Rican immigrants among others. The script focuses on an Italian family. Tony has called for a doctor, his wife is giving birth, and he’s crying for help. An ambulance arrives with a doctor in tow, our heroine, Mary Stevens (Kay Francis). Tony is shocked. My God, the doctor is a woman! No, no, no, he wants a real doctor…a man! Having already lost one child, he threatens Mary with a machete if she fails to help his wife through to a successful birth. Mary locks herself in the bedroom with the expectant mother while Tony is being restrained by the police (called earlier by the frightened ambulance driver). As expected, the baby is successfully delivered and all is well. This short opening scene reveals how far we have come in our labeling of people and yet it also reveals how far we still have to go. I am sure there are still men out there who do not want to be treated by a female doctor just because she is a woman. Continue reading
It’s always a treat when you get the opportunity to discover a good film you never heard of before. I was totally unaware of this Robert Florey directed film when I saw it pop up on TCM’s schedule. It sounded interesting, so I set up my DVR to record. It turned out to be a real nice surprise.
Released during the Christmas season of 1933, The House on 56th Street had to be one of the last few films to be come out before the enforcement of the Production Code and all its many “Thou Shall Not’s” that would follow. It’s a good thing too because the film’s entire last act would have been marred had those devil censors got their oily hands on it. Continue reading