Still Great Entertainment: Gable & Harlow in CHINA SEAS (MGM 1935)


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Back in the 1970’s, Boston’s WCVB-TV Channel 5 ran a weekend late-nite movie series called “The Great Entertainment”. For 18 years, host Frank Avruch did Robert Osbourne-like introductions to the station’s library of MGM films, way before the advent of cable. This is where I first saw and fell in love with many of the classic movies and stars of the 30’s and 40’s. When TCM recently aired CHINA SEAS, I hadn’t seen the film in decades, and knew I had to DVR it. It had made an impression on me, and while rewatching I was not disappointed; it’s still a rousing piece of entertainment!

Clark Gable is rugged sea captain Alan Gaskill, carrying a quarter million British pounds worth of gold as cargo aboard his liner heading from Hong Kong to Singapore. Jean Harlow plays ‘China Doll’ Portland, Gaskill’s in-port squeeze who comes along against his wishes. Gaskill’s former flame…

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The Fabulous Forties #14: The Stork Club (dir by Hal Walker)


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For the past two weeks, I have been reviewing all fifty of the films to be found in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties DVD box set!  It’s been four days since I reviewed the 13th film in the set, Scared Stiffwhich is probably the longest bloggng break that I’ve ever taken in my life.  However, I am proud to say that I am back and ready to review the 37 remaining films!

Yay! Lisa’s back!

Now, I know what you’re asking.  Why, if I am about to review a film from the 1940s, am I sneaking a random Degrassi GIF into this review?  Well, unfortunately, the movie that I’m about to review isn’t that interesting and there’s not a whole lot to be said about it.  I’ve found some enjoyable and interesting films in the box set — The Black Book, Trapped, the original Jungle Book — but I’ve also found a few that are pretty forgettable.  So, why not liven things up with a shout-out to my favorite show?

Anyway, the 14th film from The Fabulous Forties Box Set was 1945’s The Stork Club.

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When I saw that this film was called The Stork Club, my first thought was that it would be a comedy about pregnancy.  But it turns out that I was totally wrong.  Apparently, The Stork Club was a very popular New York nightclub in the 1940s and this film was meant to take advantage of that popularity.  (That said, according to the imdb, The Stork Club was not filmed at the actual Stork Club but instead on a Hollywood soundstage.)

As for the film’s story — well, this isn’t going to make much sense but here’s what happens.  A millionaire named J.B. (charming, Irish-accented Barry Fitzgerald) falls into a pond and nearly drowns.  Fortunately, his life is saved by Judy (Betty Hutton).

J.B. wants to reward Judy but, for some reason, he doesn’t want her to know that he’s rich.  So, with the help of his lawyer (Robert Benchley), he anonymously arranges for Judy to get both a new apartment and an unlimited credit line at all of New York’s best stores!

But J.B. also wants to keep an eye on Judy and make sure that she’s happy.  But he still doesn’t want her to know that he’s a millionaire or that he’s her benefactor.  After he finds out that she’s a hatcheck girl at the Stork Club, he arranges to get hired on as a busboy.  However, he gets fired after just one night and, believing him to be poor and homeless, Judy invites him to stay at her new apartment.

J.B. agrees and, in the film’s best, non-musical moment, he watches as Judy recklessly spends his money on new clothes.  It turns out that Judy thinks that the apartment and the credit line are all gifts from the owner of the Stork Club and she’s offended because she thinks the owner is trying to steal her away from her boyfriend, Danny Wilson (Don DeFore).

Danny is a bandleader but he’s been serving in the U.S. Army.  When Danny finally returns home, Judy is excited about arranging for him to get an audition to play at the Stork Club.  However, Danny is more concerned about the fact that Judy has a mysterious benefactor and that she’s now living in a luxury apartment with a mysterious old man.

Could Judy be a kept woman!?  Both Judy and J.B. insist that she is not but Danny refuses to believe them because Danny is kind of a jerk.  Of course, Danny isn’t meant to be a jerk but, by today’s standards, he’s definitely a jerk.  Judy could do so much better!

