TCM is showing this film at noon today so I thought I would feature my review from a while back. Below is the link.
“Jeopardy” is a terrific little thriller from MGM, cheaply made, did okay at the box office and disappeared without much fanfare. MGM known for its lavish and expensive musicals also had a small unit that produced low budget films, programmers, product to keep pumping out to theaters. With a small budget and stars who were no longer at the top of their career the studio was able to put out some decent films that turned a profit. “Jeopardy” falls nicely into this category.
A typical American family is driving down to Mexico for a vacation. Let’s remember this is 1953, post-war America, the Eisenhower years, folks were glad the war years were over and enjoying the open roads, the country’s super highways. Barbara Stanwyck’s narration in the film alludes to this as well as to the unknown trouble that lies ahead. The destination is an isolated beach area her husband, Doug Stilwin (Barry Sullivan) went fishing there years ago with former Army buddies. The rest of the family consists of wife Helen (Barbara Stanwyck) and their young son Bobby (Lee Aaker).
The first stop is Tijuana but from there it is a long ride to the isolated beach some 400 miles south on the Baja peninsula. When they first arrive young Bobby goes exploring on a pier that has been condemned (only the condemned sign is in Spanish and we do not find out the meaning of the word until it is too late). Bobby gets his foot stuck in between two boards and Dad has to go out on the pier and pry his son’s foot loose. On the way back one of the weaker boards gives way and Dad falls, a piling pinning his foot underneath. Unable to get him loose and with the tide beginning to come in, Helen, panic stricken, is forced to take the car and go for help hopefully getting back before the tide comes in drowning Doug.
Not knowing any Spanish, unfamiliar with the terrain and half hysterical Helen drives wildly searching for help. She meets some locals walking down the road but the language barrier prohibits any communication and she drives off frantically still in search of help. She comes upon a roadside gas station but the place seems deserted. She breaks in looking for a heavy rope or some other material that would help free her husband. Suddenly, a man appears standing by her car, he’s an American and she tells him her tale. He instantly agrees to help her; they jump into her car and take off. As they drive away, the camera,remaining behind at the gas station, slowly moves over revealing a dead body lying on the ground. The supposed good Samaritan is Lawson (Ralph Meeker) a half psychotic escaped prisoner. He isn’t interested in helping Helen and her husband as much as using the car to get away from the Mexican police. To make Helen’s situation even more desperate he finds a pistol in the glove compartment, one Helen’s husband packed for shooting practice.
The remainder of this short (69 minutes) film becomes a duel between Helen, a woman determined and willing to do anything to save her husband and the crazed Lawson (the film hints that she agrees to a sexual encounter), who mocking her fears that her husband may die at one point tells her to “stop it, you’re making me cry, I’m a very sensitive guy.”
Stanwyck is always at her best when she combines vulnerability and toughness which she does so well here, but the real revelation is Ralph Meeker (who incidentally replaced Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway). Best known as Mike Hammer in the classic Robert Aldrich film “Kiss Me, Deadly,” here he just about steals the entire film in what has to be one of his best and juiciest roles. It was a good year for Meeker, he also had a role in Anthony Mann’s “The Naked Spur.”
As exciting as Meeker is in his role, Barry Sullivan is just as dull. He has the less fortunate part of the husband who for most of the film is stuck under the pile with the tide coming in, the waves crashing up against him harder and harder. Actually it is not so much Sullivan’s talent that is at fault as it is the role itself. Lee Aaker who plays the young son Bobby is best remembered by baby boomers as Rusty in the TV series “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin” that began filming the following year and ran for five years.
Though the film was set in Mexico, the Yucca Valley and an area near Laguna Beach were substituted for the Baja Peninsula. The screenplay was written by Mel Dinelli who wrote such fine thrillers as “The Spiral Staircase,” “Cause for Alarm,” “The Window” and “Beware, My Lovely.” Directed by John Sturges on a very small budget, He would within two years go on to make his first great classic, “Bad Day at Black Rock.”
Notice in both the poster and the insert how in the advertising of this film they allude to Stanwyck’s character having sex with the killer Lawson with phrases like “she did it…because her fear was greater than her shame!” and “she did it…and no woman in the world would blame her”
“Jeopardy” is a fine thriller without ever reaching the level of greatness, but you will not be bored.
