Merrily We Live

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Merrily We Live with Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne.  The upper class Kilbournes have just lost their family silver to the latest of the tramps that Emily Kilbourne (Billie Burke) has brought into the house and tried to reform.  The rest of the family and all of their servants are fed up with their matriarch's penchant for bringing these ne'er-do-wells into their midst.  When dusty and travel-worn Wade Rawlins (Brian Aherne) shows up at their door asking to use the phone they are all dismayed that Emily immediately offers him a room and a job as their chauffeur.  Of course, Rawlins is not quite the tramp they all assume. Despite his inauspicious beginning Rawlins charms them all (except the butler played by Alan Mowbray) and wins the heart of Geraldine 'Jerry' Kilbourne (Constance Bennett), the Kilbournes' adult daughter.

The quirky Kilbournes together with their household staff provide a very fertile environment for amusing situations.  Billie Burke is at her daffiest (and was nominated for an Oscar for this role).  The father is played by Clarence Kolb and is very funny as the blustery and authoritarian patriarch, but also has a couple of beautiful slapstick scenes.  The younger daughter, played by Bonita Granville, reminds me of the precocious younger daughter in The Philadelphia Story.  The staff includes Alan Mowbray and Patsy Kelly.  The whole movie is well-paced and witty.  Highly recommended.



(Willie Best is even credited in this one)

Arsène Lupin Returns

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Arsène Lupin Returns with Melvyn Douglas, Warren William, and Virginia Bruce.  Cocksure G-man Steve Emerson (Warren William) has been making headlines with his gun-blazing gang busting. At the height of his fame, he decides to move on to the more lucrative career of insurance detective.  His very first case is to investigate the near-theft of the de Grissac emerald.  Count de Grissac, his niece Lorraine (Virginia Bruce), and cousin have been robbed in their hotel room but the thief mistakenly took a replica of the emerald.  Clues in the room point to the famed gentleman thief of France, Arsène Lupin, who has been presumed dead.  The de Grissac family return to France, accompanied by Emerson.

Upon arrival in France, they are met by Rene Farrand (Melvyn Douglas), who is Lorraine's wealthy suitor (much to Emerson's chagrin).  While Farrand and Emerson vie for Lorraine's affections the de Grissac emerald is stolen, successfully this time, from the family safe.  On the safe is the identifying mark of Arsène Lupin, by which I mean Lupin has signed his name.  Not too subtle, this Lupin.

But we have learned that Farrand is actually the real Lupin but has gone straight.  So who is committing these crimes and implicating Lupin?  Emerson suspects that Farrand is Lupin, and Farrand must prove his innocence without admitting he used to be Lupin.  And both men must try to make time with Lorraine.

Arsène Lupin, gentleman burglar, is a character from a series of French mysteries contemporary to and compared to the Sherlock Holmes stories.  There was an earlier Arsène Lupin movie from MGM with John and Lionel Barrymore, hence the "returns".  The male leads carried this movie with both characters being suave and confident, but with Emerson as the American tending more to brute force and bravado and Farrand the European more to cleverness and trickery.  In one scene, to impress Lorraine, Emerson does hand stands and tears a phone book while Farrand does slight of hand with playing cards and coins.

Three Loves Has Nancy

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Three Loves Has Nancy with Janet Gaynor and Robert Montgomery.  Successful New York novelist Malcolm Niles finds his latest romantic relationship moving unexpectedly and disagreeably toward marriage.  In order to escape the noose he embarks on a nationwide book signing tour.  At a small southern book shop he meets homespun Nancy Briggs who is scheduled to be married that same day.  They do not hit it off.  Niles receives a telegram from his publisher that his fiancée-to-be, Victoria, has left town and it is safe to return to New York.  Nancy receives a letter from her actual fiancée, George, who is supposed to be arriving from New York, saying that he will not be attending the wedding.  Both Nancy and Niles hop the first train to New York and run into each other in the dining car where Nancy continues to annoy Niles.

Unable to find George in New York, Nancy finds herself at loose ends.  Upon arriving at his welcome home party Niles discovers that Victoria has not left New York after all.  Niles offers to let Nancy stay in his apartment while insinuating to Victoria that he is now inextricably romantically involved with her, causing Victoria to move on to her next prospective husband.  Niles's publisher, Robert Hanson, lives in an adjoining apartment and passionately avails himself of Nancy's willingness to cook.  At some point as Niles tries to be rid of Nancy she moves in with Hanson and he phones in meal orders from the office like he is ordering room service.

Robert's gustatory passion turns into romantic passion, and faced with this Niles finally realizes that he loves Nancy as well.  To complete the "Three Loves" original fiancée George shows up as well.

This movie was aces!  Robert Montgomery was both cool and perturbable.  I always enjoy a good dining car scene. In this case it was the first instance of a running gag with Janet Gaynor losing her purse only to find that it was with her the whole time.

