Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Flirtation Walk (dir by Frank Borzage)


In the 1934 Best Picture nominee, Flirtation Walk, Dick Powell plays a soldier who is constantly trying to go AWOL.

It’s not that Richard “Dick” Palmer Grant Dorcy Jr. dislikes the army.  In fact, he’s actually getting a pretty good deal out of his enlistment.  He’s been stationed in Hawaii, where he gets to go to luaus and hang out on the beach.  He has a wonderful friend and mentor in the person of Sgt. Scrapper Thornhill (Pat O’Brien).  Since this film was made in 1934, he’s not going to have to worry about going to war for another 7 years.  He’s known as The Canary because he loves to whistle and sing.  Everyone like Pvt. Dick Dorcy and that includes Kit Fitts (Ruby Keeler).

Unfortunately, Kit’s father is General Fitts (Henry O’Neill) and he’s none too amused about his daughter having a romance with an irresponsible enlisted man.  He would much rather that Kit marry his aide, Lt. Biddle (John Eldredge).  After he’s told to stay away from Kitt, Dick makes plans to desert so he can run off with her.  Fortunately, Scrapper finds out what Dick is planning and he goes to Kit and warns her that Dick’s about to throw away his life for her.  Not wanting him to get into trouble, Kit pretends that she never felt anything for Dick.  When a broken-hearted Dick wonders why Kit rejected him, Biddle smugly informs him that he’s neither “an officer nor a gentleman.”

Stung, Dick decides to fix that problem.  In order to become an officer, he applies for admission to West Point and gets in.  Dick leaves Hawaii for the mainland and he does very well at West Point.  He’s even put in charge of producing, writing, and directing West Point’s annual theatrical production.  However, things get complicated with Gen. Fitts arrives to serve as superintendent.  Coming with Gen. Fitts are both Kit and Lt. Biddle.

Deciding to express his angst through art, Dick writes a show about a female general.  Since Kit is the only female at West Point, guess who gets the lead role?  Though Kit is still in love with Dick, she can’t get him to listen to her explanation for why she rejected him.  Will a stroll along West Point’s famed Flirtation Walk help fix things?

Well, it is a Dick Powell musical….

Flirtation Walk is a pleasant but forgettable movie.  Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler make for a cute couple but neither one of them gives a particularly interesting performance and the bland songs don’t make much of an impression either.  Those who are into military history might enjoy the fact that the film was actually filmed on location at West Point but, for the rest of us, this is a nice but not particularly memorable musical romance.  For me, the most interesting part of the film was that it didn’t even attempt to be realistic when it came to Dick’s theatrical production.  It’s a huge production, if never coming close to being as much fun as the one from 42nd Street.

Why was Flirtation Walk nominated for Best Picture?  I imagine it was because it was a hit at the box office.  It only received one other nomination, for Best Sound Recording.  Regardless of why it was nominated, it lost to the far more memorable It Happened One Night.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: 7th Heaven (dir by Frank Borzage)

The 1927 melodrama 7th Heaven tells the story of two people in Paris.

Chico (Charles Farrell) works in the sewers but lives by the stairs.  Though he spends all of his days under the street and dealing with literally the worst that the world has to offer, Chico remains an optimist.  After all, he has his small apartment, which sits atop seven flights of stairs.  He has his dreams, which involve eventually getting promoted to being a street cleaner.  He doesn’t have much religious faith, which concerns Father Chevillon (Emile Chautard) but who knows?  Maybe something can happen to change that….

Diane (Janet Gaynor) is a desperately sad young woman who lives in squalor with her older sister, the cruel Nana (Gladys Brockwell).  When we first see Diane, she’s lying on the floor while being whipped by Nana and that’s pretty much the way her life goes for the first fourth of the movie.  Nana treats Diane less like a sister and more like a slave, sending her out to steal food and buy absinthe.  Diane and Nana’s father has made a good deal of money overseas but when he sees how they’re living in Paris, he rejects both of them.

How bad of a sister is Nana?  She’s so bad that, when she’s eventually arrested by the Paris police, she points out her sister on the street and demands that they arrest her as well.  Fortunately, Chico just happens to present at the scene.  Having already protected Diane from Nana’s abuse once before, Chico steps forward and announces that Diane is his wife!  The police ask Chico if he’s sure and then remind him that, if it’s found that he’s lying, both he and Diane could go to prison.  Chico, however, insists that it is true.

