Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Woman Wanted (1935)




Tony Baxter (Joel McCrea) is a full-time lawyer, part-time womanizer. He sets his sights on Ann Gray (Maureen O'Sullivan) when he spots her at the court house. Little does he know she's the defendant in a murder trial led by District Attorney Martin (Lewis Stone). When the jury finds her guilty, Ann is whisked away by a police escort which is later involved in a car crash. In the chaos of the accident, Ann makes her escape and by chance catches a ride with Tony who takes her back to his place. Baxter tries to hide Ann from his glamorous fiancee Betty (Adrienne Ames) with the help of his devoted butler Peedles (Robert Greig). When Tony finds out that not only is Ann on the lam from the cops she's also wanted by gangster Smiley (Louis Calhern), the real murderer, he helps her escape. Even embroiled in a sticky situation, Tony is determined to get the girl. Can they prove that Ann is innocent of this heinous crime?




Woman Wanted (1935) was directed by George B. Seitz for MGM. It's based on an original story by Wilson Collison and adapted to the screen by Leonard Fields and David Silverstein. According to the AFI, "following the release of Woman Wanted, a Hollywood Reporter news item noted that, due to a studio error, too many names appeared in the writers credit in the preview credits. Only Fields, Silverstein and Collison were intended to receive writing credits." It was originally called Manhattan Madness before it was eventually changed to Woman Wanted.

The production was plagued with setbacks. Richard Boleslawski was set to direct but left two days into the project to work on O'Shaughnessy's Boy instead. Two more directors, Harry Beaumount and J. Walter Ruben, were assigned but eventually abandoned the film. MGM finally they settled on director George B. Seitz. For the lead role of Tony Baxter, Franchot Tone and Wallace Beery were considered but those plans fell through. MGM got Joel McCrea on loan. This is the only film McCrea and O'Sullivan made together. It was filmed over a couple of weeks in May 1935 and released later that year.

"Don't you worry about me, I can take care of myself." - Ann

Woman Wanted is cute movie with totally ridiculous and implausible scenarios. If you suspend your disbelief enough you'll find it enjoyable. There were several moments in the film that reminded me of other movies including Singin' in the Rain (1952) and Sullivan's Travels (1941). I couldn't help compare this with Hide-Out (1934), which also stars Maureen O'Sullivan in a story about a fugitive on the run. I reviewed that film in a previous Warner Archive Wednesday post. While Hide-Out is the better of the two films, O'Sullivan's character in Woman Wanted is a more complex character. She's strong-willed but also plagued with fear. There are two suicide attempts and while she is the victim of the story, I didn't get a sense that Tony (Joel McCrea) is coming to her rescue. The Tony-Ann dynamic is more like two partners-in-crime than a one-man rescue mission.

This movie has a superb supporting cast. I love McCrea and O'Sullivan but I also couldn't pass up the opportunity to see a movie featuring two of my personal favorites: Louis Calhern and Lewis Stone. I only wished they had a bit more screen time. I really loved the scenes with Adrienne Ames who plays the glamorous socialite Betty. She's basically playing herself but does it so well. Robert Greig does a superb job in the role of Peedles, Tony's loyal butler who cleverly maneuvers around his boss' sticky situations. He has some great lines and is the sources of most of the film's humor. Who doesn't love a good butler role? They're often the unsung heroes of a film.

Woman Wanted is a light drama that is equal parts endearing and eccentric. Worth watching for the superb cast. The brief running time of 67 minutes is also a bonus!



Woman Wanted (1935) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection. When you use my buy link you help support this site. Thanks!

