Hollywood Souffle: WIFE VS SECRETARY (MGM 1936)


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Gable’s back and Harlow’s got him , but so does Myrna Loy , with Jimmy Stewart along for the ride in WIFE VS SECRETARY. MGM boasted it had “more stars than there are in Heaven”, and this film is the very definition of “star vehicle”, a harmless soufflé of comedy, drama, and romance all wrapped up in a neat little package by veteran studio director Clarence Brown.

Publicity still for ‘Wife vs Secretary’

The plot’s as thin as Gable’s moustache: He’s a hard-driven publisher, and Loy’s his trusting, faithful wife. Harlow plays his loyal secretary and trusted aide-de-camp. She’s also quite beautiful (obviously, since she’s Jean Harlow!) and Gable’s mother tells Myrna she should get rid of her. Myrna laughs it off, but the seed of doubt has been planted. Jimmy plays Jean’s fiancé, who’s not too happy about being constantly cast aside by Jean’s work demands (and who can…

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Four Star Fun: LIBELED LADY (MGM 1936)


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Jean Harlow ! Spencer Tracy ! William Powell ! Myrna Loy ! Four top stars at the top of their game shining bright in LIBELED LADY, a screwball comedy directed by Jack Conway with that trademark MGM gloss. Despite the zany improbability of the script by Maurine Watkins, Howard Emmett Rogers, and George Oppenheimer, the crackling, witty dialog gives all four stars (and supporting actor Walter Connolly) plenty of good material.

Here’s the plot: rich heiress Connie Allenbury (Loy) is suing the New York Evening Star for printing a story about her being a husband stealer. Her price: five million! Editor Warren Haggerty (Tracy), after once again blowing off his nuptials to long-time flame Gladys Benton (Harlow), recruits ex-reporter and frenemy Bill Chandler (Powell) in a crazy scheme involving marrying him off to Gladys (and is she pissed!), hop an ocean liner to London, and return with Connie, using his…

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Forgotten Horror: THIRTEEN WOMEN (RKO 1932)


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I pride myself on having seem almost every horror film made during the 1930’s, though once in a while an obscure title comes along whose attention has escaped me. But how on Earth did I miss THIRTEEN WOMEN, especially with a cast headlined by Irene Dunne (of all people!) and Myrna Loy ? This fast-paced thriller involving hypnosis, astrology, and serial murder is downright nasty, and has been cited as a precursor to the “slasher” genre… not to mention a whole lot of fun!

We begin with circus performer June Raskob receiving a letter from the mysterious Swami Yogadashi with her horoscope attached, predicting impending doom in the stars for her. But it’s her sister who dies, plunging to her death during their trapeze act (shown in gruesome detail), and poor June goes hopelessly insane. The scene shifts to exotic half-caste Ursula Georgi, who has the Swami under her hypnotic…

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That Old, Familiar Song: MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (MGM 1934)


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The plot of MANHATTAN MELODRAMA will certainly be familiar to movie lovers: there’s two kids, one rambunctious, the other studious. Rambunctious grows up to be on the shady side of the law, while Studious represents law’n’order. There’s Girl in the Middle, who loves Rambunctious but always winds up with Studious. Rambunctious perpetuates some evil deed, and Studious must now bring his old pal to justice. Girl in the Middle is torn between the two. In the end, justice prevails, and Rambunctious pays for his crimes, but not before making peace with Studious.

Sound familiar? Sure it does, having been rehashed umpteen times in countless westerns, gangster sagas, wartime dramas, and other genres. But MANHATTAN MELODRAMA was the first, even winning an Oscar for Arthur Caesar’s Best Original Story. Too bad Caesar didn’t copyright the idea; he’d have been a very rich man! The film also has that MGM shine going…

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Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Test Pilot (dir by Victor Fleming)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1938 best picture nominee, Test Pilot!)

Test Pilot is all about charisma.