Room Service

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Room Service with The Marx Brothers, Lucille Ball, and Ann Miller. Groucho plays a theatrical producer with Chico and Harpo as his assistants. They and their troop have been staying in the White Way Hotel for months rehearsing a play to debut in the hotel's associated theater. Unfortunately, they have no income and have been running up their hotel bill with meal charges. The hotel manager is Groucho's brother-in-law and has been covering for him, but the jig is up when a hotel auditor from the home office comes in to go over the books. The bulk of the movie is about the Marx brothers either stalling for time (until they can get a backer for the play, until the play can be produced, until the play can be performed) or scamming for food (convincing a waiter to bring them someone else's room service order, trying to catch a live turkey gained from an illegitimate raffle).

One of the main stalling tactics is to get the play's author (Frank Albertson*) to pretend he is sick so they can't be evicted from their room.  This ploy goes as far as to have him pretend to commit suicide and to be mourned by a chorus of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot".  Lucille Ball plays Groucho's girlfriend but this movie lacks the humorous lecherousness of other Marx Brothers movies.

According to my calculations, this is 38th movie from 1938 I've watched this year. Woohoo! I have a bunch of comments I haven't posted yet. I will eventually catch up.

*Frank Albertson played Sam Wainwright in It's a Wonderful Life (according to IMDB) but I didn't recognize him at all.

Mr. Wong, Detective

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Mr. Wong, Detective with Boris Karloff.  Chinese amateur sleuth Mr. Wong (Boris Karloff) is approached by businessman Sam Dayton (John Hamilton, who was Perry White to George Reeves' Superman) because he feels his life is in danger.  The following day Dayton is the victim of a classic "locked room" murder.  Dayton's two business partners, Meisel and Wilk, are prime suspects because they have all just signed a tontine amendment to a business venture - in the event any of the three men dies, his interest in the venture reverts to the survivors. Another suspect is Carl Roemer, uncompensated inventor of the chemical involved in the business venture.  Over the course of the investigation, Meisel and Wilk both succumb to the same method of murder while Roemer is in police custody.  Mr. Wong calmly and pleasantly interviews suspects and discovers evidence, and eventually solves the case.

The film was made by Monogram Pictures, one of the "poverty row" low budget movie production studios.  Mr. Wong was a character in a popular series of stories from Collier's Magazine.  You can watch this movie in it's entirety on the internet at http://www.archive.org/details/Mr._Wong_Detective, but I'm betting you won't.










"Good Evening, Mr. Dayton. I am James Lee Wong"

Gold Is Where You Find It

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Gold Is Where You Find It with Olivia de Havilland, George Brent, and Claude Rains.  This is a classic farmers vs. non-farmers Western.  In this case the non-farmers are hydraulic gold miners.  It is set in 1879 and the simple panning and digging of the original California gold rush has been replaced by huge water cannons that turn mountains into silt.  The run-off of these operations is destroying the good wheat-farming land downstream.  Claude Rains plays the patriarch of a wheat-farming family who leads the agrarians in attempting a peaceful victory over the gold miners via the judicial system.  The gold miners are unscrupulous San Francisco fops who drink cocktails instead of straight whiskey and plan to continue at any cost.

This movie is in Technicolor (my fourth, I think) and is directed by Michael Curtiz.  I am coming to learn that Curtiz was king of the action sequence.  He was the second director of The Adventures of Robin Hood and you can really see the increase in energy half-way through that movie.  This movie ends with George Brent blowing up a dam to destroy the mining camp.

Cowboy from Brooklyn

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Cowboy from Brooklyn with Dick Powell and Priscilla Lane.  Elly Jordan (Dick Powell) is a down-on-his-luck Brooklyn singer who hops a freight train with his band mates in an attempt to make it to Hollywood.  They are kicked off of the train in Wyoming and petition the family owners of a dude ranch to work in exchange for food and lodging (complicated by Elly's irrational fear of all animals).  Jane Hardy (Priscilla Lane) is the rancher's daughter who hits on the bright idea of dressing Elly in cowboy clothes and having him sing cowboy songs to entertain the "dudes".  The next two dudes to arrive for some R&R are a fast-talking theatrical agent (Pat O'Brien) and his publicity man (Ronald Reagan).  Hearing Elly sing they think they have found a marketable diamond-in-the-rough and turn him into a New York sensation named 'Wyoming' Steve Gibson.  Trouble ensues when it is revealed that he is not a real cowboy at all.

That is about as succinctly as I can describe the plot and it still seems wordy to me.  Priscilla Lane (you may recall) is one of the Lane Sisters. It was fun to see Ronald Reagan and Pat O'Brien together pre-Knute.  This is not a movie I would go out of my way to see.

Pat O'Brien and Ronald Reagan

 
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