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Woman Wanted (1935) on DVD for review!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Nothing Sacred (1937)



On the heels of A Star is Born (1937), William Wellman and David O. Selznick teamed up again to make Nothing Sacred (1937), a screwball comedy starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March. The story was based on James H. Street's "Letter to the Editor" published in International-Cosmopolitan in 1937 and adapted to the screen by Ben Hecht. According to the director's son William Wellman Jr., Wellman's contract restricted the overbearing Selznick only 6 visits to the set max. Selznick's enthusiasm for the project can be seen in the following telegram he sent to John Hay Whitney, chairman of the board of Selznick International Pictures:

"Nothing Sacred started shooting this morning. You wanted comedy boy you're going to get it, and bet it on your own head. After this one I am either the new Mack Sennett or I return to Dr. Eliot."

Ace reporter Wally Cook (Fredric March) finds himself in a pickle. He's been recently demoted to obituaries after he wrote a piece about a Sultan turned out to be a fake. Hoping to make good by his editor-in-chief Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly), he tackles his next big story which he's sure we'll get him back on track. Wally learns of a young woman dying of radium poisoning. He visits the fictional town of Warsaw, Vermont to find Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a young woman dying of radium poisoning. Turns out town physician Dr. Downer (Charles Winninger) had misdiagnosed her. She hides this fact from Wally who offers to fly her and her doctor out to New York City for one last hurrah. There she becomes the toast of the town, a pathetic subject for the community to fawn over. Her "final days" become a spectacle making it a big story for the newspaper. When things start begin to unravel it becomes clear that Wally has fallen in love with Hazel and must find a way out of their predicament.

Produced by Selznick International Presents, Nothing Sacred was distributed by United Artists and was a hit with both critics and audiences. Shot in Technicolor, it offers a visual splendor enhanced by the recently remastered Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. From the elegant costumes, elaborate sets and gorgeous aerial footage of 1930s era New York City, this film is a feast for the eyes.

Nothing Sacred is a comedy through and through. Subtle jokes are weaved in throughout along with zany situations that make this a classic screwball comedy. According to historian Frank Thompson, the set was "pandemonium  [because] Lombard had every bit the talent and enthusiasm for pranks and mischief as Wellman." It was remade as Living it Up (1954) starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and also became a Broadway production known as Hazel Flagg.

There are lots of great supporting roles including Margaret Hamilton who plays an uptight store clerk. Hattie MacDaniel has a bit part as the wife of a boot black (Troy Brown Jr.) who pretends to be an African Sultan. Frank Fay plays the Master of Ceremonies at a gala thrown in Hazel's honor.

Nothing Sacred is a must-see for fans of the screwball comedy genre. With that said, I wanted to like this film but I thought it was just okay. I appreciated the performances, the visuals and the clever jokes. I definitely want to rewatch it to pick up on subtleties I may have missed. In the end, it didn't captivate me the way I wanted it to. Unfortunately, I've never cared for Carole Lombard as an actress, no matter how much I admire her as a person nor how many Lombard films I've seen to get over this aversion. I'll keep trying but for now I'm not there yet.


**** Spoilers Start ****

I've always been weary about films depicting liars and frauds. It has to be done well for me to appreciate the story. Honestly I was surprised that Hazel gets away with her fraud. The story has Wally and Hazel sailing off into the sunset. I guess what she did is not technically a crime so it didn't have to be punished according to the Production Code. The dying Hazel becomes a larger-than-life persona that transcends Hazel herself. The community wants a martyr they can fawn over and celebrate. In the end it didn't matter if Hazel was for real or not.

****Spoilers End****








Nothing Sacred (1937) is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is exceptionally vivid in color and crispness. I wish I could show you a still or video from the Blu-ray so you can see just how stunning this restoration is! The Blu-ray comes from a brand new HD Master created from a 2k scan of a restored fine grain master. The disc also includes audio commentary by William Wellman Jr as well as a variety of Kino Lorber trailers.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of Nothing Sacred (1937) for review.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Assignment in Brittany (1943)

Jean-Pierre Aumont and Susan Peters in Assignment in Brittany (1943)

