Showing posts with label Bonita Granville. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bonita Granville. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

It's Love I'm After (1937)

"I can't understand why a man I'm so crazy about takes such a fiendish delight in tormenting me." - Bette Davis as Joyce Arden

They hate each other. They love each other. Stage actors Joyce Arden (Bette Davis) and Basil Underwood (Leslie Howard) have the most tempestuous romance. Under the lights and in front of an eager audience they deliver stunning performances, but backstage things can get ugly. After one rousing rendition of Romeo and Juliet, Basil is cornered by an infatuated fan. What he doesn't realize is this is no ordinary fan. She's wealthy socialite Marcia West (Olivia de Havilland). She truly believes she's in love with Basil, much to the dismay of her fiancee Henry Grant Jr. (Patric Knowles).

"Love for breakfast. Love for lunch. Love for dinner."

When Henry confronts Basil about this dilemma, Basil offers to help. Especially to repay the debt Henry's father paid him when the stock market crashed back in 1929. As Basil and his butler and partner-in-crime Digges (Eric Blore) act out one of Basil's original plays, Henry has an idea. Basil should visit Marcia's family and cause such a ruckus that she'll fall out of love with him. It'll be exactly like a performance in a play! But there are two major obstacles awaiting Basil. He doesn't realize that the woman he's fooling with dramatics is the same fan who visited him in his dressing room on New Year's Eve. Also Basil promised Joyce that they'd get married on New Year's Day and she's about to throw his plans for a loop. Can Basil save Henry and Marcia's relationship and his own or will it all end in tragedy?

"From now on I doff the mantle of a Romeo and assume the role of a cad." - Leslie Howard as Basil Underwood

Based on the original story by Maurice Hanline called Gentlemen After Midnight, It's Love I'm After (1937) was directed by Archie Mayo for Warner Bros. The project was born out of Leslie Howard's request for a comedic vehicle. He needed a break after a succession of dramatic roles, one of them which happened to be Romeo in MGM's Romeo and Juliet (1936). Olivia de Havilland, a fairly new contract player for Warner Bros. had recently appeared in Mayo's Call It a Day (1937). Two years later de Havilland and Howard appeared in Gone With the Wind (1939) together, clinching their status as Hollywood legends. De Havilland was added to the cast pretty early on and in fact they started shooting scenes with her, Knowles, Howard and Blore even before a leading lady was secured.

Getting a leading lady for the film was easier said than done. Leslie Howard initially wanted Ina Clare or Gertrude Lawrence, two stage veterans, to appear opposite him. In the end, neither had the screen presence to be viable options. Howard had worked with Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage (1934) and the Archie Mayo directed movie The Petrified Forest (1936). The two didn't get along and Howard was hesitant about working with her again. But if they wanted an actress who sparkled on screen they could do no wrong with Davis. When Davis was cast, the production was already well on its way. In fact, a July 1937 issue of Screenland shows behind-the-scenes pictures of the making of the film but does not mention Bette Davis whatsoever. Her character appears more so at the beginning and end of the film so plenty of scenes could have been shot without her. Before It's Love I'm After, Davis was hospitalized for exhaustion. She took a tumble into the orchestra pit during the filming of the Romeo & Juliet scenes and suffered a minor injury.

When I came across this movie, I was immediately drawn by the star power. Davis, Howard AND de Havilland? Of course I had to watch this! All three play to their strengths. Davis as the tempestuous actress who runs hot and cold, Howard as an actor's actor and de Havilland as a starry-eyed youth with a tender heart; not a stretch for any of them by any means. And one of my favorite child actors, Bonita Granville, plays to her strengths as the bratty spoiled teenager.

But it's not Davis, nor Howard, nor de Havilland, nor Knowles nor even boisterous little Granville who steals the show. It's character actor Eric Blore. If you enjoy Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, Blore is a familiar face. He often played waiters and butlers and in It's Love I'm After he plays Digges, Howard's underpaid but devoted assistant. The script really gave Blore many moments to shine. He's got a lot of terrific scenes, delivers some great lines and serves as both straight man and comic throughout the story. He's the most sensible character but he's also caught up in the magic of the theater. Blore's Digges anchors the movie and I'd go so far as to say he's the #1 reason you should watch it.

