So its sunday again, and that ofcourse means the return of my weekly movie picks, and because i do love to do this ever so, once again we'e going back to the 1930s for a lovely romp through the world of pre-code hollywood, where things were a whole different world before the invoking of the ratings systems and eventually lead to the creation of the genre known as film noir. So lets go back once again, to the early days of hollywood... because next to grindhouse, i do love it ever so...
Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde: Henry "Harry" Jekyll is a well respected member of London society. In his personal life, he is pre-engaged to Muriel Carew, the daughter of a brigadier general. In his professional life, he is a medical doctor, scientist and academician. He theorizes that in each man is a good side and an evil side which can be separated into two. In doing so, the evil side can be controlled and the good side can live without worry, in combination leading to the betterment of society. In his experiments, he uses himself as the subject to test his hypothesis. His evil side, who he coins Mr. Hyde, escapes into London, and terrorizes party-girl Ivy Pierson. Jekyll, aware of Hyde's goings-on, decides to stop his experiments because of the suffering he has caused Ivy. What Jekyll is unaware of is how ingrained Hyde is in Jekyll's life. This film is great in the fact that for its time, its lavishly done, and amazingly, there is some strong sexual content, so much so that when the production code was instilled in hollywood in the late 1930s, 8 minutes of film had to be taken out of the film when it was re-released in 1936, 5 years after its first release to theaters. It is other great sign of just how awesome the early years of hollywood was.
Arsène Lupin: When John Barrymore got out of his contract with Warner, MGM wasted no time in signing him and even lesser time in putting him in a film with his brother Lionel. This was the first of five films they'd make together and their easy to spot rivalry really makes this film the charming gem that it is. An elderly detective (Lionel) is convinced that the Duke of Charmerace (John) is the infamous jewel thief known as Arsene Lupin. The detective will stop at nothing to prove his thoughts and that includes bringing in a sexy spy (Karen Morley). The story itself isn't anything ground breaking or Oscar-worthy but it is good enough to build up two nice characters and then stand back and let the actors do all the work. Fans of the brothers will certainly get a kick out of seeing the two men working together as both deliver very strong performances and they really make this film worth seeking out. What works best is the comic timing that the two men bring to the table as well as their rivalry. Each scene that the two men are in you can tell that they are trying to out act the other and this adds a charm that no two other actors could have captured. Just take a look at the sequence at the start when Lionel arrests John thinking that he's lying about being the Duke. Just watch this scene and then compare it to a later scene where John is holding Lionel captive until he can prove that he's really a cop. Morley also fits into the threesome quite well as she has an undeniable sexual tension with John and some fun comic touches with Lionel. The scene where she introduces herself to the Duke while naked in his bed is a pre-code gem. Some could argue that a stronger "story" would have helped matters and it might have but the cast doesn't even bother to speak with French accents so there's no doubt that the studio was just trying to get the two men in the same film. The ending packs a terrific punch as everything gets closed up very tightly and in a way that everyone, including the viewer, wins.
Born To Be Bad: Letty, a young woman who ended up pregnant, unmarried and on the streets at fifteen is bitter and determined that her child will not grow up to be taken advantage of. Letty teaches her child to lie, steal, cheat and anything else he'll need to be street smart. We meet Letty when Mickey is 7-1/2. Mal enters the picture when his truck and Mickey, who is hanging on to the back of a delivery truck and being pulled along the streets on his roller skates, collide. Mickey is not injured badly, but when Letty discovers that Mal is rich, she concocts a scheme to take Mal to the cleaners. When her plot is uncovered, Letty is also discovered for the unfit parent that she is, and Mickey is taken away from her. Mal and his wife Alice, unable to have children of their own, take Mickey in and give him a father's love, a true mother's love, and a home he can call his own. Letty is jealous of Mickey's growing attachment to these two good people and she still sees Mal as a ticket to riches. Letty seduces Mal, records the seduction and then plans to blackmail Mal. Her plans are upset when Mal immediately tells his wife, and Alice accepts the relationship. Letty learns a painful lesson in selfless love and finally sees that what is best for Mickey is more important than her own plans. This is one of those lovely films that gets lost in the shuffle alot of the time, and when you dig it up, you are so very glad you did, its just so very very good, its the perfect mix of the film noir era that would be to come, as well as the daring, brave, and at times taboo for the time period, storytelling of the 1930s before the production code came long. Truly a thing of beauty this is.
The Locked Door: Frank Devereaux, son of a wealthy businessman, takes Ann Carter, his father's secretary, to a floating cabaret under innocent circumstances and locks her in a private dining room; the club is raided, and their picture is taken by a news photographer. Anne leaves her job and gets another with Lawrence Reagan, whom she marries and with whom she lives happily until Devereaux begins to call on Helen, her sister-in-law. Reagan is informed by Dixon that Devereaux ruined his home; and during a confrontation between Reagan and Devereaux, the latter is accidentally shot. Ann, who is discovered locked in the room with the body, confesses to the crime; then Reagan admits his guilt; Devereaux, however, reveals on his deathbed the actual circumstances. This is one of those films thats just so lovely, its got everything you can want from a movie going back to 1929, its got that pre-Veronica Lake look to all of the women, that smart and flashy style to the leading men, and all the murder, sex, violence and mobsters than you could jitterbug in your best zoot suit too.
The Divorcee: The film is "pre-code," which is to say that it was made during a handful of years in the early 1930s when Hollywood's self-censorship was more the subject of jokes than of reality, and THE Divorcée was among the first Hollywood talkies to openly address both female sexuality and the sexual double standard. The story finds Jerry (Norma Shearer) and Ted (Chester Morris) happily married--but on their third anniversary Jerry discovers that Ted has been unfaithful, something that Ted dismisses with the words "it doesn't mean a thing." Angry and hurt, Jerry responds by having a one night stand of her own--and then is astonished by Ted's hypocrisy when he declares that her infidelity "isn't the same thing." The same story has been told so often that today we take it for granted, but in 1930 it was extremely controversial, and the cast plays it out with considerable intensity. Most notable is star Norma Shearer; although changing styles have left her sadly neglected, in her own era she was considered among the finest actresses on the screen and noted for her unusual beauty, memorable speaking voice, and tremendous star quality. In THE Divorcée she gives it everything she has, and her power is such that most viewers will find she quickly transcends the stylistically dated aspects of both the film and her own performance.
well thats it, i hope once again, you enjoy our trip into pre-code hollywood, and i hope you enjoy the unique joy that it brings to very viewer. So until next week, I hope you all enjoy as much as i enjoyed making this list.