Violence against women, alcoholism, child abuse, racy dialogue, gangsters, lust driven interns, bootlegging and sex – “Night Nurse”, a 1932 William Wellman melodrama, has it all. You never have seen so much vice tossed and mixed into one 75-minute cinematic festival of sin. In addition, it stars two of the sexiest, talented and biggest stars of the pre-code era, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell. If you add in a young virile, though nasty Clark Gable, you cannot ask for more.
Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) wants to be a nurse and is at first turned down by the old biddy nurse in charge because she lacks the required education. You see Lora had to quit school to help out with her family. Dejected and on her way out of the hospital, a gentlemen entering accidently knocks her bag out of her hand. Well, it turns out the man is Dr. Bell (Charles Wininger) head of the hospital. To make amends, for dropping the contents of her bag all over the floor, and staring at her legs as he picks up the dropped items placing them back in her bag, he arranges with the nasty head nurse, now all smiles, apologetic and under the assumption Lora knows Dr. Bell, for Lora to start her training on the night shift. She is set up to share a room with fellow nurse the jaded gum chewing Maloney (Joan Blondell). Soon the two are going out partying and undressing together, even sharing a bed after being caught coming in after curfew by the old biddy nurse. On a more serious note, Lora get some real medical emergency education assisting doctors in surgery, sometime successfully and well sometimes not so much. One night, while on duty in comes Mortie, (Ben Lyons), a bootlegger we soon find out, with a bullet wound. Bound by duty to report all bullet injuries to the police, Mortie, who deep down is a swell guy, convinces her not to do so.
Upon graduating, both Lora and Maloney get jobs as private nurses for a well to do family with Lora as the night nurse and Maloney taking the day shift. Their main responsibilities are taking care of two young children, whose father is dead and whose mother is too busy drinking and partying to care of them. The kids are heirs to a large fortune and this is where Nick, the Chauffeur (Clark Gable), enters the scene. Nick is a low life who is arranging, along with a crooked doctor in on the plot, to starve the children to death, marry the widow mother, and get access to the kids’ trust fund. Of course, our heroine, discovered what Nick is up too and with the help of bootlegger Mortie manages to save the day and the kids but only after being viciously beaten by Nick and giving a blood transfusion to save one of the malnourished young girls.
“Night Nurse” was one of the first of the pre-code films released on home video under the Forbidden Hollywood banner back in the 1990’s. Back in those days, the VHS series was hosted and introduced by Leonard Maltin.
The film is dated in many respects but there is much to keep you interested. Racy wild dialogue like when a young intern tells nurses Stanwyck and Blondell that they can’t show him anything he has not just seen in a delivery room and the children’s mother wildly yelling out at one point “I’m a dipsomaniac and I like it!” And what other film ends with the audience being told that Clark Gable has been “taken for a ride.” Mortie, Lora’s bootlegging admirer and the guy who knows the guys who took Nick for his final ride end up with Lora riding off into the urban sunset.
Gable, in an early role, is convincingly evil as Nick the Chauffeur. Had he not become a star he could have had a good career portraying immoral characters as he does here and in some other early performances. With his gruff voice, he is perfect. Joan Blondell is her sexy and sassy self and for anyone who has followed this blog knows Joan, along with Stanwyck, are two of my favorite actresses. This was the second of three films they appeared in together. Stanwyck is wonderful as the strong willed nurse determined to save the children from the cruelty being imposed on them by Nick and an inattentive mother. In one scene, she actually drags the drunken mother across a room hoping to get her to pay attention to what is happening to her daughters and mutters under her breath “you mother!” The part itself does not require much depth from an acting perspective just a lot of toughness and a ‘have been there before attitude’ from Stanwyck, which she does so well. Just how tough was Stanwyck? Well, here she puts the soon to be anointed “King” Clark Gable in his place and just two years later, she cuts down to size a young John Wayne in “Baby Face.” That pretty tough! Interesting enough, Warner Brothers had the chance to sign Gable to a contract but passed on him leaving the door open for MGM to sign the future Rhett Butler.
