Cleaning Out the DVR Pt. 23: Spring Cleaning Edition

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Continuing my quest to watch all these movies sitting in my DVR (so I can record more movies!), here are six more capsule reviews for you Dear Readers:

FIFTH AVENUE GIRL (RKO 1939; D: Gregory LaCava) – A minor but entertaining bit of screwball froth revolving around rich old Walter Connolly , who’s got  problems galore: his wife (the criminally underrated Veree Teasdale) is cheating on him, his son (Tim Holt in a rare comedy role) is a polo-playing twit, his daughter (Kathryn Adams) in love with the socialism-spouting chauffer (James Ellison ), and his business is facing bankruptcy because of labor union troubles. On top of all that, no one remembers his birthday! The downcast Connolly wanders around Central Park, where he meets jobless, penniless, and practically homeless Ginger Rogers, and soon life on 5th Avenue gets turned upside-down! Ellison’s in rare form as the proletariat Marxist driver, 

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Bump’N’Grind: LADY OF BURLESQUE (United Artists 1943)

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Famed striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee published a steamy mystery novel called “The G-String Murders” in 1941, all about backstage intrigue at a burlesque house. The book was a best seller, and so of course Hollywood came a-calling, and William Wellman was assigned the director’s job for LADY OF BURLESQUE, a somewhat sanitized version of Gypsy’s racy tome, though Wellman and screenwriter James Gunn got away with what they could in those heavy-handed Production Code days.

The film opens with the glittering lights of The Great White Way, then takes a turn onto 42nd Street, where benevolent burlesque impresario S.B. Foss (J. Edward Bromberg) has purchased the old Opera House to present his bump’n’grind shows. Barbara Stanwyck plays new headliner Dixie Daisy, and (as they said back then) va-va-voom…

La Stanwyck is some kinda hot in her skimpy Edith Head-designed costume! Dixie sings “Take It Off the E-String, Put It…

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The Big Let-Down: THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS (Warner Brothers 1947)

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You would think THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS is just the type of movie I’d love. It’s a Warner Brothers pic from the 1940’s, it’s got Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck , there’s mystery and murder, a Gothic atmosphere… and yet, I didn’t love it, or particularly like it, either. For the first three-quarters, it’s too mannered, slow-moving, and (the cardinal sin) boring for my tastes. Things do pick up a bit towards the end, with Bogie menacing Babs alone in that gloomy mansion, but the denouement failed to satisfy me.

There are a number of reasons why the movie just doesn’t work. It was filmed in 1945, but held back two years by the studio for some reason or another (reports vary). Director Peter Godfrey, a Stanwyck favorite, just wasn’t up to the task of creating much suspense. Then again, the screenplay by Thomas Job practically gives everything away early…

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Cleaning out the DVR: Night Nurse (dir by William A. Wellman)

(Lisa is once again cleaning out her DVR!  She recorded the 1931 film Night Nurse off of TCM on May 3rd.)

Night Nurse follows the sordid nights and quiet days of Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck), a high school dropout who dreams of becoming a nurse.  Fortunately, she manages to get hired on as a trainee nurse at a big city hospital.  Along the way, she gets a new BFF (Joan Blondell), a potential new boyfriend named Mortie (Ben Lyon), who is not only handsome and nice but a bootlegger too, and valuable life lessons on how to defend herself against smirky male doctors.  Yay!

Unfortunately, even if you manage to survive the rigorous training program, the life of a night nurse is never easy.  For instance, Lora gets hired to help look after the Ritchie children.  The Ritchies may be rich but they’ve got so much drama going on that maybe it would be better if they were poor.  The kids, for instance, are always sick and their doctor (Ralf Harolde) is apparently hooked on morphine.  The mother (Charlotte Merriam) is always passed out drunk.  Meanwhile, the family’s chauffeur, Nick (Clark Gable!), is a total brute who appears to have dangerous plans of his own.

Made in 1931, Night Nurse is a pre-code film, which is to say that it was made before the production code mandated what was and was not acceptable in the movies.  Occasionally, among film fans like myself, there’s a tendency to assume that any pre-code film is actually going to be some sort of subversive, over-the-top masterpiece.  We always think about the epic orgies that Cecil B. DeMille would slip into his silent films or maybe Douglas Fairbanks playing a constantly sniffing detective named Coke Ennyday in The Mystery of the Leaping Fish or the old stories about anonymous stagehands accidentally getting gunned down during the filming of Little Caesar or The Public Enemy.  However, just as often, the pre-code label just means that a film is going to feature a few winky double entendres, a bootlegger hero, and at last one scene of the film’s heroine getting undressed.  If you want to become an expert on 1930s lingerie, just spend a weekend watching pre-code films.

That’s certainly the case with Night Nurse, which only takes 7 minute to reach its first scene of nurses changing out of street clothes and into uniform.  As for the bootlegger hero, that’s taken care of as soon as Mortie shows up and flashes his charming smile despite having a bullet in his hand.  As played by Ben Lyon, Mortie is not exactly the most convincing gangster to ever show up in a pre-code film but no matter!  He’s got charm and not every gangster can be Edward G. Robinson…

If it sound like I’m being critical of Night Nurse, I’m not.  I watch Night Nurse every time that it shows up on TCM and I actually love the film.  It’s a cheerfully silly melodrama, the type of innocently risqué film that could only be made during the pre-code era.  Stanwyck and Blondell are a perfect team and whenever I listened to them trade sarcastic quips or watched them as they try to get away with breaking curfew, I couldn’t help but think of my own friends.  Seriously, everyone should be as lucky as to have a BFF like Joan Blondell.  And finally, you get Clark Gable as the bad guy.  Gable is really mean and hateful in this movie and it takes a while to get used to seeing him without his mustache.  To be honest, he’s not as handsome without the facial hair.  But still — he’s Clark freaking Gable and, even in this early role, he had so much charisma and screen presence that it’s impossible not to watch him.

