The Duke Is Tops


The Duke Is Tops with Lena Horne. Producer Duke Davis is "small town" successful with his touring review "Sepia Scandals" starring Ethel Andrews (Lena Horne). A New York talent agent sees Ethel and believes she can make it in The Big City, but there is no room in his plan for Duke. Ethel won't leave Duke so he pretends to be a cad to push her away from him and into this great opportunity.

Duke tries to continue without Ethel, but his new shows are all flops. He starts over from the bottom by "producing" the show of a patent medicine salesman, and becomes moderately successful again. After being successful as a solo "specialty" act in New York, Ethel is offered a starring role at the Century Club but she quickly flops. Duke comes to her rescue by going to New York and rewriting her show to incorporate his travelling medicine show. Happy Ending.

This was Lena Horne's first movie. It had an all black cast, which according to some newspaper articles at the time was referred to as a "sepia" cast. I think it was intended for black audiences.

Familiar face: Lillian Randolph (Annie the housekeeper from It's a Wonderful Life) as a patent medicine customer suffering from sciatica.

Spring Madness


Spring Madness with Maureen O'Sullivan, Lew Ayres, and Burgess Meredith.  Sam Thatcher (Lew Ayres) and his college roommate, 'The Lippencott' (Burgess Meredith), plan to continue their education after Harvard by living and working in Russia for two years, studying the economy and perhaps writing a book on the "youth movement".  The fly in the ointment is the whirlwind romance Sam has had with Alex Benson (Maureen O'Sullivan) over Easter break of their senior year.  Sam has not broken the news to Alex that their relationship has no future because he is leaving the country immediately after graduation.  Alex attends the nearby New England College for Women where romances are made official by parading the beau at the spring dance.  When the freighter on which Sam and Lippencott have booked passage must leave two weeks early, Sam must break the news to Alex that he will be leaving for Russia and will not even be able to attend the dance.  Or will he?

The supporting cast carried this movie, with eye-catching performances by Meredith as Lippencott and Ruth Hussey (Jimmy Stewart's photographer sidekick in The Philadelphia Story) as one of Alex's college friends.

Familiar faces:  Sterling Holloway as a Yale man on the prowl at the girls college; Willie Best as a train porter; Thurston Hall (the embezzling Dad from Women Are Like That) as a college friend's father; Frank Albertson (Sam Wainwright from It's a Wonderful Life) as another Harvard buddy.

"Sam Wainwright" and Burgess Meredith

Women Are Like That


Loveable rogue Bill Landin (Pat O'Brien) steals Claire (Kay Francis) from her own wedding to elope with her.  Claire's dad and Bill's boss Claudius (Thurston Hall) takes it all in stride and then embezzles most of the money from his advertising firm and skips out of the country.  Star adman Bill makes compromises to keep the company afloat and gets decidedly less loveable.  Claire helps Bill land a client (Melville Cooper) and Bill gets mad.  Bill skips out to ride a tramp steamer around the world while Claire goes to work for the ad agency.  Bill comes back, starts working for a rival agency, and steals all of Claire's clients.  While waiting for the divorce lawyer Bill repents and Claire takes him back.
This finishes out my Kay Francis for MCMXXXVIII.

Secrets of an Actress


Secrets of an Actress with Kay Francis and George Brent. Fay Carter (Kay Francis) is an accomplished touring actress, having played in road productions all of her life.  She has now decided that it is New York or nothing. Despite her talent, she can't land a job because she is unknown on Broadway. She meets and charms wealthy architect Peter Snowden (Ian Hunter) who decides to produce a play starring Fay.  Snowden's associate architect, Dick Orr (George Brent), thinks this is a poor investment but is proven wrong when the play is a success.  Both architects fall in love with Fay, and things are further complicated because Dick has an estranged wife who refuses to divorce him.

Kay Francis had a slight lisp... she had trouble with the letter "r". This was the first movie where it really jumped out at me, though. It's one of those things where once you notice it, you can't stop noticing it. Her roommate's name was Marian, or as Kay says it, "Mawian".

There is generally a lot of smoking in MCMXXXVIII movies.  Here is a scene where Kay Francis does a little majorette twirl with her cigarette.

Familiar faces: Penny Singleton as George Brent's secretary, Arthur Housman as a (surprise!) comical drunk, Clayton Moore as a theater usher.

Penny Singleton as Dick Orr's secretary

Arthur Housman has a disagreement with Marian about a lamp

Clayton Moore as a theater usher.  I wouldn't have picked him out.

My Bill


My Bill with Kay Francis.  The Colbrooks are descendants of the founder of their New England town, but widow Mary Colbrook (Kay Francis) has made some bad spending decisions and worse investments with her share of the family fortune.  She has kept her money problems secret from her (mostly) aristocratic kids. When the stores all begin to refuse credit and the piano gets repossessed, the older kids are indignant and outraged toward their mother for mismanaging their entitlement.  Only youngest son Bill (Dickie Moore) sides with Mom (who he always calls 'Sweetheart') and offers to get a job to pitch in.  The three older kids decide to move in with their excessively proper aunt, who has always disliked Mary and wishes to 'properly' raise the kids.  Bill's kindness and go-get-'em attitude eventually lead to a reversal of fortune, and harmony is restored.

I was surprised that a major plot point of this movie was that Bill was assumed to be another man's child.  It was also a little unusual that the deceased husband was not remembered as a paragon of virtue, but rather as a jealous and spiteful man. Kay Francis's character was unreasonably optimistic but still likeable.

Dickie Moore would become famous for giving Shirley Temple her first on-screen kiss in Miss Annie Rooney (1942).

For me this movie was all about familiar faces, and I realize that these faces are probably only familiar to me because of my MCMXXXVIII project:
The younger daughter was played by Bonita Granville, who also played the younger daughter in Merry We Live and again in Hard to Get.  The supposed other man was played by John Litel, who was in Comet Over Broadway, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, Jezebel, A Slight Case of Murder, and Gold Is Where You Find It.  The elder daughter was played by Anita Louise, who was in The Sisters and Marie Antionette.  The older son was Bobby Jordan, a Dead End Kid who was in Angels With Dirty Faces, Crime School, and A Slight Case of Murder.

Bill starts a newspaper stand

The Great Waltz


The Great Waltz tells the story of Johann Straus II, the King of Pop in the mid-1800s. The opening sequence takes pains to tell us that they are trying to convey the spirit of his life, not the facts. The movie revolves around Johann, his wife Poldi (played by Luise Rainer), and his opera singer mistress.

There is one truly charming sequence when Johann composes "Tales From the Vienna Woods" while taking a carriage ride with his mistress. While the horse clip-clops in three-quarter time, pieces of the waltz can be heard in various bucolic sounds, from birds trilling to shepherds playing notes to each other on reed instruments. He and his singing paramour combine these sounds on the fly and end the trip with the full blown composition.

From looking at old newspapers on Google, I found that MGM sponsored a nationwide waltz contest to promote this movie. Local cities would have a contest in conjunction with the release of the movie. Winners would go to state finals, then regionals and then to a national final. The winners, Mr. and Mrs. Charles L. Smith, were awarded a three month Hollywood contract handed to them by Luise Rainer herself in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf.

Familiar face: Hugh Herbert as Strauss's music publisher.

From a quiet carriage ride... a rousing waltz!

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