To keep the deception going, Chico allows Diane to move in with him.  When Father Chevillon arranges for Chico to get promoted to street cleaner, he also requests that Chico keep an eye on Diane.  Chico agrees and slowly but surely, the two of them fall in love.  Chico’s apartment, sitting atop 7 flights of stairs, becomes their 7th heaven.

However, World War I looms in the distance.  With all of Chico’s friends and coworkers receiving their draft notices and being sent to fight, Chico and Diane knew that it’s only a matter of time before the same thing happens to Chico….

As in so many other silent films, the shadow of World War I looms over every minute of 7th Heaven.  In the 20s, the Great War was still the main trauma that has shaped most viewer’s lives and one can imagine those viewers watching 7th Heaven and falling in love with the characters of Chico and Diane, all the while knowing that their happiness is only temporary.  If the 1st hour of 7th Heaven is a romantic mix of melodrama and comedy, the 2nd hour becomes a rather grim war film.  Even separated by war, Chico and Diane remain soulmates.  When Diane is told that Chico has been listed as having been killed in action, she knows that it’s not true because she can still feel their connection.  And yet, the final fourth of the film is so stylized and the final shot is both so beautiful and yet so artificial that the audience is left to wonder whether Diane is correct or if she’s simply dreaming what she (and, undoubtedly, the many other members of the audience who had also lost loved ones in the war) wishes to be true.

7th Heaven is a deliriously romantic film and watching it actually requires a bit less of an adjustment on the part of modern audiences than other silent films.  Director Frank Borzage keeps the action moving quickly and, even more importantly, Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell both give sincere and naturalistic performances.  Never do they resort to the type of theatrical overacting that was featured in so many other silent films.  Instead, you watch the film and you truly believe that you are watching two people fall in love.  You’re happy when they’re happy and when tragedy strikes, you cry for them.  Their love is your love and their sadness is your sadness.

7th Heaven was one of the first films to even be nominated for Best Picture.  While Gaynor won Best Actress and Frank Borzage won Best Director, the award for Best Picture went to another World War I romance, Wings.

4 Shots From 4 Inaugural Oscar Winners: Wings, Sunrise, The Last Command, Seventh Heaven

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today is the 90th anniversary of the very first Academy Awards ceremony!

On May 16th, 1929, a private dinner was held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, California.  The dinner was largely meant to celebrate the establishment of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  The brainchild of Louis B. Mayer, the AMPAS was founded to help mediate labor disputes between the studios and the unions.  As almost an afterthought, it was decided that AMPAS would also give out annual awards to honor the best films of the year.

12 awards were handed out on May 16th, before an audience of 270 people.  The entire awards ceremony took 15 minutes.  That’s quite a contrast to what the Academy eventually became.

In honor of that 15-minute ceremony, here’s….

4 Shots From 4 Films Honored At The Very First Oscar Ceremony

Wings (1927, dir by William Wellman) Won The Outstanding Production Awards

Sunrise (1927, dir by F.W. Murnau) Won Best Unique and Artistic Picture

The Last Command (1928, dir by Josef von Sternberg) Won Best Actor — Emil Jannings

Seventh Heaven (1927, dir by Frank Borzage) Winner Best Actress — Janet Gaynor

Along with her performance in Seventh Heaven, Janet Gaynor was also honored for her work in Street Angel and Sunrise.  Emil Jannings was honored for his work in both The Last Command and The Way of all Flesh,

Here’s what else won at the inaugural Oscar ceremony:

Best Direction, Comedy Picture — Lewis Milestone for Two Arabian Knights

Best Direction, Drama Picture — Frank Borzage for Seventh Heaven

Best Original Story — Ben Hecht for Underworld

Best Adaptation — Benjamin Glazer for Seventh Heaven, based on the play by Austin Strong

Best Art Direction — William Cameron Menzies for The Dove and Tempest

Best Cinematography — Charles Rosher and Karl Struss for Sunrise

Best Engineering Effects — Roy Pomeroy for Wings

Best Title Writing — Joseph Farnham for Fair Co-Ed; Laugh, Clown, Laugh; and Telling the World.