I was going to start this review by saying that Night Nurse sounded like a good title for an MCU film.  However, my boyfriend informed me that apparently, there actually was a Marvel comic book called Night Nurse.  Apparently, it had nothing to do with this movie.  That’s a shame but hopefully, someone at Lifetime will read this review and decide to remake Night Nurse with an all Canadian cast.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one!

Anyway, Night Nurse shows up on TCM constantly.  Keep an eye out for it!

Pre Code Confidential #8: Barbara Stanwyck in BABY FACE (Warner Brothers 1933)

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Barbara Stanwyck uses sex as a weapon and screws her way to the top in BABY FACE, an outrageously blatant Pre-Coder that had the censors heads spinning back in 1933. Miss Stanwyck plays Lily Powers, a young woman who works in her Pop’s speakeasy in smog-filled Erie, PA, where Pop’s been pimping her out since she was 14. Lily has a black female friend named Chico who seems to be more than just a friend (though it’s never stated, the implication’s definitely there). All the men paw over her like dogs with a piece of raw meat except the elderly Mr. Cragg, who gives her a book by Fredrich Nietzche along with some advice: “You have power… you don’t realize your potentialities… you must use men, not let them use you… exploit yourself, use men! Be strong, defiant!”.


When Pop’s still blows to smithereens, taking Pop with it, Lily and…

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Horror on the Lens: The House That Would Not Die (dir by John Llewellyn Moxey)

Today’s horror on the lens is a 1970 made-for-TV movie called The House That Would Not Die!

In this film, Barbara Stanwyck and Kitty Winn move into a colonial house that is rumored to be haunted!  Seances, possession, and scandal follows!  There’s time travel, slow mo, an exaggerated wind effects!  It’s all kinda silly but kinda fun too.


The Fabulous Forties #50: Lady of Burlesque (dir by William A. Wellman)


Way back in April, I started on a series of reviews.  I announced that I would be watching and reviewing all 50 of the public domain films included in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set.

At the time, I expected that it would take me maybe two weeks.  At the most, two and a half.  After all, I wondered, how long can I take?  Well, needless to say, it took me a little longer than two weeks.  In fact, it took me nearly 3 months.  (In my defense, May turned out to be a very busy month for me and I wasn’t able to review a single Fabulous Forties film.)  However, what’s important is that, after all this time, I am currently writing up the last of my Fabulous Forties reviews!

(And, right now, you’re reading it.)

On the whole, the Fabulous Forties has turned out to be pretty uneven box set.  It contains a few classics, like My Man Godfrey, His Girl Friday, and The Last Chance.  There are several good films, like The Black Book and Trapped.  And then there’s quite a few mediocre and forgettable films, like The Town Went Wild and Jungle Man.  (Dear God, Jungle Man…)  As I started on the final film in the set, I wasn’t sure what I was about to see…

Well, no worries!  The Fabulous Forties ends on a high note!  The 50th film is the wonderfully entertaining 1943 comedy-musical-mystery Lady of Burlesque!

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Lady of Burlesque (which was released in the UK under the title Striptease Lady) takes place in an old and somewhat decrepit New York burlesque house, the type of place where the audience is almost all male, the owners are somewhat sleazy, and the performers are a cross between cynical veterans and naive newcomers who are hoping for their first big break.

As quickly becomes apparent, the theater would fall apart if not for its main attraction, Dixie Daisy (Barbara Stanwyck).  Dixie serves as a mentor for the newcomers and a confidante for the veterans.  She knows how to keep the audience entertained, even when two dancers are loudly screaming at each other offstage.  She knows how to deal with the sleazy owners and how to placate the owners of the Chinese restaurant next door.  Dixie also knows better than to get romantically involved with any of male comics who perform at the theater but that doesn’t stop her from flirting with one of them, Biff Brannigan (Micahel O’Shea, playing his role with an almost poignant earnestness).  As I watched the film, I could tell that Barbara Stanwyck was neither a natural dancer nor singer but it didn’t matter because, whether Dixie was trying to keep peace backstage or performing onstage and singing a song called, “Take It Off The E-String, Play It On The G-String,” Stanwyck totally committed herself to the role.

Plus, her outfits were to die for!


Seriously, as I watched Lady of Burlesque, I totally wanted to get a job dancing in an old timey burlesque house!  If only I had a time machine…

Of course, it should be understood that the acts in Lady of Burlesque are risqué but, by today’s standards, they’re also rather innocent.   The jokes may be full of double meaning but it’s all hidden in the subtext.  The costumes may be sexy but they also stay on.  (That probably had more to do with the production code than to do with the realities of 1940s burlesque.)

Anyway, Lady of Burlesque is technically a murder mystery but mostly, it’s just an excuse to show the performances happening onstage and a few comedic (and occasionally dramatic) vignettes of what it was like to be backstage in a burlesque house.  Two dancers are murdered but the show must go on.  Even as Dixie solves the murders and tries to keep everyone calm, the show must go on.  In fact, that’s one of the true joys of Lady of Burlesque.  Regardless of what madness might be going on backstage, the show never stops!  In fact, the film often seems undecided about whether or not the backstage murders are bad because of the loss of life or the fact that they threaten to interrupt the performances onstage.  Lady of Burlesque becomes a tribute to the work ethic of entertainers everywhere!

Lady of Burlesque was based on a novel by Gypsy Rose Lee.  The name of that novel was The G-String Murders.  Not surprisingly, that title was changed for the film version.


Well, that concludes the Fabulous Forties!  In a few weeks, I’ll start in on my next Mill Creek box set, the Nifty Fifties!  Until then, enjoy Lady of Burlesque!