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 soundtrackâ€”but I found this one disappointing. Itâ€™s told entirely in flashbacks as Irene Dunne plays records from the â€œAlbum of a Happy Marriageâ€ as sheâ€™s about to walk out the door. Seems Grant, a reporter, meets her while sheâ€™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 theyâ€™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 adoptionâ€”while heâ€™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 girlâ€”and somehow manage to keep her, a year later, despite having no source of income. (Thereâ€™s some good domestic comedy along the wayâ€”many parts of this film are quite good.) Everythingâ€™s wonderfulâ€¦until the girl dies suddenly at age six. And the two seem to have nothing to say to each other, which is why sheâ€™s leaving.
Enough plot for you? I was wondering how it would endâ€”and the ending, which I assume to be considered a happy ending, struck me as a bit creepy. I wonâ€™t give it away just in case you might see it, but letâ€™s say that it doesnâ€™t do anything to reassure me that these two have a fundamentally sound marriage. Oh, thereâ€™s an interesting third character, Applejack (played by Edgar Buchanan), whoâ€™s known them all alongâ€”and who somehow manages to stay around the little town (he was hired as press manager and troubleshooter) even though the newspaperâ€™s gone under. He does a fine job (hey, heâ€™s Edgar Buchanan), as do all the actors. I just found the movie more depressing than uplifting and the ending odd at best. Iâ€™ll give it $1.25.
Dark Mountain, 1944, b&w. William Berke (dir.), Robert Lowery, Ellen Drew, Regis Toomey, Eddie Quillan. 0:56.
This oneâ€™s unusualâ€”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 horsesâ€”and shortly thereafter gets promoted, which means he has the money to pursue his old girlfriend. Who has since gotten marriedâ€¦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, thereâ€™s another ranger whoâ€™s basically a funny sidekick (with a wife in the military, in Africaâ€”this is set in WWII).
Itâ€™s well-written, well acted and moves nicely. I really have no particular criticism of this flick; itâ€™s quite good. The value is based on its short running timeâ€”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 Fordâ€™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 heâ€™s needed at the Texas Worldâ€™s Fair in Dallas (where most of this was filmed).
Solution? Have Gene Autry don a fake mustache and impersonate Tom Ford. But Ford doesnâ€™t singâ€”and thatâ€™s Autryâ€™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 doesnâ€™t work well because the studio loves having a singing cowboy). Autry wasnâ€™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 musicâ€”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 othersâ€”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: â€œThe incomparable Greta Garboâ€ with preliminary title cards about getting to see her wonderful mannerisms, etc.â€”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 wasnâ€™t the star in the original film.)
Take away the supposed star power and itâ€™s a sad little story of postwar Vienna (The Great War, that is). It starts with a downtrodden family in a flatâ€”the daughter comes back without meat (the butcher doesnâ€™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)â€”and thatâ€™s it for the first family: Theyâ€™re never heard from again. Unless the daughter was in the long line overnight at the butcherâ€™s for promised â€œfrozen beef tomorrowâ€â€”with little enough that most are turned away.
Thereâ€™s almost too much plot to summarize, having to do with the father making incredibly stupid decisions for a retiree (â€œletâ€™s cash out our pension and buy speculative stock on margin!â€), leering bosses, stock manipulation, cabarets, American relief workers and an ending that feels pulled out of nowhere. Maybe itâ€™s the fact that this is somewhere between one-third and one-half of the original film. Maybe itâ€™s bad English titles. Without Garbo, Iâ€™d say itâ€™s a curious little relic, worth maybe $0.75â€”the printâ€™s not too bad. With Garboâ€”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. Iâ€™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 musicâ€”but this oneâ€™s in generally-good black & white, and every significant actor is introduced with a title card show the role and the actorâ€™s name, not just the star. (No credits on this one either.) Oh, and Rudolph Valentino was clearly the star in this oneâ€”and he doesnâ€™t overact and does display a pretty fair amount of magnetism. (Actually, for a silent-movie, he acts fairly subtly.)
The story? If you havenâ€™t heard it by nowâ€¦ 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 whatâ€™s there works reasonably well. Well done for what it is; Iâ€™ll give it $1.00.