Showing posts with label Joan Crawford. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joan Crawford. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sadie McKee (1934)

Franchot Tone, Akim Tamiroff, Joan Crawford and Edward Arnold in Sadie McKee (1934)
Franchot Tone, Akim Tamiroff, Joan Crawford and Edward Arnold in Sadie McKee (1934)

On the heels of Dancing Lady (1933), MGM teamed up off screen couple Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone for another on screen romance in Sadie McKee (1944). But it seems like Hollywood wouldn't let Crawford be the apple of one eye. She has to be desired by several. Crawford stars as Sadie McKee, a maid working for the wealthy Alderson family. Michael Alderson (Franchot Tone) has returned home to discover that Sadie has blossomed into a beauty. But Sadie is in love with the formerly employed Tommy (Gene Raymond). The two run off to New York together and plan to marry. Sadie befriends Opal (Jean Dixon), a street-wise dame with a penchant for a good time. While the two are waiting for Tommy to show up at the courthouse for the wedding, he runs off with show girl Dolly (Esther Ralston). Sadie is destitute of both money and love. She starts a new life as a show girl (plus a little more) to make ends meet. That's when she meets the incredibly wealthy and incredibly drunk Jack Brennan (Edward Arnold). Brennan is smitten with her and through marriage offers her an opportunity to get ahead. Sadie takes advantage of this even though it puts her in the precarious situation of taking care of an alcoholic. She also suffers the disdain of Brennan's friend and her old acquaintance Alderson and Brennan's staff including his butler Finnegan (Leo G. Carroll). Sadie takes on the task of saving Brennan from himself, closing one chapter in her life and starting a new one.

From the very beginning it's established that Sadie McKee is the ideal physical specimen of womanhood. She has enough sass and sex appeal to keep men interested. And the three men she lures are all grossly inadequate. Tommy can't be held down, Brennan suffers from advanced alcoholism and Alderson is a spoiled rich playboy. Although Sadie is swayed by her emotions. she's the only one of the four who seems to have her shit together. She also has the support of her best friend and frequent voice of reason, Opal. The role of Sadie McKee fits Joan Crawford's persona perfectly. She embodied the spirit of the working girl who moves up the ranks and proves her worth. It's satisfying to watch her in parts like this. One could say that Sadie McKee is the pre-code precursor to Mildred Pierce (1945).

1934 brought on a tougher enforcement of the Hays Production Code. Sadie McKee slips in just in time and there are a few elements that classify it as a pre-code film. For example, the unmarried Sadie and Tommy sleep in the same bedroom together, albeit with her in the bed and him on the chair. Sexpot neighbor Dolly, played by Esther Ralston, channels Mae West and lures Tommy away from Sadie. When Dolly and Sadie have a showdown later in the film Dolly suggests that Sadie is a glorified prostitute. Pre-Code expert Danny Reid also points out that when Opal and Sadie are at city hall waiting for Tommy, a police officer approaches them and asks if they're getting married. He says it in a way that both suggests they might be marrying each other but also that they're waiting for their fiancees. I'd also like to point out the scene in which Finnegan the butler, played by Leo G. Carroll in his first on screen role, undresses a drunk Brennan (Edward Arnold), preparing him for bed. It's an oddly intimate scene that lingers just enough to give time for the audience to wonder.

Sadie McKee is based on a story by Vina Delmar who wrote many novels, short stories and screenplays including The Awful Truth (1937). She appears in the trailer for Sadie McKee as you can see below. The story suffers from trying to do too much. It starts off as a sweet romance between two people who escape the upstairs-downstairs life for a fresh start in New York City. Then it takes a twist when it becomes a story of a poor show girl who marries a rich alcoholic. Then it takes a somber tone when the first couple are reunited. And then of course Franchot Tone's continual attraction and momentary disgust for Sadie/Crawford adds several more plot points. One could say that Sadie McKee is an epic that didn't quite reach it's potential.

Even with its many flaws this is a gem of a film. Its such a joy to see cast members like Crawford, Tone, Arnold, Carroll, Raymond, Ralston and Dixon in action. Not to mention one of my personal favorites, Akim Tamiroff who plays night club owner Riccorri. I'll watch him in anything. Also in the movie are singer Gene Austin and the jazz duo Candy and Coco who all make their screen debut and play a couple of numbers in the movie.

Sadie McKee ad from The Film Daily April-June 1934
Sadie McKee ad from The Film Daily April-June 1934

Sadie McKee got mixed reviews but still proved profitable enough for MGM that after a batch of successful films Crawford was able to renegotiate her contract. According to Joan Crawford biographer Donald Spoto, Crawford said, "I was pretty unhappy with the way the picture was cut. Perhaps it will make sense, but I doubt it."

Interesting fact: The Library Hotel in New York City plays Sadie McKee on a loop on a TV in their rooftop lounge. I've attended a few parties in that space and that movie is always on. I couldn't find any information why that film in particular was selected for the loop. It's a curious choice especially considering their rooftop bar is just around the corner. Maybe they thought a sobering film about alcoholism might encourage patrons to drink less.