After completing a dangerous mission in North Africa, Captain Pierre Metard (Jean-Pierre Aumont) is sent back to France for a new assignment. And this one is a doozy. Pierre happens to bear a striking resemblance to one Bertrand Corlay, a French Nazi collaborator who was injured and imprisoned by the British. Pierre receives a makeover to look exactly like Bertrand, complete with a fake birthmark on his back. His goal is to uncover the secret German submarine port before the Germans attack the French/British forces guarding the shore. When Pierre goes to Bertrand's home and assumes his identity he fools everyone except Bertrand's mother Mme. Corlay (Margaret Wycherly). She's on to him but allows him to proceed with his mission. Pierre meets with Bertrand's fiancee Anne Pinot (Susan Peters) a deeply religious woman who was never in love with Bertrand but was still upset to find out he had a mistress. And that woman is Elise (Signe Hasso), a woman of questionable morals and a participant in Bertrand's political exploits. Pierre falls in love with Anne and she returns the sentiment when Pierre saves her from an attack. In order for Pierre to infiltrate the underground Nazi network in this region of France and to keep up appearances to fool everyone into thinking he's Bertrand, he must go through an elaborate series of performances and escapes. Will Pierre as Bertrand be able to save the French forces from the Nazis before it's too late? What will happen when Anne finds out who Pierre truly is?

Assignment in Brittany (1943) was directed by Jack Conway for MGM. The story is based on the novel Cross Channel by Helen MacInness, serialized in The Saturday Evening Post in 1942. MGM snapped up the rights fairly quick and the film was shot later that year. MacInness' story was adapted to screen by film writing team Anthony Veiller, William H. Wright and Howard Emmett Rogers.

The story requires a leap of faith for plausibility. Pierre fooling everyone because he looks like Bertrand seems very unlikely and if you don't suspend your disbelief you might scoff at the idea like Wycherly's character does. However, the viewer never sees the real Bertrand so as far as we know they could be identical twins!

Like many other WWII films, Assignment in Brittany is a tale of wartime resistance and espionage with a tender love story at its center. It marked the American film debut of French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont (simply billed as Pierre Aumont) and Swedish actress Signe Hasso. Aumont is charming as the conniving yet soft-hearted Pierre. The plot was not a stretch from Aumont's own military experience. According to a TCM article by Frank Miller, "Aumont had served heroically in North Africa during the war and received the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre. Even in Hollywood, he supported the war effort, appearing at special screenings of Assignment in Brittany, to help raise funds for the Resistance. "

If you know me, you'll know that I've been excited for Assignment in Brittany for two reasons: Susan Peters and Darryl Hickman. Studying Peters' life and filmography has always been a pet project of mine and I was thrilled to see her in another starring role. The character of Anne Pinot fit Peters like a glove. The reserved Anne who comes out of her shell to fall in love with Pierre and help with the resistance just suited Peters sensibilities as a person. Anne plays off the polar opposite character of Signe Hasso's Elise in a Madonna/Whore dynamic. Elise is the femme fatale who breaks men's hearts, including that of Richard Whorf's character Jean, and whose Nazi activities threaten to bring harm to the community. Anne on the other hand has a sense of purity and nobility helps saves Pierre and France, for the time being.


Darryl Hickman in Assignment in Brittany (1943)
Darryl Hickman in Assignment in Brittany (1943)

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Darryl Hickman at the TCM Classic Film Festival and I asked him about this film. Hickman plays Etienne, a child who serves as a political messenger for his restaurateur uncle played by William Edmunds.

Spoiler alert: Hickman plays the hero of the film! At first he betrays Pierre but only to keep a secret that is vital information later on. It's a delightful role and I absolutely adored the scene between Aumont, Peters and Hickman toward the end of the film. Hickman is a highly underrated actor. He's always delivered wonderful performances as a child, teen and adult. Seek out his work (and his book about acting!). You won't be disappointed.

I'd also be remiss not ti point out child actress Juanita Quigley who has a terrific part as Jeannine, a young girl who fights back against the Nazis and makes a big sacrifice in the name of freedom. I found out recently that Quigley, who was very private in her final years, lived three towns away from me up until her death in 2017.