The screenplay is based on a novel by Dora Macy, aka Grace Perkins. Reading a review of the novel in Time magazine (6/13/30), demonstrates the faithfulness of the screenplay to the book except for the character of Nick who in the movie seems to have replaced an Uncle, along with a sister-in-law, as the brains behind the plot to starve the children.
Directed by William Wellman, who keeps the pace moving, though like many Wellman films it is rough around the edges, but never dull. “Night Nurse” was the first of five films Wellman would make with Stanwyck. The others were “The Purchase Price”, “So Big”, “The Great Man’s Lady” and “Lady of Burlesque.” With at least ten sinful pre-code films in her credits Stanwyck stands up there alongside Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Ruth Chatterton and other queens of pre-code films.
The first time I saw Baby Face was back in the 1990’s when it was released on VHS as part of the “Forbidden Hollywood series.” The film had a well deserved reputation for being one of the racier films to be ever made with sex, prostitution and plenty of morally corrupt individuals. Now on DVD as part of volume one in the Forbidden Hollywood collection, I finally got around to watching the disreputable pre-released version. Discovered back in 2005 in the Library of Congress film archives, this version was unearthed when a request was made for a new print to be struck. Mike Mashon, curator at the Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress, received a print that was struck from the original camera negative, however; he was told there was a dup negative that was about five minutes longer. Intrigued, Mashon requested a print from the dup negative. After viewing the five-minute longer version, he knew he had struck gold. Typical for the times, Baby Face prior to its release was submitted to various state censor boards; in this case the powerful New York State Board of Censors and was rejected. Without the approval of the State Board, Warner Brothers knew the film would never play in the major New York City market. Subsequently, the film was edited removing the Boards objectionable scenes. The recut film was released and opened at the Strand Theater in New York to mixed reviews.
In viewing both versions, the dramatic changes are significant enough to change the tone,. The pre-released version being darker and certainly more sordid. Barbara Stanwyck is Lily, a young woman who is pimped by her own father to the slimy characters who frequent his Erie, Pa. speakeasy. This is explicitly shown in the uncut version where a coarse local politician pays dear old Dad hard cash to spend some quality time with Lily. When the politician fondles Lily’s leg, she pours hot coffee on him. Next, he crudely grabs her breasts and Lily retaliates by grabbing a beer bottle hitting him squarely on the head. In the officially released version, this scene was cut dramatically. No cash exchanges hands between Dad and the politician; the fondling of Lily’s leg is shorter and there is no groping of her breasts. In other scenes, dialogue was changed or cut to meet the censors’ requirements. When her father tells her she can’t talk to him so rudely Lily goes on a tirade about “What a swell start you gave me….” She goes on about him being a lousy father and about all the rotten lousy men of which he was the lowest. What was cut from the released version of this rant is a line about Dad pimping her out at the age of 14!
Soon after, her father is killed when his still accidentally blows up. A local cobbler, who in the original version comes across as more of a father figure, tells her to seek her fortune by going to New York. He tells her a beautiful young woman like her can get anything she wants, but she must remember there is a right and wrong way to go about getting ahead in the world. In the pre-censored version, the cobbler’s advice is not as fatherly as he encourages her to read Nietzshe’s Thoughts out of Season and to “Crush out all sentiment.” He tells her, a beautiful young woman like her can get anything because she has the power over men. “Use men, don’t let them use you”, he advises her. He goes on to say that she must be the master and not the slave. Use men to get the things she wants. Like Lily, this version of the film follows Nietzsche’s advice and crushes out any and all sentiment.
. Lily puts the cobbler’s advice to quick use when she hops a freight train with her friend and helper, Chico (Theresa Harris). Caught by a railroad inspector, Lily using the new found power of her body, seduces him as they ride the rails. In New York, Lily, with no work skills nor any education, seeks to get a job at the Gotham Trust Co. A personnel clerk asks her if she has any experience to which she replies “Plenty” with a knowing smirk. Telling Lily there are no jobs available she proposes they could work something out as she makes her way into the bosses empty office. The clerk follows closing the door behind him. Lily climbs to the top as she sleeps her way from the filing room, to the Mortgage Department to Accounting. It’s in the Accounting Department where she meets Ned Stevens (Donald Cook) who is engaged to Ann Carter (Margaret Lindsay) who is the daughter of bank head J.P. Carter or at least he is until Lily becomes responsible for breaking up the romance. Stevens is so hooked on Lily that when he finds his future-father-in-law Carter in Lily’s bedroom, he shoots him and commits suicide. Unperturbed by the violence, Lily nonchalantly calls the police telling them there has been an “accident.”