Sadie McKee (1934) DVD

Sadie McKee (1934) is available from the Warner Archive Collection. You can buy the DVD-R from the WB Shop by using this link.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to the Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Sadie McKee (1934) for review!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Dancing Lady (1933)

Clark Gable and Joan Crawford - Dancing Lady (1933)
Clark Gable and Joan Crawford - Dancing Lady (1933)

 Richie rich Tod Newton (Franchot Tone) is out on the town with his equally wealthy friends. They're bored and looking for some amusement. They head to a burlesque show where dancers Janie Barlow (Joan Crawford) and her roommate Rosette LaRue (Winne Lightner) are entertaining the crowd with their moves and a bit of stripping. The police raid the joint and the dancers are arrested. Tod and his friends, not wanting the night to end, watch the courtroom spectacle that ensues. Tod has his eye on Janie and bails her out of jail. He romances her but quickly realize he's in direct competition with her first love, dancing. With his influence and her tenacity, Janie gets a dancing part in Patch Gallagher's (Clark Gable) new show. She's conflicted by her love of dance, her affection for Patch and her sentiments towards Tod and the lavish lifestyle that comes with dating him. Not willing to compete with Janie's first love, Tod tries to sabotage her career by convincing Patch's backer to pull out of the production. Many people lose their jobs, something the wealthy Tod hadn't considered but pains Janie who understands the struggle. In the end, Patch and Janie must find a way to continue on with the show.

Dancing Lady (1933) is a backstage musical showcasing both MGM's established talent and newcomers alike. It's an experimental film in more ways than one. MGM had the rights to James Warner Bellah's novel, previously serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, and the powers that be saw an opportunity to compete with Warner Bros.'s successful 42nd Street (1933). But first they needed a star.

Joan Crawford was Louis B. Mayer and David O. Selznick's top pick for the film. She wasn't a classically trained dancer but was a known hoofer thanks to her dancing in The Hollywood Revue of 1929Our Dancing Daughters (1928) and Dance, Fools, Dance (1931). According to Crawford biographer Donald Spoto, Crawford was hesitant at first. She only accepted when Mayer offered her an opportunity to be a part of the story development. Even then she almost jumped ship. It wasn't until Selznick sealed the deal with some reverse psychology. He told her she wasn't right for the part saying "I think it's more Jean Harlow's style." There was no way Crawford was going to concede to letting Harlow have the part. Selznick and Mayer sweetened the pot by adding two major MGM stars, both love interests of Crawford's, Clark Gable and Franchot Tone to the film.

With their main star secured, MGM faced some difficulties with their two male leads. At first Robert Montgomery was supposed to play the part of Tod Newton but had to bow out. That's when Franchot Tone stepped in. Clark Gable got ill, either with a leg infection or an appendectomy, sources differ on what really happened, and MGM had to keep production going while the Gable was convalescing.

Joan Crawford and Fred Astaire in Dancing Lady (1933)
Joan Crawford and Fred Astaire in Dancing Lady (1933)

Then there were the newcomers. Dancing Lady served as a platform to establish some major talent. First there was Fred Astaire, the only true dancer of any significance in the film. Selznick had his eye on Astaire during his time at RKO and when he moved to MGM he brought Astaire with him. Astaire played himself in what would be his true film debut. And we all know what happened after that.

Also in the film are Ted Healy and the Three Stooges. This was before Moe, Larry and Curly broke away from Healy and became the trio we all know and love. Healy plays Patch's assistant stage manager while the Stooges are stage hands whose background gags add some levity to the film. The Stooges are poorly utilized and if you blink you might miss one of their scenes. While this wasn't their first film, it was still early days for the trio and the film helped give them the exposure they needed for their future career.

Eve Arden fans will delight seeing her in a bit part as a frustrated actress. Nelson Eddy has his first credited role playing himself. Then there is Robert Benchley, who wasn't technically a newcomer but Dancing Lady served as the start of the MGM career. It was a delight to see Sterling Holloway in an early credited role as the show's writer. On the flip side was then film veteran Winnie Lightner who was reaching the end of her short career in movies. Lightner was an underrated gem of the era and is not given nearly enough of the screen time that she deserved.

Dancing Lady is a mixed bag. It suffers from too much going on in the story. The plot would have benefited from some simplification and fewer characters. But if that had been the case we'd miss out on performances from the likes of Arden, Benchley, Lightner, Holloway, etc. Joan Crawford was not really a dancer and it shows. But the role of Janie was as close to the real Joan Crawford as you could possibly get. She was perfect for it. The final show number is lacking in actual dancing. Someone at MGM made the unfortunate decision to have Astaire and Crawford sing. They don't sing as much as they talk to music.

Regardless of it's flaws, the film was a success at the box office, earned a profit for MGM, which was no small feat during the Great Depression, and it gave a boost to so many careers. For budding film historians, Dancing Lady is a good study of the mechanics of the studio system. It demonstrates how a major studio like MGM utilized a combination of established stars while also building up new talent.

Dancing Lady (1933) is available from the Warner Archive. You can buy the DVD-R from the WB Shop by using this link.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to the Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Dancing Lady (1933) for review!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Stars & Their Hobbies - Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford, Knitting
"I took my knitting along so I could keep my hands busy, because I was so nervous."  Joan Crawford
As any knitter will tell you, there is a lot of comfort to be found in the repetitive motions of a pair of knitting needles and some yarn as you knit and purl your way through a pattern. Joan Crawford would often be found on film sets knitting as she waited for her call. It calmed her nerves and kept her distracted during down times. Rumor has it, Crawford was temporarily kicked off the set of The Women (1939) by George Cukor for purposefully annoying Norma Shearer with the constant clicking of her knitting needles.

Crawford teaching Ann Blyth how to knit on the set of Mildred Pierce

My series Stars & Their Hobbies explores how notable actors and actresses from Hollywood history spent their free time. Click here to view a complete list of entries. 

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