Jean-Pierre Aumont, Susan Peters and Darryl Hickman in Assignment in Brittany (1943)

Assignment in Brittany (1943) is a WWII curio that hasn't been available on home video until now. It pairs nicely with another WWII film starring Susan Peters, also featuring a young Darryl Hickman, Song of Russia (1944). Both of these are available from the Warner Archive Collection and for that I'm truly grateful.



Assignment in Brittany (1943) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection. When you use my buy link you help support this site. Thanks!


Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Assignment in Brittany (1943) on DVD for review!

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Last Command (1955)

Promotional Still from The Last Command (1955). The film was shot in TruColor. (Photo Source)

Director Frank Lloyd's The Last Command (1955) tells the story of Jim Bowie (Sterling Hayden) and the events leading up to the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. Tensions between the Mexican government and American settlers in the territory of Texas, before it became a state in 1845, were high. Bowie hears of the imprisonment of political prisoner Austin (Otto Kruger) and pleads with William B. Travis (Richard Carlson) and Mike Radin (Ernest Borgnine) for a peaceful resolution. Having fought with Mexican General Santa Anna (J. Carroll Naish) and marrying a Mexican citizen, he feels some loyalty to that side until young Jeb Lacey (Ben Cooper) tells him of the Mexican's mistreatment of Americans. Things shift for Bowie when he meets Consuelo (Anna Maria Alberghetti), a beautiful teenager whose father supports the American side. Tragic loss and illness comes to Bowie and when it becomes clear that Santa Anna will attack, Bowie, Davy Crockett (Arthur Hunnicutt), Travis and their men must prepare for a battle of no return.

This film is perhaps most well-known for its connection to John Wayne. A few years earlier Wayne had wanted to make this film with Herb Yates of Republic Pictures. These two could not see eye-to-eye on the project. Wayne wanted to film in Mexico and Yates insisted on Texas. The two had a falling out which resulted in Yates making the film without him. Wayne left Republic and directed, produced and starred in his own version of the story The Alamo (1960). Yates and Wayne never spoke to each other again and as a big middle finger to Yates, Wayne re-used a lot of the same sets that were in Yates' film.

Promotional shot of Anna Maria Alberghetti and Sterling Hayden from The Last Command (1955). (Photo Source)

The Last Command (1955) is not exceptional but is enjoyable. Hayden is perfectly suited to play the loner and free spirited Bowie. The sheer size of Hayden dwarfs pretty much every other cast member. He was truly larger-than-life in more ways than one. The Consuelo-Bowie love story was frustrating. When they meet Bowie is married and Consuelo is only 17 years old. The plot conveniently gets rid of Bowie's wife and children with the plague making room for their affair. In real life Bowie did suffer this devastating loss but it seems Consuelo only exists to add a love story to the film. I'm not well-versed in the history of the Battle of the Alamo and the key figures involved. From what I understand, this film does a good job staying true to the historical events but also using fictional elements to delivering the story as entertainment. According to the AFI, director Frank Lloyd said the following:

"The addition of fiction to fact is permissible and often dramatically desirable so long as the fiction does not contradict the fact, but is presented as a logical and reasonable development. It is the perversion of facts, not their augmentation, that destroys authenticity."

The movie is well-worth watching not only for the cast but also the attention to detail that went into the costumes by Adele Palmer, for Max Steiner's score and for the great battle scenes. There is a great knife fight scene between Ernest Borgnine and Sterling Hayden that reminded me of Borgnine's fight with Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity which released a couple years before.




The Last Command (1955) is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is from a brand new HD master from a 4K scan of the 35mm Trucolor original negative. It includes audio commentary by Alamo historian Frank Thompson and a variety of Kino Lorber trailers.

While the publicity stills above are in black-and-white the film was shot in Trucolor.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of The Last Command (1955) for review.

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