At this point, with all scandals Lily has caused she is sent off to the Paris branch of the Bank. This seems somewhat ludicrous. Why not just fire her? In Paris, she meets Courtland Trenholm (George Brent), who falls in love with Lily. They marry and Courtland showers Lily with jewelry, clothes and money. They eventually come back to New York when the Bank and Trenholm are having financial problems. He ask Lily to return some of the gifts and securities he has given her, so he can pay his debt, she refuses. Despondent Courtland attempts suicide. As Courtland is taken away in an ambulance with Lily as his side, the censors strike one more time. They did not like the idea in the original version that Lily is shown as not “paying” for her sins. Warner’s was forced to tack on an artificial ending instead of the pre-censored version, which is more ambiguous and yet hints at the chance that Lily and Courtland will live happily ever after.
“Baby Face” is not a great film and is remembered today more for its place in film history as one of the most salacious films ever made. The discovery, in 2005 of the pre-released version only cemented its place in history. The first half of the film holds up well from a story point of view however, the second part of the film somewhat shaky. Still the film is a thrill to watch mainly due to Stanwyck who gives us an early version of one of her classic bold ice-cold characterizations that she would play to perfection later on in films like “Double Indemnity and even on TV in “The Big Valley.” Also a pleasure is Theresa Harris as Chico, Lily’s helper and friend who hums the bluesy “St. Louis Woman” throughout the film, subliminally reminding us of Lily’s immoral roots. Her role is a rare example of a non-stereotypical black character that is treated as an equal, especially by Lily. Harris appeared in many well known films, generally, as a maid or waitress. Her impressive list include Morocco, Horse Feathers, Gold Diggers of 1933, Hold Your Man, Jezebel”, The Women Phantom Lady, “Cat People, The Dolly Sisters” “iracle on 34 Street, The Big Clock, The File on Thelma Jordan and Angel Face among many others. In the Jack Benny starring “uck Benny Rides Again, Harris had the opportunity to show off her singing and dancing talent in a duet with Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Unfortunately, because of the times, this talented lady was never given the opportunity to climb the ladder to stardom. Also, look for a young John Wayne is a minor role as one of Lily’s conquest and character actor Nat Pendleton in a small role as one of Lily’s Dad’s slimy speakeasy customers. Pendleton appeared in over 100 films including Manhattan Melodrama, The Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Buck Privates and Buck Privates Come Home.
The film was directed by Alfred E. Green, who started in the silent days and continued to work up until the late 1950’s. Baby Face is probably his most famous or more fittingly his most infamous film. Most of Green’s output consisted of fairly routine programmers. The screenplay was written by Gene Markey and Kathryn Scola, based on a story by Darryl F. Zanuck, writing as Mark Canfield. Zanuck’s career with Warner’s Brothers would end shortly thereafter, only partially due to his part in creating tawdry films, “straight from the newspaper headlines”, such as Baby Face and probably more to do with disputes with Jack Warner and his own desires to run a studio. He would soon be a co-founder of Twentieth Century Pictures and a few years later, they would buyout Fox Pictures forming Twentieth Century Fox.
An interesting aside I came across is from an article by Molly Haskell in the New York Times on how so many pre-code heroines were called Lily or Lil. Beside Stanwyck’s Lily Powers, there’s Marlene Dietrich’s Shanghai Lil’ in Von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express, Jean Harlow as the gold-digging secretary Lil’ Andrews in Red Headed Woman and Lily, alias Mlle. Vautier in Trouble in Paradise. The character called Lady Lou played by Mae West in She Done Him Wrong was based on the play “Diamond Lil written by West. Paramount changed the character’s name in hopes of reducing the notoriety that preceded the play.