A Pirate’s Life For Me!: THE SPANISH MAIN (RKO 1945)

cracked rear viewer

Today we celebrate the birthday of classic actor Paul Henreid (1908-1992)  

THE SPANISH MAIN is one of those films where the acting is cranked up to 11 and tongues are held firmly in cheek. That’s not a bad thing; this is a fun, fast-paced romp that doesn’t require much thinking, a colorful piece of mind candy that doesn’t take itself too seriously and features a great cast. It’s not what you’d normally expect from director Frank Borzage, usually associated with weightier matters like 7TH HEAVEN, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, THREE COMRADES, STRANGE CARGO , and THE MORTAL STORM. Maybe after all that heavy drama, the veteran needed to lighten up a bit!

Paul Henreid  stars as our hero Laurent Van Horn, a Dutch captain whose ship is wrecked in the Caribbean waters near Cartagena. The Spanish Viceroy there, Don Juan Alvarado (Walter Slezak ), is a tyrant who holds the…

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Repent, Ye Sinners!: STRANGE CARGO (MGM 1940)

cracked rear viewer

Any film condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency can’t be all bad!  STRANGE CARGO depicts a bunch of hardened, unrepentant criminals escaping a brutal French Guiana prison, with a prostitute in tow to boot, and is laced with plenty of lascivious sex and brutal violence. But that wasn’t all the self-appointed guardians of morality objected to… there was the character of Cambreau who, though the film doesn’t come right out and say it, supposedly represents none other than Jesus Christ himself!

One more time: Clark & Joan

Clark Gable and Joan Crawford , in their eighth and final film together, lead this pack of sinners through a sweltering jungle of lust, murder, and ultimately redemption. He’s a con named Verne, “a thief by profession”, whose several attempts at escape have proved unsuccessful. She’s Julie, a two-bit hooker plying her trade on the island. The pair, as always, crackle like…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: Tween Two Loves, The Poor Little Rich Girl, Through the Back Door, Secrets

Happy 125th birthday to America’s first movie star, Mary Pickford!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Tween Two Loves (1911, directed by Thomas Ince)

The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917, dir by Maurice Tourneur)

Through the Back Door (1921, dir by Alfred Green and Jack Pickford)

Secrets (1933, dir by Frank Borzage)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Bad Girl (dir by Frank Borzage)


Seeing as how I started this day by watching Fifty Shades Darker, it seemed appropriate to end the day by watching yet another film about the difficulty of finding love and commitment.  This film came out a little bit earlier than Fifty Shades of Grey.  In fact, it even predates the whole concept of fan fiction.  This film came out in 1931 and it would probably be totally forgotten today if not for the fact that, 85 years ago, it was nominated for Best Picture.

Of course, that’s not to say that Bad Girl is particularly well-known.  Until I came across it on my list of best picture nominees, I didn’t know that it even existed.  According to Wikipedia, it was based on a novel and a play and it did rather well at the box office.  The Academy apparently liked it, awarding it Oscars for both Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.  It’s currently available on YouTube.  That’s where I saw it.  But, despite all of that, it definitely appears to be one of the more obscure films to have ever been nominated for best picture.

Bad Girl opens with Dorothy Hailey (Sally Eilers) in a wedding gown.  However, she’s not getting married.  Instead, she’s a store model and, in a rather surreal little sequence, Dorothy and her co-workers walk through the store in their bridal gowns while sleazy men leer at them.  As Dorothy complains to her best friend, Edna Diggs (Minna Gombell), men are “only interested in one thing.”  When Dorothy’s boss propositions her, Dorothy claims to have a prizefighter husband waiting for her at home.  In truthfulness, Dorothy lives with her overprotective brother (William Pawley), a judgmental brute who accuses her of being a tramp if she stays out too late.

At Coney Island, Edna makes a bet that Dorothy won’t be able to get surly Eddie Collins (James Dunn) to talk to her.  Dorothy takes the bet and then proceeds to go over to Eddie and play a ukulele, until Eddie gets annoyed enough to tell her to be quiet.  Eddie claims to not like women  and he accuses Dorothy of being a tease.  “Listen, sister,” he tells her, “if you don’t want guys to salute, take down the flag.”

Wow, Eddie sure does seem to be a jerk, doesn’t he?