It tells a fairly simple story.  I imagine that the plot seemed just as familiar in 1938 as it does in 2018.  Jim Lane (Clark Gable) is a test pilot.  In the early days of aviation, long before people took the idea of flight for granted, Jim Lane is a hero and celebrity.  Whenever a new aviation technique is developed, Jim is the one who tests it.  He’s the one who makes sure that it’s safe.  Every day, when Jim goes to work for Mr. Drake (Lionel Barrymore), there’s a chance that he might not make it home.  Not surprisingly, he’s cocky, reckless, and not prone to commitment.  He’s also handsome, charming, manly, and quick with a quip.  In short, he’s Clark Gable.

When the movie starts, Jim has only one real friend.  Gunner (Spencer Tracy) is his mechanic.  Gunner is a by-the-book, no-nonsense professional.  He might enjoy a drink every now and then but Gunner knows his job and he knows his planes and, even more importantly, he knows Jim.  Gunner’s a man of unimpeachable integrity, the type who will always call things as he sees them.  In short, he’s Spencer Tracy.

One day, while on a test flight, Jim is forced to make an emergency landing on a farm in Kansas.  That’s where he meets Ann Barton (Myrna Loy).  Ann is beautiful and outspoken.  She quickly proves that she can keep up with Jim, quip-for-quip.  In short, she’s Myrna Loy and, before you know it, she and Jim are in love.  Just as quickly, Jim and Ann are married.

The movie starts out as a bit of domestic comedy.  Jim may know how to fly a plane but it quickly becomes obvious that he doesn’t know much about commitment or being a husband.  When Jim attempts to buy his wife a nightgown, he doesn’t even know how to pronounce the word lingerie.  (He asks a store clerk for help in finding the “lonjur department.”)  However, Jim soon starts to find that married life agrees with him.

Of course, that’s a problem when your job requires you to defy death on a daily basis.  Ann worries that Jim is going to go to work and never come home, fears that are intensified after a race with another airplane ends in a terrible and (for the other pilot) fatal crash.  Gunner, meanwhile, starts to fear that there’s only so many times that Jim can cheat fate.  Both Ann and Gunner promise that they will never leave Jim’s side.

Well, you can probably already guess everything that’s going to happen.  Test Pilot is not exactly the most narratively adventurous movie ever made but, when you’ve got Gable, Tracy, Loy, and Barrymore all in the same film, you don’t really need to break any new ground, storywise.  Test Pilot is an example of the power of pure movie star charisma.  It’s watchable because the performances are just as entertaining today as they were in 1938.  The film features Gable doing what he did best and Tracy doing what he did best and Loy and Barrymore all doing what they did best.  In this case, that’s more than enough.

When it comes to the film’s numerous flight sequences, it’s perhaps best to try to put yourself in the shoes of someone seeing the film in 1938.  Today, of course, we’ve been spoiled by CGI.  We tend to assume that literally anything can happen in a movie.  In the 30s, however, people couldn’t take special effects for granted.  When they watched the flight footage in Test Pilot, they did it with the knowledge that it was filmed by people who actually were putting their lives at risk to get it.  At a time when commercial aviation was considered to be a luxury, Test Pilot provided audiences with a view of the world in the sky and of the world below, a view that they probably wouldn’t have gotten a chance to see otherwise.

A huge box office success, Test Pilot was nominated for best picture but lost to another film featuring Lionel Barrymore, Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You.

Never Nominated: 16 Actresses Who Were Never Nominated For An Oscar


The late actress Deborah Kerr was nominated for six Oscars over the course of her distinguished career.  She never won and, in fact, she currently holds the record for the most Best Actress nominations without a victory.

But, at least, Deborah Kerr was nominated!

The 16 actresses below have never been nominated for an Oscar, despite some excellent and compelling performances.  10 of them still have a chance to be nominated.  Sadly, 6 of them are no longer with us.

