50 Movie Hollywood Legends, Disc 9

Penny Serenade, 1941, b&w. George Stevens (dir.), Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Beulah Bondi, Edgar Buchanan. 1:59 [1:57].

Great stars, a generally good print, good soundtrack—but I found this one disappointing. It’s told entirely in flashbacks as Irene Dunne plays records from the “Album of a Happy Marriage” as she’s about to walk out the door. Seems Grant, a reporter, meets her while she’s working in a music store, romances her, gets sent to Japan and marries her just before leaving. She shows up in Japan, pregnant, and they’re happy. He gets a (modest) inheritance and decides to blow the job. And a huge earthquake hits, taking away the baby and her ability to have others. So they look into adoption—while he’s put his inheritance into a failing weekly paper in a small town. With the help of an adoption-agency person, they do find a baby girl—and somehow manage to keep her, a year later, despite having no source of income. (There’s some good domestic comedy along the way—many parts of this film are quite good.) Everything’s wonderful…until the girl dies suddenly at age six. And the two seem to have nothing to say to each other, which is why she’s leaving.

Enough plot for you? I was wondering how it would end—and the ending, which I assume to be considered a happy ending, struck me as a bit creepy. I won’t give it away just in case you might see it, but let’s say that it doesn’t do anything to reassure me that these two have a fundamentally sound marriage. Oh, there’s an interesting third character, Applejack (played by Edgar Buchanan), who’s known them all along—and who somehow manages to stay around the little town (he was hired as press manager and troubleshooter) even though the newspaper’s gone under. He does a fine job (hey, he’s Edgar Buchanan), as do all the actors. I just found the movie more depressing than uplifting and the ending odd at best. I’ll give it $1.25.

Dark Mountain, 1944, b&w. William Berke (dir.), Robert Lowery, Ellen Drew, Regis Toomey, Eddie Quillan. 0:56.

This one’s unusual—a combination of noir and comedy wrapped up in a tightly-made hour. Basically, you have the forest ranger who disobeys orders to save his horses—and shortly thereafter gets promoted, which means he has the money to pursue his old girlfriend. Who has since gotten married…to a smuggler (Regis Toomey), who shortly thereafter kills two (or three) people and goes on the lam. The rest has to do with hideouts, psychology, the whole thing. Meanwhile, there’s another ranger who’s basically a funny sidekick (with a wife in the military, in Africa—this is set in WWII).

It’s well-written, well acted and moves nicely. I really have no particular criticism of this flick; it’s quite good. The value is based on its short running time—but even so it gets $1.25.

The Big Show, 1936, b&w, Mack V. Wright (dir.), Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Kay Hughes, Sally Payne, William Newell, Max Terhune, Sons of the Pioneers, the Jones Boys, the Beverly Hillbillies, the Light Crust Doughboys, Champion, Rex King. 1:10/0:54. [0:55]

[Note: This movie also appears in the Classic Musicals set, and this review was done for that copy. The price has been adjusted downward since I no longer allow for more than $1.25 for a one-hour movie.] The plot: Tom Ford’s making a movie with Gene Autry as his stuntman. Ford goes on vacation (and to hide out from $10,000 gambling debts) and the studio publicist says he’s needed at the Texas World’s Fair in Dallas (where most of this was filmed).

Solution? Have Gene Autry don a fake mustache and impersonate Tom Ford. But Ford doesn’t sing—and that’s Autry’s big thing. Lots of music, lots of action with the gangster (who decides to blackmail the studio about the Autry-as-Ford thing, which doesn’t work well because the studio loves having a singing cowboy). Autry wasn’t that hot as an actor at the time, but since he was also playing Ford, he acted as well as Ford. More show biz than western, but plenty of music—and the Beverly Hillbillies were a western singing group a long time before it was a TV show. $1.25.

The Joyless Street, 1925, silent, b&w (sepiatone), original title Die Freudlose Gasse. Georg Wilhelm Pabst (dir.), Greta Garbo, Werner Krauss, Asta Nielsen and a bunch of others—none of them credited (including Garbo). 2:05 to 2:55 [1:00].

This sepiatone rerelease of a silent movie (with symphonic, entirely unrelated, soundtrack added) leaves no doubt as to why it was rereleased: “The incomparable Greta Garbo” with preliminary title cards about getting to see her wonderful mannerisms, etc.—and when Greta (a character in the movie) first appears, the new title card makes sure you know that Greta is Greta Garbo! (Apparently, she wasn’t the star in the original film.)

Take away the supposed star power and it’s a sad little story of postwar Vienna (The Great War, that is). It starts with a downtrodden family in a flat—the daughter comes back without meat (the butcher doesn’t have any) and the father beats her. Then we go upstairs to a flat with a retired civil servant and two daughters (one the fully-grown Greta, the other a subteen girl)—and that’s it for the first family: They’re never heard from again. Unless the daughter was in the long line overnight at the butcher’s for promised “frozen beef tomorrow”—with little enough that most are turned away.

There’s almost too much plot to summarize, having to do with the father making incredibly stupid decisions for a retiree (“let’s cash out our pension and buy speculative stock on margin!”), leering bosses, stock manipulation, cabarets, American relief workers and an ending that feels pulled out of nowhere. Maybe it’s the fact that this is somewhere between one-third and one-half of the original film. Maybe it’s bad English titles. Without Garbo, I’d say it’s a curious little relic, worth maybe $0.75—the print’s not too bad. With Garbo—well, she may have been incomparable, but in this movie she just seemed to be overacting and her famed beauty mostly seemed to be huge eyes. I’ll stick with $0.75.

Blood and Sand, 1922, silent, b&w. Fred Niblo (dir.), Rudolph Valentino, Rosa Rosanova, Leo White, Lila Lee, Nita Naldi. 1:48 [1:00].

Another silent with unrelated music—but this one’s in generally-good black & white, and every significant actor is introduced with a title card show the role and the actor’s name, not just the star. (No credits on this one either.) Oh, and Rudolph Valentino was clearly the star in this one—and he doesn’t overact and does display a pretty fair amount of magnetism. (Actually, for a silent-movie, he acts fairly subtly.)

The story? If you haven’t heard it by now… Poor boy becomes toreador, marries childhood sweetheart, becomes a Very Big Deal, gets seduced by a society type, and all does not go well. Strong anti-bullfighting messages in the titles and one side character. Still a lot missing (20 to 48 minutes), but what’s there works reasonably well. Well done for what it is; I’ll give it $1.00.

2 Responses to “50 Movie Hollywood Legends, Disc 9”

  1. Audrey says:

    Are you saying that Garbo’s beauty was only her eyes in this film, or period?
    That was a very, very early Garbo film. She was just a teenager I think.
    She became to be one of the most gorgeous women ever filmed.

  2. walt says:

    I’m strictly talking about this movie–and, to be sure, she wasn’t the star of the movie in its original version. I have no doubt that she became much more gorgeous and probably a better actor.