Well, don’t worry.  It turns out that Eddie isn’t as bad as he seems, it’s just that he’s often in a bad mood because he doesn’t have much money and he wants to open up his own radio store.  However, Eddie and Dorothy quickly fall in love and soon, they’re married…

But, of course, things never go that smoothly.  It turns out that Eddie is proud and stubborn.  Fortunately, he’s played by a charming actor named James Dunn because, without Dunn’s considerable working class charm, Eddie would probably be insufferable.  Dorothy, meanwhile, fears letting Eddie know that she’s pregnant…

And you know what?

I liked Bad Girl.  

On the one hand, Bad Girl is definitely a dated film.  Any film released in 1931 is going to seem dated when watched in 2017.  But, at the same time, that also means that Bad Girl works as a nice little time capsule.  Watching Bad Girl was like stepping into a time machine.  And it turns out that the 1930s weren’t that bad!  Everyone wore nice clothes and talked like James Cagney.

But, dated it may be, there is also an almost timeless quality to Bad Girl.  Even decades after the film was originally released, the likable chemistry between James Dunn and Sally Eilers feels real and you really do care about what happens to them.  You feel like they belong together and it’s hard not to worry when they fight or when they misunderstand each other’s intentions.  (This happens rather frequently.)  Furthermore, Bad Girl is a film about people who, often times, are struggling just to make ends meet.  That’s something to which everyone can still relate.  It certainly sets it apart from a lot of the other films made both then and today.

Bad Girl was nominated for best picture but it lost to a film that was almost its total opposite, Grand Hotel.  Unlike most of the other old best picture nominees, I have never seen Bad Girl on TCM but it is on YouTube and you can watch it below!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: A Farewell to Arms (dir by Frank Borzage)


Reportedly, Ernest Hemingway hated the 1932 film adaptation of his great novel, A Farewell To Arms.  The novel, of course, tells the story of ambulance driver Frederic Henry (played in the film by Gary Cooper), his service in World War I, and his doomed love affair with an English nurse named Catherine (played by the very American Helen Hayes).  The novel was acclaimed for being tough and unsentimental.  The film is the exact opposite, revealing itself to be more typical of the work of director Frank Borzage than Ernest Hemingway.

How romantic was Borzage’s adaptation of A Farewell to Arms?  It was so romantic that it even changed the novel’s famous ending.  The novel ended with Catherine dying and Frederic Henry walking away, alone and in the rain.  The film, however, ended with Catherine miraculously recovering.  Never mind, of course, that having Catherine survive pretty much defeated the entire purpose of the story.  What was important was to give American audiences a happy ending!

However, European audiences got a more downbeat ending.  In the European version, Catherine does die.  After she dies, Frederic picks up her body and looks up into heaven, which is certainly far more dramatic (and, in its way, sentimentally spiritual) than anything to be found in Hemingway’s novel.  If, like me, you see A Farewell To Arms on TCM, you’ll see the European ending.

So, yes, I can understand why Hemingway would have hated this film.  But I have to admit that I rather enjoyed it.  The film adaptation makes for terrible Hemingway but it’s great Borzage.  Borzage specialized in making grand, lyrical, and sweeping romantic melodramas and that’s what his version of A Farewell To Arms truly is.  Helen Hayes may not be convincingly English and Gary Cooper may be a bit overly earnest for a Hemingway hero but they both look good together and they have great chemistry.  (Plus, Adolphe Menjou gives a good supporting performance as Frederic’s best friend.)  As a director, Borzage keeps the story moving at a steady pace and plays up the romance in every single scene.  There’s a great sequence that’s filmed entirely from the wounded Frederic’s point-of-view as he’s brought into a hospital and looked over by a series of officious nurses.  We see everything through Frederic’s eyes until Catherine finally enters the room and kisses him.  Only then do we see Frederic and Catherine together, leaving us with no doubt that these two belong together.  A Farewell To Arms may not be a great literary adaptation but it is a great cinematic romance.

A Farewell To Arms was nominated for best picture but it won to a largely forgotten film called Cavalcade.

Shattered Politics #8: Magnificent Doll (dir by Frank Borzage)

Poster - Magnificent Doll_02

I’ve always been tempted to write one of those quizzes that you always see on Facebook, “Which American first lady should you be?”  That’s a question that I’ve often asked myself.  I know that I would not want to be any of our most recent first ladies.  (Sorry, Michelle.  Sorry, Laura.  Sorry, Hillary.)  Occasionally, I think that I would have liked to have been Jacqueline Kennedy, if not for what happened in Dallas.  Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice, is definitely a historical role model for me but it’s debatable whether she could truly be considered a first lady.  And, of course, there’s always Grover Cleveland’s wife Julia but ultimately, for me, there’s really only one choice.

If I could be any American first lady, I would be Dolley Madison.

Dolley, of course, was the wife of James Madison, who was not only our fourth President but also one of the smartest.  Madison was a skilled writer and scholar but he had absolutely no social skills.  Dolley, on the other hand, was vivacious and was, by the standards of the dentistry-free days of the 19th Century, one of the most beautiful women in America. Whereas James was uncomfortable meeting with people and struggled to express himself, Dolley was the world’s greatest hostess, bringing opposing forces together through the sheer force of her own charm and ability to throw a great party.  When the British invaded Washington D.C. during the War of 1812, Dolley was the one who saved the famous portrait of George Washington from being burned with the rest of the White House.

So, yes, I would definitely be Dolley Madison.

(Yes, I know that there’s some debate over whether her name should be spelled Dolly, Dolley, or Dollie.  I spell it Dolley and since I would have been her, I think my opinion counts for something.)

It’s a shame that there haven’t been many movies made about Dolley Madison.  Perhaps the best known is 1946’s Magnificent Doll, which is not a very good movie but which is amusing if you know something about history.

Magnificent Doll opens with young Dolley Payne (Ginger Rogers) being forced to marry John Todd (Horace McNally), a much older lawyer.  (John saved the life of Dolley’s father and, in gratitude, Dolley’s father gave him his daughter.)  Though John falls in love with her, Dolley refuses to show him any sign of affection and good for her!  (Seriously, arranged marriages suck.)  But then John dies of yellow fever and Dolley declares that she did love him all along.

But life goes on!

Soon, Dolley and her mother are running a boarding house in Philadelphia.  Fortunately, they happen to be running it at the same time that the Continental Congress is attempting to write the Constitution.  Several of the delegates are staying at the boarding house and two of them take a romantic interest in Dolley.

First there’s Aaron Burr (David Niven), a charming scoundrel who appeals to Dolley’s wild side.  Aaron does things like take her to a bar and kiss her underneath a staircase.  Aaron is vain.  Aaron is self-absorbed.  Aaron is an ambitious and charismatic brooder whose moods can be unpredictable.  Aaron is exiting!  Aaron is dangerous!  Aaron is a rebel!

And then you’ve got Aaron’s friend, James Madison (Burgess Meredith).  James is shy and gentle.  He’d rather read a book than go out.  He’s the type of smart kid who all the other kids make fun of but he’s also a good, decent man who has a great future ahead of him.  He just needs someone to bring him out of his shell.

In short, Aaron is the type of boy that you hope invites you to prom.  James is the type of boy that you marry.

And, when Dolley does marry James, it sends Aaron Burr into such a tail spin that he nearly prevents Thomas Jefferson from becoming President in 1800…

And, needless to say, this film is in no way historically accurate.  It is true that Aaron Burr was nearly elected President in 1800 and, had he been, Thomas Jefferson would never have been President.  However, most historians seem to agree that has more to do with Aaron Burr being ambitious and nothing to do with Dolley Madison.  In the end, Magnificent Doll may be amusing in its inaccuracies but bad history is still bad history.

That said, there’s still a part of me that enjoyed Magnificent Doll, despite the fact that it moves way too slowly and none of the actors (with the exception of David Niven) appear to be all that invested in their roles.  I think, ultimately, the reason I enjoyed Magnificent Doll was because it really is basically just a YA version of American history and, as a result, it does have some curiosity value.  One gets the feeling that if Magnificent Doll were released today, it would be split into two different films and that it would be promoted on social media with hashtags reading #TeamAaron and #TeamJames.

That said, if there’s any first lady who deserves a biopic (one that’s good as opposed to so-bad-its-interesting) it’s Dolley Madison.  (Personally, I would cast Amy Adams in the role.)  #TeamDolley all the way!