“The Lady Eve” is one of the most intelligent, romantic, funny screwball comedies to grace the screen. Preston Sturges opened the door for other screenwriters, like Billy Wilder, who frustrated with directors messing with their work, wanted to direct their own scripts. Sturges had a great run making eight classic films, including “The Great McGinty”, “Christmas in July”, “Sullivan’s Travels”, “The Miracle of Morgan Creek”, “Hail, The Conquering Hero”, The Palm Beach Story”, “Unfaithfully Yours” and of course “The Lady Eve.” Sturges films were unique in blending sophisticated humor right along side laugh out loud slapstick. According to Peter Bogdonovich in an interview on the DVD of “The Lady Eve”, he states that the term screwball came from a comment made about Carole Lombard’s performance in “My Man Godfrey”, “That’s real screwball she played” and the term stuck for romantic comedies with farcical overtones. Well, “The Lady Eve” is a prime example of screwball. Barbara Stanwyck is Jean who along with her father (Charles Coburn) are card sharks looking for prey on the cruise ship heading back to the states. Henry Fonda is a rich naïve man named Charles Pike who is returning home after a year of studying snakes abroad and falls prey to Jean and her father’s card schemes. Only problem is Jean, did not plan to fall in love
Stanwyck and Fonda make a great team. They made three films together all comedies, which is pretty amazing since Fonda did not make that many comedies. “The Lady Eve” was the second film they made together; “The Mad Miss Manton” came first. These two are the cream of the threesome though “You Belong to Me”, their final film together is pleasant and worth seeing if for no other reason that to watch these two stars together.
Fonda manages to fall, trip, slide, and slip so many times that he seems to spend much of the film on the ground. My favorite scene is the seduction scene where Jean practically seduces Charles by continually twirling his hair while he is reclining on the floor getting more and more flustered. This is one of the most seductive and sexy scenes ever filmed. Both stars are just perfect. I was breaking out in a cold sweat just watching! What makes Fonda so effective is that he does not play it for laughs. He plays it straight and that makes it even funnier. Stanwyck is such a talented actress who can play both drama and comedy to perfection. She has a great scene where she is sitting in the dining room, of the ship, with her makeup mirror commenting on all the women who try to catch the shy rich Fonda’s eye who is sitting at another table reading a book. Only one year earlier Stanwyck worked on the Sturges scripted “Remember the Night” and he told Stanwyck at that time that some day he would write a screwball comedy for her. He kept his word.
As usual with Sturges there is a great supporting cast including Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette and William Demarest all who are wonderful. “The Lady Eve” is a film that is not be missed, well written and very funny.
Released in 1950, the film stars Barbara Stanywck and John Lund, it was directed by Mitchell Leisen from a screenplay by Sally Benson and Catherine Turney, based on the novel “I Married a Dead Man” by Cornell Woolrich who wrote it under the pen name William Irish. This was the first of four film versions to have been made from the book. In 1983, there was “I Married a Shadow (Jai Espouse une Ombre) starring Natalie Byle. In 1996 came “Mrs. Winterbourne” with Ricky Lake and in 2001 a made for TV movie called “She’s No Angel” with Tracy Gold. By the way, do not get this film confused with the 1932 Clark Gable/Carole Lombard “No Man of Her Own,” the only thing they have in common is the title.
Helen Ferguson (Barbara Stanwyck), a woman with an immoral past finds herself pregnant and dumped by her low life lover Steve Morley (Lyle Bettger) for another dame. He slips Helen some money and a train ticket underneath the door of his apartment and tells her to get lost, go back home to San Francisco. Thus begins a series of events, wild as they are, that will change everyone.
