Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Cliff Aliperti ""

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 - Cliff Aliperti

Cliff Aliperti writes about old movies at Immortal Ephemera where he also shares and sells vintage movie cards and collectibles. Cliff also runs He is the reason I started checking out Warren William's films last year and you should do the same.


My best finds during 2012 mostly came while I tried digging deeper into the credits of actors I have always enjoyed. Along the way I found some new names to admire and possibly further track throughout 2013.

I have yet to write about any of these on detail at Immortal Ephemera as of yet, though most are already tucked in the back of my mind for future coverage.

THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (1931) removed my prejudice against Maurice Chevalier. Chevalier is one of those film stars I never go out of my way to find and hasn’t really popped up in anything I’ve watched before. I guess it was more indifference than prejudice. At any rate, I thought I didn’t want to see a Maurice Chevalier movie. But I do want to see every Miriam Hopkins and Claudette Colbert title possible and so I opened my mind and got many a chuckle out of this Ernst Lubitsch romance featuring Chevalier’s out of wedlock affair with Colbert and accidental marriage of inconvenience to Hopkins. I loved Hopkins’ Princess from the start. Colbert’s Franzi grew on me, especially once she and the Princess came face to face later in the movie. At the start I cringed when Chevalier sang, just as I had expected myself to, but as the movie progressed I actually found myself humming along with him. Eventually I found myself hoping Chevalier would get one last chance to sing before the movie came to an end. Which, of course, he did.

Dorothy Mackaill was a top discovery for me in 2012 but the actress herself trumps any of her available talkies except gateway title SAFE IN HELL (1931). If you’re anything like me, SAFE IN HELL will have you snapping up any Mackaill you can find and Warner Archive made this a little more possible in 2012. Tough, brash, sexy; you’d swear she was a native New Yorker until you read she was British born (she dropped her accent and learned how to sound American while working for the Ziegfeld Follies in the early ‘20s). She reminds me of pre-code era Barbara Stanwyck though put Mackaill in the right gown and proper surroundings and she can even call Kay Francis to mind. Chameleonlike.

BRIGHT LIGHTS (1930) with Frank Fay and nasty Noah Beery is a fun one and while THE OFFICE WIFE (1930) is a pretty sexist story it does feature a collection of fun characters led by Mackaill along with Natalie Moorhead playing a better than usual part. Plus you get Lewis Stone in swimwear. Yes, old Judge Hardy is the object of affection in THE OFFICE WIFE. Also on hand is Joan Blondell as Mackaill’s little sister, a part she repeats in THE RECKLESS HOUR (1931), another good but not great title that sees shopgirl Mackaill get mixed up with men above her class, much to father H.B. Warner’s chagrin. You can’t go much wrong with any of the Mackaill titles that Warner Archive serves up, but don’t expect a home run out of any of them.

HOOP-LA (1933) - I mentioned to a friend that I’d love to see Dorothy Mackaill in THE BARKER (1928), which exists, but apparently only on the festival circuit at this point in time. He pointed out that it was remade with Clara Bow in the Mackaill part. I hadn’t realized that was what HOOP-LA was, so I immediately hunted it down. Wow! Preston Foster is better than I’ve ever seen him as the carnival barker and while Richard Cromwell grated on me some as Foster’s son he at least he shared most of his scenes with Bow’s Lou. If you enjoyed Clara Bow in CALL HER SAVAGE (1933), which if you’ve seen it I’m sure you did, then be sure to get your hands on HOOP-LA for further proof of her talkie talents. Good stuff from Minna Gombell too. Foster spurns Gombell to try and boost his own respectability when wet behind the ears son Cromwell happens along. Gombell goes for revenge by siccing Bow on Cromwell. The Bow and Cromwell characters fall in love which Preston Foster can neither believe nor stomach. Directed by Frank Lloyd with much of the action unfolding in dark Depression era carnival settings or in transit along the rails to the next stop, HOOP-LA is a worthy follow-up to CALL HER SAVAGE which together should have propelled Clara Bow to top stardom for the remainder of the ‘30s instead of serving as her final two films leading into permanent retirement.

MIDNIGHT CLUB (1933) is a fun crime story featuring an unlikely and likable gang of crooks led by Clive Brook with Helen Vinson and Alan Mowbray at his side and some background assistance from Ferdinand Gottschalk. George Raft is a visiting American undercover detective who is unleashed upon them by Sir Guy Standing’s Police Commissioner. The most interesting thing about MIDNIGHT CLUB is the gang’s use of doubles, though to say more would probably spoil too much. Raft and Vinson have some fun squabbles that lead to romance and Brook has a very funny scene with Alison Skipworth. Adapted from a story by the popular E. Phillips Oppenheim by Seton I. Miller and Leslie Charteris, creator of The Saint. Fast paced pre-code Paramount fun.

