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A Month of Old Movies
January 30, 2006

Dark Passage — A lesser-known Bogart/Bacall film. He’s an escaped convict, wrongly accused of his wife’s murder. She’s a sympathetic artist, nursing him after plastic surgery to disguise his identity (during which she ties him to his bed at night to keep him flat on his back to prevent problems with the surgery healing). It’s an eye-opener seeing Agnes Moorhead at her prime as a scheming vixen, after growing up with her as Endora.

The Big Sleep
The Big Sleep
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The Big Sleep — Bogart and Bacall again, with more sparks. After enjoying Desolation Jones, I figured I’d watch this inspiration, with the loner private eye in a seedy Los Angeles. Love the bookstore scene with Bogart lisping and doing business with his hat and glasses.

Dark Passage
Dark Passage
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King of the Underworld — Early Bogart, when he was still playing two-bit villains. Here he’s a Napoleon-obsessed public enemy. Kay Francis, a doctor, schemes against him because her husband, a weak, ugly man, got killed while treating his thugs and taking their dirty money. Not very good melodrama.

Reckless — Jean Harlow as a Broadway star who impulsively marries a drunken playboy, Franchot Tone, unknowingly jilting her manager, William Powell. Her husband only discovers afterwards that he really loves his previous fiancée, Rosalind Russell in the kind of well-meaning stuffed-shirt role she had before her comedic talents were put on display. Harlow’s completely unbelievable as a song-and-dance gal (dance doubles and voice dubs are pretty obvious), and the whole thing makes more sense when you know that the studio was trying to capitalize on real-life scandal: Harlow’s husband had previously committed suicide, just as Tone’s character does. Powell and Harlow are always good together, though.

Murder by Death
Murder by Death
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Murder by Death — The Mad Magazine of mystery movies, it takes its silliness very seriously with an all-star cast. When I first saw this, I enjoyed the slapstick but I was too young to recognize all the classic mystery characters parodied; once I was old enough to know the details of the characters, the humor was too broad for me to truly appreciate.

Thirteen Women — A short film of interest mostly for its odd take on hypnotism/suggestibility (telling someone they’re going to kill themselves makes them do so) and Myrna Loy in lots of slanted eye makeup to make her look exotic (she plays a “half-breed” jealous of the white girls she went to school with).

Possessed — Joan Crawford is Clark Gable’s mistress, until an old flame comes back into her life and he runs for governor. She does the noble thing, because her presence would create scandal and ruin his chances. An interesting period piece in today’s world where governors become felons and stay in office. (Note that Joan Crawford later made a different film with Van Heflin, also called Possessed.)

Shall We Dance
Shall We Dance
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Shall We Dance — Astaire and Rogers, with Gershwin songs like “They All Laughed”. I like the way Turner Classic Movies does things like this. They were running these films in connection with their release on DVD … free samples, as it were.

Riptide — Norma Shearer in a typical role: an upper society party girl who falls in love with and marries a British lord. A former boyfriend shows up and flirts with her, causing the husband to consider divorcing her. She agonizes over what to do while men pledge their devotion to her. Must have been nice to have been the wife of the studio head.

We Were Dancing — Another Shearer, this one from near the end of her career. Her style of sophisticated comedic romance was no longer in fashion by this point (1942), but I wanted to see it because it also starred Melvyn Douglas. (He’s not conventionally handsome, but he has charm and a good sense of humor.) The two marry quickly, although neither has money. They survive as other people’s houseguests (she’s a former Polish princess, he’s a Baron who’s good at hunting and bridge) for a while, until their former loves come back into their lives and drive them apart. I kept giggling because their characters were named Nikki and Vicki.

Theodora Goes Wild — More Melvyn Douglas, this time with Irene Dunne as a small-town girl, raised by two maiden aunts, who secretly writes racy novels. He comes to town and blackmails her to let him stay, with plenty of chemistry and old-fashioned recreation as the two go berry-picking and fishing and garden together. The thing I liked best is that her character doesn’t become overwhelmed by or fearful of the thought of scandal but instead plays with the possibility to get what she wants.

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