Anyway, the plot’s not really that important.  It’s mostly just an excuse for Betty Hutton to sing a few songs and that’s when the movie is at its best.  Check out some of Betty’s performances below:

Anyway, The Stork Club was pleasant but not particularly memorable.  When it works, it’s largely due to the endless charm of Betty Hutton and Barry Fitzgerald.  It may not seem like much today but I’m sure that, for audiences dealing with the contemporary horrors of World War II, The Stork Club presented a nice diversion.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Foreign Correspondent (dir by Alfred Hitchcock)


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Before watching a film like 1940’s Foreign Correspondent, it helps to know a little something about history.

Nowadays, when we think about World War II, there’s a tendency to assume that, from the minute that Hitler came to power in Germany and started to invade the rest of Europe, the entire world united against the Nazis.  The truth is actually far more complex.  The world was still recovering from World War I and throughout the 1930s, even as the Axis powers were growing more and more aggressive, respected intellectual leaders and politicians continued to argue that peace must be maintained at all costs.  Pacifism was such a popular concept that otherwise intelligent people were perfectly willing to make excuses for Hitler and Mussolini.  For five years, the UK followed a policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany.  Even after war broke out between Britain and Germany, the U.S. remained officially neutral.  In the 1940 presidential election, President Franklin D. Roosevelt — running on a platform of neutrality — was overwhelmingly reelected over internationalist Wendell Willkie.

Foreign Correspondent, an American film made by a British director, opens before the start of World War II.  An American newspaper editor, Mr. Powers (Harry Davenport), is frustrated because none of his foreign correspondents seem to be able to understand the truth of the situation in Europe.  They all claim that there is going to be no war in Europe but Mr. Powers feels differently.  He also feels that the newspaper’s most celebrated and respected foreign correspondents are just a bunch of out-of-touch elitists.  Instead of sending another upper class academic, Mr. Powers decides to send a hard-boiled crime reporter to cover the situation in Europe.  Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) has never been to Europe and that’s exactly why Mr. Powers decides to send him.  In one of the film’s more clever moments, he does, however, insist that Johnny write under the more distinguished sounding name of “Huntley Haverstock.”

(Foreign Correspondent‘s pointed criticism of out-of-touch elitists repeating the establishment line remains just as relevant today as it was in 1940.)

From the minute the brash and tough Johnny arrives in Europe, he finds himself caught up in a huge conspiracy.  He’s been assigned to report on a group known as the Universal Peace Party and, since this film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, we automatically know that any organization with the word “Peace” in its name has to be up to something shady.  The Universal Peace Party has been founded by Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), who appears to sincere in his desire to avoid war.  Johnny meets and falls in love with Fisher’s daughter, Carol (Laraine Day).

From the minute that Johnny witnesses the assassination of distinguished Dutch diplomat Von Meer (Albert Bassermann), he suspects that things are not how they seem.  Working with Carol and a British journalist named Scott ffolliot* (delightfully played by the great George Sanders), Johnny discovers that Von Meer was not killed at all.  Instead, a double was assassinated and Von Meer was kidnapped by a group of spies.

But who are the spies?  After nearly getting killed by one of Fisher’s bodyguards, Johnny starts to suspect that Stephen Fisher might not be as into world peace as was originally assumed.  Complicating matters, however, is the fact that Johnny is now engaged to marry Carol…

Foreign Correspondent is a wonderfully witty thriller, one that has a very serious message.  While the film is distinguished by Hitchcock’s typically droll sense of humor (eccentric characters abound and the scene where Edmund Gwenn keeps getting interrupted before he can attempt to push Joel McCrea off of a tower is both funny and suspenseful), the film’s message was that America could not afford to stay neutral as war broke out across Europe.  As the all-American Johnny Jones says at the end of the film:

“All that noise you hear isn’t static – it’s death, coming to London. Yes, they’re coming here now. You can hear the bombs falling on the streets and the homes. Don’t tune me out, hang on a while – this is a big story, and you’re part of it. It’s too late to do anything here now except stand in the dark and let them come… as if the lights were all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning, cover them with steel, ring them with guns, build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them. Hello, America, hang on to your lights: they’re the only lights left in the world!”

Foreign Correspondent was nominated for best picture of 1940 but it lost to another far different Hitchcock-directed film, Rebecca.

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* Yes, that is how he spells his last name.  As he explains, his family dropped the capital name in his surname after an ancestor was executed by Henry II.  Since it was George Sanders doing the explaining, it somehow made perfect sense.