SWEEPINGS (1933)/THREE SONS (1939) with the earlier movie starring Lionel Barrymore the more enjoyable one thanks to casting. While William Gargan manages to appear in both films, each adapted from a Lester Cohen novel I have since picked up, the earlier version also includes Alan Dinehart, Gregory Ratoff, Eric Linden and smaller roles for Gloria Stuart and, most impressively, Helen Mack. Not the only movie on this list directed by John Cromwell. Barrymore, and Edward Ellis in the remake, play Daniel Pardway, an entrepreneur who settles in Chicago after the Great Fire to build a department store into what he hopes to be an Empire—he’s never mentioned but I suppose Marshall Field is the model here. The children he wishes to hand this kingdom down to turn out spoiled and, even worse, apathetic towards their father’s dream for their legacy. Best scenes are wrangling between Barrymore and Ratoff. The earlier pre-code version works a little bit better because the sins of the children seemed just a bit more sinful. And, by the way, even more in the book which includes heroin addicts, multiple abortions, prostitution and other acts that pushed too far even before Code enforcement.

On the other hand Edward Ellis stars in A MAN TO REMEMBER (1938) a remake superior to the original ONE MAN’S JOURNEY (1933) which starred, you guessed it, Lionel Barrymore. These are worth seeking out as well, especially A MAN TO REMEMBER starring Ellis. Both of these movies can now be found in The Lost & Found RKO Collection from the TCM Vault.

THE NUISANCE (1933) - In 2012 it seemed like every time I saw a new Lee Tracy movie it became my favorite Lee Tracy movie. With BLESSED EVENT (1932) long in my back pocket I bumped into WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND (1932) and became convinced that Frank Capra used it as his template for MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939). Next came the wild team of Tracy with Lupe Velez in THE HALF-NAKED TRUTH (1932) which also saw some fun work from Eugene Pallette and the relatively unknown Shirley Chambers. But THE NUISANCE, ah now this is perfect Lee Tracy material straight from the title on down. Tracy plays a crooked ambulance chasing lawyer with an alcoholic Frank Morgan doctoring X-Rays for him and Madge Evans set loose on him as a plant by nasty duo of John Miljan and David Landau. Of course Tracy and Evans fall for each other mucking up Miljan and Landau’s plans for bringing down Tracy. Fun stuff from Greta Meyer and Herman Bing in support too. Directed by Jack Conway.

I wrote about the other two Lee Tracy movies in 2012, I will get to THE NUISANCE in 2013 because I think it is Lee Tracy’s best. Until the next discovery.

JALNA (1935) is one I came across when writing about character actress Jessie Ralph. With apologies to readers in Canada at first I was certain that the title was a typo. But no, it’s the name of the Whiteoak(s) family estate in Canada, subject of not only Mazo de la Roche’s novel of the same name, but the other 15 books in de la Roche’s series originally published between 1927-1960. Think Forsytes in Canada with a multitude of characters of various generations, ensuing romances and family drama unfolding across historical points in time. The 1935 John Cromwell directed film for RKO stars the often enjoyable Ian Hunter in one of his stronger roles and also features David Manners, an actor I’m never too happy to see, actually excelling as whiny and unlikable Eden Whiteoaks, a character that finally seemed to suit Manners by my unkind eye. Kay Johnson is excellent as the outsider who comes to Jalna by marriage but falls for another brother ratcheting up the sexual tension around the Jalna estate. The aforementioned Jessie Ralph is a total hoot as 99-year-old Gran who, of course, is much more aware of what’s going on than any of her descendants may imagine. Elder Whiteoaks family members, though a generation behind Gran, are played by C. Aubrey Smith and Halliwell Hobbes. Other key parts are played by Nigel Bruce, Peggy Wood, Theodore Newton, George Offerman, Jr. And Molly Lamont. It’s an entrancing introduction to the Whitoaks and Jalna which given the wealth of further source material makes it somewhat upsetting that no sequel ever followed (a 1972 television series was the only other attempt ever made at adapting de la Roche’s Jalna novels).

THEY WON’T FORGET (1937) - I had long been aware of this movie’s reputation largely by virtue of 16-year-old Lana Turner’s debut, but by the time the movie ended the actress that I was Googling was Gloria Dickson. She is more interesting than her accused husband (Edward Norris) and really comes through in an explosive final scene with the smug reporter played by Allyn Joslyn and Claude Rains’ over-the-top district attorney. I did a very brief write-up of THEY WON’T FORGET when I first saw it this past August during TCM’s Summer Under the Stars programming and mentioned how the unruly mob towards the end easily called to mind Fritz Lang’s FURY (1936). Overall a lot of delightful hamming for Claude Rains fans (Rains with a heavy Southern accent!) but a real treasure unearthed in Gloria Dickson’s performance.

NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH (1948) - I always wondered why Jack La Rue never became bigger than he was during the pre-code era. Nobody looks tougher than this guy, no one! His Slim Grisson of NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH lives the life I’d imagine Trigger of THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE (1933) would have had. He’s the same murdering gangster psychopath that Trigger had been only this time he’s more in love than lust. Linden Travers is Miss Blandish of the title, and object of Slim’s affection, in this dark British noir adapted, directed and produced by St. John Legh Clowes and headlined by La Rue fifteen years after TEMPLE DRAKE. With shocks building from the opening and a cast filled with lowlifes that help madman La Rue look at least a little more human, NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH is one twisted romance for the rich girl of the title and great entertainment for us fans of Jack La Rue, who quite naturally looked more like a gangster than any other actor I could think of.

No comments: