Rupert Pupkin Speaks: My Warner Archive Grab Bag - William Powell at Warner Bros ""

Monday, October 7, 2013

My Warner Archive Grab Bag - William Powell at Warner Bros

How can you not love William Powell? He's just one of those dudes that oozes that certain old school Hollywood charm and charisma that can't be imitated. Sure, not every film he's ever made is a gem, but at least he can be counted on to show up and give you his 'Powell-iest' each time out. Like many folks out there, I first came to know him via the THIN MAN movies and MY MAN GODFREY. It has been because of Warner Archive that I've been able to dig deeper into his filmography over the past several years and become a bigger fan of his. They brought tons of neat Powell flicks like JEWEL ROBBERY, FASHIONS OF 1934 and one of my personal favorites - ONE WAY PASSAGE. This set is a welcome addition to their Powell output. 
The cornerstone of this collection is most certainly 1932's HIGH PRESSURE. It was directed by Mervyn LeRoy who is quick becoming a favorite director for me. For Powell fans, this movie is just the Snickers bar to satisfy your craving. He's in that wonderful, energetic, mischievous mode that we all love so much. Here he plays Gar Evans, a promoter of sorts(allegedly the best in the world) who takes on the task of getting an artificial rubber company up and going in New York City. Evans is a wily fellow who skill with fast-talking manipulation is unrivaled. To watch him work over the unsuspecting folks in his path is a sight to behold. But he doesn't pull of his hucksterism alone. His team consists of grade A character actors Frank McHugh and Guy Kibbee. Have I mentioned that I am a ginormous Guy Kibbee-ite? Love the guy. He encapsulates what a good character actor can do in that he is an 'elevate-er'. His presence in a film elevates it, no matter how small the part. He brings a whole lot of personality to any role he takes on, no matter how small. Kibbee is one of the great character actors of the classic Hollywood era for my money and seeing him teamed with somebody like Powell is always a treat.
PRIVATE DETECTIVE 62 finds Powell deported from Europe back to the states after being caught carrying some secret documents. After he jumps ship(he's being deported on a shipping vessel with cattle), he finds his way back to NYC and eventually stumbles into a job as a low level private dick. 
Powell was great at playing down-on-their-luck types. Something about his infectious manic energy when he is at his most confident works well to counter when he has little to say and is in a tough spot. The fact that you don't see him grinning and trying to fast-talk someone can be greatly sympathetic somehow. He plays destitution and desperation so well with his eyes and his face and I find that to be pretty remarkable. It's an earmark of the range of talents he possessed as an actor(especially when you can see both sides in the same film like this).
It's an obvious comparison to make, but this movie feels a bit like 'Nick Charles: The Early Years'. I had fun treating it as such anyway. Powell is great in all kinds of roles, but I must admit that my favorite thing for him to do is be a detective. Something about that job and his personality just go together perfectly. I only saw THE KENNEL MURDER CASE a few years ago and it knocked my socks off. This film isn't quite on par with his other detective roles, but it's a solid good time for sure. Oh and as icing on top, Powell's love interest is the quite adorable Margaret Lindsay and she is just a lovely gal who makes me all swoon-y. 
ROAD TO SINGAPORE as a title immediately conjures Hope and Crosby to mind, but they are nowhere to be found in this one. William Powell plays Hugh Daltry, a cad plantation owner who is fairly despised by all the locals he lives near. He decides to attempt to seduce a woman met on the most recent boat ride over, who happens to be engaged to a dull doctor. The woman is played by Doris Kenyon and her dull doctor husband is portrayed by Louis Calhern(who I recall most fondly from DUCK SOUP). Doris Kenyon has a voice with an alarming similarity to the late great Madeline Kahn by the way. This movie has a couple pre-code type moments including one of two women, clad in their skivvies, dressing for a party. It's not anything too titilating, but I am hyper-aware of such moments in films of the early 3os so they tend to stand out(and scream "Pre-code!"). The skivvy-ed girl in question is Marian Marsh and she's cute as all hell and quite flirtatious to boot! One of the other highlights of the film is this cool tracking shot that goes from one bungalow to another, cutting between a neat minature set to help cover the distance. It is followed by some fun close ups that play out while tribal drums play. Very effective! Overall, it's a pretty sexy movie, with lots scenes just dripping with sexual overtones. This may be the "sexiest" pre-code film I've ever seen William Powell in. Good times!
THE KEY is perhaps most notable as a teaming of Colin Clive(Dr. Frankenstein himself) and William Powell. In this case, it's not a horror story, but one of a British Officer who finds himself caught up in the feuding between the Irish and the Brits during the Irish war of Independence in the 1920s. It's more of a love triangle type scenario and was for me, sadly, the least interesting of the films in this set. That is not at all to say it's not worth looking at. Heavy-duty Powell fans will absolutely want to give it a peek. It was interesting for me to see Colin Clive outside of his most iconic role as I've not really seen many of his movies beyond the classic horror stuff.
All told, this is a neat little set that Warner Archive has put together. I look forward to more collections of this ilk from them on the future!

1 comment:

Samuel Wilson said...

High Pressure also shows off Powell as a physical comic in the early scene when he's dead drunk and his flunky and the potential client struggle even to move, much less revive him. Powell's virtue is his ability to go from this extreme to his more iconic sophistication in practically no time flat.