On the train heading home Helen meets Hugh and Patrice Harkness (Richard Denning and Phyllis Thaxter) a newly married couple who are on their way to Hugh’s parents’ house in Illinois where Patrice will meet her in-laws for the first time. Like Helen, Patrice is also pregnant. Enroute, Helen and Patrice become chatty, sharing some bonding moments; Patrice even lets Helen try on her ring. Just at this moment, the train derails resulting in a deadly crash. Hugh and Patrice are killed while Helen is injured ending up in the hospital. With the ring still on her finger everyone in the hospital assumes she is Patrice Harkness. Helen, her life at a dead end, allows the misunderstanding to continue and soon finds herself lovingly welcomed into the home of Hugh’s parents. Hugh’s brother, Bill (John Lund) is immediately attracted to her but he is also a bit suspicious of her however, he says nothing. Though at first feeling guilty, Helen eventually settles into the middle class, middle America home as both she and the baby are warmly embraced by the Harkness family. Life is good until her former creep of a lover Steve resurfaces, seeing dollar signs, he has a scheme of his own.
“No Man of her Own” is a well-paced atmospheric tense noir and Barbara Stanwcyk gives another one of her effective performances with a strong female character. She is especially impressive during the marriage ceremony scene which is all part of Steve’s blackmail scheme. We here her in voice over telling us what she is thinking, yet if your watch her eyes, they reveal even more than what is said. The biggest problems with the film are a weak performance by John Lund who comes across as just plain bland and unexciting. Additionally, at forty-three years old, Barbara Stanwyck is a little too old for the role though, as I mentioned earlier, she gives her usual strong performance. Finally, I have not read the Woolrich novel on which the film is based however, from what I have read in doing research the book’s ending is much bleaker than the happy ending tacked on to the film. The darker ending would have made for a much stronger film than the obligatory happy studio ending.
A few words must be said for Lyle Bettger who is excellent as the totally despicable slimy Steve, Helen’s cold hearted blackmailing boyfriend. Bettger made a career in mostly “B” films and later on TV typically as a villain. Here he is effectively vile and loathsome, he makes you just want to take a shower and wash his slime out of your system.
If you ever read a biography on Billy Wilder you would come to believe Mitchell Leisen to be the worst director ever to sit behind a camera. Wilder claims Leisen ruined his scripts (“Midnight” and “Hold Back the Dawn”, both co-written by Charles Brackett) and this is what made him determined to become a director himself, to protect the written word. Preston Sturges also complained about Leisen cutting his scripts (“Easy Living” and “Remember the Night”). So are Leisen directed films that bad? Well, I have seen “Midnight” and it is a funny and smartly written and well directed film as is “Hold Back the Dawn.” As for the Sturges written “Remember the Night” it is a nice blend of romantic comedy with some dark drama and a Christmas season background. It also is a precursor to the reuniting Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck four years before Wilder’s “Double Indemnity.” Leisen’s films are always visually stylish thanks to his background in art direction and costumes. In his time he was a well-respected and versatile studio director, despite Wilder and Sturges thinking, who did well whether it was a romantic comedy, melodrama, or musical. He sometimes even mixed them together as he did with “No Man of Her Own”, a blending of woman’s melodrama with noirish overtones and doing it successfully. Other Leisen films include “Hands Across the Table”, “Swing Low, Swing High”, both with Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray, “Arise My Love”, “I Wanted Wings” and “The Mating Season.”
From a quality point of view, it is hard to believe that “You Belong to Me” was made the same year as “The Lady Eve.” However, it was the success of “The Lady Eve” that encouraged Columbia to reteam the two stars again so quickly in this film They should have left good enough alone. This was the third and final time Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck starred together. It was also their weakest effort. Their first film was “The Mad Miss Manton” made back in 1938.
In “You Belong to Me,” Fonda plays ambitionless millionaire playboy Peter Kirk who is smitten, at a ski resort, by the likes of Dr. Helen Hunt (Stanwyck). Kirk is what used to be called the idle rich, those who never worked a day in their life and have no need or purpose to do so. Kirk is also insanely jealous of any contact his doctor wife has with men, going to absurd lengths to “catch” her with male patients in compromising positions. Each time this happens, it is more embarrassing for Kirk as he is constantly proven wrong. That is pretty much the whole film until the somewhat “surprise” ending.
Fonda’s character is weak, childish, and insecure while Stanwyck’s is strong and intelligent. You can never understand what it is she sees in him, other than money, which it is never hinted at that she has ever given it a second thought. Overall, the film is pretty much a total wreck, at best more cute than funny. The most redeeming value of this romantic comedy is the combination and the chance again to see Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda together one more time.