It's Love I'm After (1937) is a zany film with lots of great witty one-liners and insults. Come for Leslie Howard, Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland and stay for Eric Blore.

It's Love I'm After (1937) 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. I purchased It's Love I'm After (1937) from the WB Shop.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Beloved Brat (1938)

The Beloved Brat (1938) could just be a story of a spoiled brat who learns the error of her ways and transforms into a well-behaved child. This Warner Bros. film is much more than that. In its mere 62 minutes of screen time it packs a wallop with two big takeaways: 1) there are big consequences to suffer when you neglect your child and 2) you should find it in your heart to be inclusive of others.

The Beloved Brat is based on an original story by Jean Negulesco, who was on loan to Warner Bros. as a writer in 1938 and soon transitioned into a career as a director. Directed by Arthur Lubin, the film stars Bonita Granville as Roberta Morgan, the only child of a wealthy couple. She's been primarily raised by the household servants and her governess because her mother Mrs. Morgan (Natalie Moorhead) and her father Mr. Morgan (Donald Crisp) are far too busy with their careers and travels to pay much attention to their daughter. This results in Roberta acting out. A lot. The more Roberta feels stifled, the more she acts out and the more they try to repress her. It's a vicious cycle. The one person who seems to be emotionally invested in her is her father's secretary Williams (Donald Briggs). He's also the only person to remember her on her birthday which turns ends with a sad little party only attended by the servants and with cake she doesn't even get to eat.

Bonita Granville & Donald Crisp in The Beloved Brat (1938)
Bonita Granville and Donald Crisp in The Beloved Brat (1938)

 When Roberta discovers a young boy playing her front lawn she befriends him. Pinkie (Matthew Stymie Beard) and his sister Arabella (Meredith White) include her in their adventures. It turns out Roberta could care less about the fact that they're black. (Side note: Leo Gorcey has a small role as a bully in one of their scenes.) When Roberta brings Pinkie home to have dinner, Roberta's story takes a turn for the worse. Jenkins (Emmet Vogan), the butler, unceremoniously throws Pinkie out of the house and  locks Roberta in her room. She fakes a house fire in order to run away but this starts a series of events which lands her in a reform school for girls run by Helen Cosgrove (Dolores Costello) and Miss Brewster (Lucille Gleason). Roberta is in a completely new and foreign environment and the schoolgirls take a disliking to her almost immediately. With the help of Cosgrove and the indirect help of her friend Williams, Roberta blossoms into a well-behaved young woman. And now it's time for her parents to learn their lesson.

Bonita Granville in The Beloved Brat (1938)
Roberta (Bonita Granville) smashing plates as her fellow school girls look on.The Beloved Brat (1938)

The Beloved Brat is a film ahead of its time. In an era when racial mixing was looked down upon, the underlying message of inclusiveness in the film is quite bold. I let out a yelp and began to cry when I saw that Roberta finally got the birthday party she deserved, one filled with friends, including Pinkie and Meredith, and lots of cake. And in a time when it was the norm that children should be seen and not heard, Roberta boldly makes herself known. I wonder how audiences in 1938 reacted to this film. Were they receptive to the film's messages or did they just dismiss it as another poor rich girl story?

Bonita Granville is one of my favorite actresses but not all of her characters are likable. She made a career out of playing spoiled brats. Don't tell me you watched Now, Voyager (1942) and didn't feel the urge to smack her across the face. Granville's Roberta is lovable though. You know she's acting out because of her awful parents. I felt an emotional tie to her character and cheered her on and even wanted to see her throw a tantrum or two.

Granville made a minor splash in Hollywood playing a brat in These Three (1936). A few months after The Beloved Brat, Granville would start in the first of the four Nancy Drew movies, Nancy Drew Detective (1938). I have watched all four Nancy Drew films countless times and they're still some of my favorite movies from that era. I love that Granville graduates from brat, to misunderstood brat and then to headstrong independent girl in just a couple of years. But her bratty roles would still be synonymous with her name.

The Beloved Brat (1938) aired recently on TCM but it's not available on DVD. I hope the Warner Archive Collection will release it sometime in the future. It's worth seeing especially if you love films from this era and if you have a soft spot for Bonita Granville like I do.

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