  1. Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt came close this year.  She received a SAG nomination for her performance in Girl On The Train and some of the critics groups also honored her work.  However, when the Oscar nominations were announced, Meryl Streep was nominated for a film nobody saw and Emily Blunt was nowhere to be seen.  This year, she’s in good company, as neither Amy Adams nor Annette Bening picked up expected nominations either.  Personally, I didn’t care much for Girl on the Train.  I would have much rather seen Blunt nominated for Looper, Sicario, or even Edge of Tomorrow.  Blunt will be nominated eventually.

2. Dale Dickey

You may not know Dale Dickey’s name but you’d recognize her if you saw her.  She usually plays characters who are strong, outspoken, and occasionally a little scary.  You never want to get on the bad side of someone played by Dale Dickey.  To date, Dickey’s most award-worthy role was in Winter’s Bone.  She also had a memorable (if small) role in Hell or High Water, playing the bank teller who, when asked if the men who robbed her were black, replies, “Their skin or their souls?”

Melancholia

3. Kirsten Dunst

As a result of Bring It On, Dunst is often thought of as being the ideal cheerleader.  But, by far, her most award-worthy turn was in a film that was about as different from Bring It On as possible, Melancholia.  Dunst was just twelve when she was first mentioned, for her performance in Interview With A Vampire, as a potential nominee.  She was also very good in Marie Antoinette and the overlooked Crazy/Beautiful.  Dunst fell off the radar for a while but she’s been quietly making a comeback.

4. Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig is my spirit animal.  She deserved a nomination for Francis Ha and for Damsels in Distress before that.  She’ll be nominated some day.

5. Rebecca Hall

Rebecca Hall received some Oscar buzz last year for Christine.  I haven’t seen Christine but I think that her performances in 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona and especially 2010’s Please Give were criminally overlooked.

6. Katharine Isabelle

Though Isabelle is best known for Ginger Snaps, I think she deserved a nomination for last year’s underrated 88.  One of the best actresses working today, Isabelle will hopefully get a role worthy of her talents.

Film Review Under the Skin

7. Scarlett Johansson

It’s a bit of a shock that Scarlett Johansson has yet to be nominated.  Her work in Lost in Translation was just as important to that film’s success as Bill Murray’s.  And her performance in Under the Skin remains one of the bravest pieces of acting to ever be put on screen.

8. Ashley Judd

Unfortunately, Ashley Judd now seems to be more concerned with political activism than acting.  It’s been a while since she’s appeared in a really great role (and no, the Divergent movies don’t count).  Judd’s best work came in the 90s, when she gave award-worthy performances in Ruby in Paradise, Heat, and especially Normal Life.

9. Kelly MacDonald

Scottish actress Kelly MacDonald doesn’t make enough movies but it’s still hard not to feel that she’s been overlooked by the Academy.  Not only did she hold her own in Trainspotting but her performance in No County For Old Men provided that otherwise cold film with a much-needed heart.

Kristen Stewart

10. Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart managed to survive the Twilight films and has emerged as a consistently interesting actress.  Her work in Clouds of Sils Maria won her a Ceasar but was overlooked by the Academy.  Before that, Stewart did excellent work in Into the Wild, Adventureland, Still Alice and Welcome to the Rileys.

Sadly, these six unnominated actresses are no longer with us:

  1. Rita Hayworth

That the wonderful Rita Hayworth was never nominated — not even for Gilda — is nothing less than mind-blowing.

2. Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy was an actress who was such a natural that she made it look easy.  Perhaps that’s why she wasn’t even nominated for The Thin Man.

Marilyn

3. Marilyn Monroe

Perhaps one of the most tragic actresses in the history of Hollywood, Monroe was never nominated despite giving some of the most iconic performances in film history.  I would even make the case that she deserved a nomination for her tiny cameo in All About Eve.

4. Maureen O’Hara

Despite great performances in classic films like The Quiet Man and Miracle on 34th Street, Maureen O’Hara was never nominated for the Oscar she deserved.

detour1

5. Ann Savage

You may not recognize the name but if you’ve ever seen Detour, you know Ann Savage.  Savage largely appeared in low-budget noirs and she always gave performances that were just as fierce as her last name.

Edie!

Edie!

6. Edie Sedgwick

Sadly, Edie never got a chance to play a truly award-worthy role.  Actually, since almost all of her films were underground Andy Warhol movies, it’s debatable whether she ever played a role at all.  During the 1960s, as one of the top models in New York (a so-called “youthquaker”), Edie was best known for being herself.  But, whenever I see Edie in an old Warhol film like Vinyl or even in something like Ciao! Manhattan, I see what a great actress she could have been if she’d only been given the chance.

Edie Sedgwick (1943 -- 1971)

Edie Sedgwick (1943 — 1971)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Thin Man (dir by W.S. Van Dyke)


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Last night, I rewatched the classic 1934 mystery-comedy, The Thin Man.

And you know what?

Nick and Nora Charles should be everyone’s relationship goal.

Technically, The Thin Man is a murder mystery and it’s actually a pretty good one.  While I was rewatching the film, I was surprised to see that the whodunit aspect of the plot held up far better than I remembered.  But, ultimately, the movie is really a portrait of the ideal romance.  Every couple should aspire to be like Nick and Nora.

Nick Charles (William Powell) is a retired private detective, an unflappable gentleman who speaks exclusively in quotable quips.  Nick is the type who can apparently spend every hour of the day drinking without ever getting stupidly drunk.  He has beautiful homes on both coasts and a list of friends that would make anyone jealous.  Whether cop or crook, everyone loves Nick.

Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) is Nick’s wife.  She’s independently wealthy.  She’s beautiful.  She’s always chic.  She is always the smartest and funniest person in the room.  And she’s probably the only person who can outquip Nick.  Nora loves Nick’s lifestyle, whether they’re throwing a party or literally shooting ornaments off of a Christmas tree.  As Nora says at the end of one crowded party, “Oh, Nicky, I love you because you know such lovely people.”

And, of course, there’s Asta.  Asta is their terrier.  If Nick and Nora are the ideal couple, Asta is the ideal pet.  Asta is just as quick to investigate a mystery as Nick and Nora.  Asta may be a playful dog but he’s also remarkably well-behaved.  No insistent yapping.  No accidents on the carpet.  No growling at visitors.  As I’ve mentioned many times on this site, I’m not a dog person but I love Asta.

It’s not just that Nick and Nora are obviously in love and, in this pre-code film, they’re actually allowed to express that love.  And it’s not just that they say things in The Thin Man that they wouldn’t be allowed to get away with in the film’s sequels.  (If you have any doubt that this is a pre-code film, just check out the scene where the police are going through Nora’s dresser.  “What’s that man doing in my drawers?” Nora demands while Nick does a double take.)  It’s that Nick and Nora seem to be having so much fun.  They’re wealthy.  Other than to themselves, they really have no commitments.  (Nick only comes out of retirement because Nora say she thinks a mystery sounds like it would be fun to solve.)  They have no children to worry about.  Even if you don’t want to be either Nora or Nick by the end of this film, you’ll still definitely want to hang out with them.

The Thin Man is a murder mystery.  In fact, it’s probably one of the most enjoyable movies ever made about a double murder.  Dorothy Wynat (Maureen O’Sullivan) asks Nick to help find her father (Edward Ellis), the thin man of the title.  The investigation leads to a rather complicated mystery, one in which everyone that Nick and Nora meets is a suspect.  I have to admit that, with my ADD, I always have a hard time following all of the clues.

Of course, so does Nick.  That truly is part of the appeal of The Thin Man.  Nick is often confused about what it all the clues and evidence add up to but that never seems to upset him.  He and Nora are too busy enjoying themselves to get upset. That’s one reason why, even after you know who the murderer is, The Thin Man is a movie that’s enjoyable to watch over and over again.  The Thin Man is less about the mystery and more about the way Nick and Nora manage to throw the perfect dinner party even as they reveal who the murderer is.

1934 was a good year for comedy.  The Thin Man was nominated for best picture but it lost to another charming little comedy, It Happened One Night.