Showing posts with label Myrna Loy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Myrna Loy. Show all posts

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Topaze (1933)

Myrna Loy and John Barrymore in Topaze
Myrna Loy and John Barrymore in Topaze

Professor Auguste A. Topaze (John Barrymore) teaches his young pupils about the moral philosophies that will make them honest and kind men. But one spoiled little rich kid, Charlemagne (Jackie Searl) doesn't want to hear it. Topaze gives him failing grades but doesn't realize what he's up against: The La Tour La Tour family. Baron Philippe (Reginald Mason) is the patriarch. He splits his time between his mansion where he lives with his neurotic wife Baroness Hortense (Jobyna Howland) and his son, the aforementioned failing student. The rest of the time he spends in his grand Art Deco apartment with his fashionable mistress Coco (Myrna Loy). When Charlemagne's tantrums leads Hortense to get Topaze fired from his job, Philippe offers Topaze a proposition. Help him create Sparkling Topaze, a tonic cure-all. Topaze takes this opportunity to use his education in chemistry for good. What he doesn't realize is that he's essentially a frontman for a money making scheme meant to fool the general public. And Topaze, enamored with Coco who quickly develops an affection for him, doesn't realize what's going on between her and Philippe. Will the morally minded Topaze's world fall apart when he learns the truth?

Directed by Harry d'Abbadie d'ArrastTopaze (1933) is half fun, half serious and all Pre-Code. The fun comes from La Tour La Tour's scheming (and let's be honest, his ridiculous name is also a factor), the Art Deco splendor and the foolish antics of the upper class. The seriousness comes from Topaze's commitment to living a transparent and moral life. We raise our fists at La Tour La Tour for trying to corrupt this gentle soul who only wants to pave the way for good in the world. The Pre-Code comes from the blatant adultery as well as from some of the sexual connotations and innuendoes. The film ends with a marquee reading Men and Women Sin, Twice Daily, with that last part blinking over and over again in neon lights.

Based on a French play by Marcel Pagnol, Topaze was adapted to screen by writers Ben Hecht and Benn W. Levy. While the story is set in France and there are some references to French life, the movie has a decidedly American feel. Perhaps it's because of the political theme that runs throughout. Topaze is accused of being a Communist because of his philosophies and the Barron La Tour La Tour exemplifies Capitalistic greed. While this film comes during the Pre-Code era, it still had to be toned down. An American movie about an older man having a rather open affair with a younger woman can be excused for it's French sensibilities. Audiences could easily displace the fault to the other side of the Atlantic. The end result was saucy enough that the censors banned the film in 1936. The play was adapted to film in France in 1933, 1936 and 1951. It was also adapted in Britain as Mr. Topaze starring Peter Sellers in 1961.

Topaze was produced by David O. Selznick for RKO. John Barrymore does a marvelous job as the awkward old professor with high ideals. He's matched beautifully with Myrna Loy who is fabulous despite not having much to do in the film. Despite the marvelous cast, this film is so-so. I wasn't quite captivated by it as I'd hoped. It's worth seeing though for the social message but most importantly the mind-blowing Art Deco apartment that La Tour La Tour keeps with his mistress. It's a thing of beauty. It boasts the clean lines, empty white spaces and exoticism that makes me love that aesthetic so much. The apartment has circular rooms, square chairs, opulent door handles, a fire place with snake plants growing out of built-in planters, lamps with sculpted hands as the base, ridiculously narrow shelves with tiny ornaments and an Art Deco clock I wanted to steal. I was ready to pack my bags and move in.

Topaze (1933) is available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. The extras include commentary by Kat Ellinger and trailers from other Kino Lorber classics. There are no subtitle options for this disc.

Many thanks to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of the Blu-Ray for review!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Arrowsmith (1931)

Arrowsmith (1931) Title Card
Arrowsmith (1931)

With the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus dominating the news this Pre-Code film is timelier than ever. Independently produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by John Ford, Arrowsmith (1931) stars Ronald Colman as Dr. Martin Arrowsmith, a young doctor whose talents in the field of medical research lead him to discover the cure for bubonic plague.

Hayes and Colman in Arrowsmith (1931)
Helen Hayes and Ronald Colman

Arrowsmith is taken under the wing of Professor Max Gottlieb (A.E. Anson) who becomes his mentor and a major influence in his education as well as his ethics. He starts off as a doctor in a New York City hospital. It’s here that he meets nurse Leora (Helen Hayes). They have a whirlwind romance, elope – much to the distress of her parents – and relocate to South Dakota. Arrowsmith supports his growing family with a job as a small-town doctor. They're happy for a while but things soon change. Arrowsmith’s talents bring him back to the big city when his cure for a cattle disease demonstrates that his skills are needed for the greater advancement of medical science.

Ronald Colman & Helen Hayes - Arrowsmith (1931)
Arrowsmith at his lab

He returns to McGuirk, a major lab made up of scientists including Prof. Gottlieb, and discovers the cure for bubonic plague. Scientist Gustav Sondelius (Richard Bennett) sees the effects of the bubonic plague and encourages Arrowsmith to the West Indies where the plague is prevalent. Leora, unable to give Arrowsmith a child after her miscarriage, devotes herself to Arrowsmith. He often neglects her but relies on her unyielding devotion. They travel together to the West Indies for Arrowsmith’s experiment.

Microscope - Arrowsmith (1931)
Arrowsmith's trusty Microscope

To prove his serum can cure bubonic plague, Arrowsmith plans to use it on half of the infected people and compare the results with the other half. While beneficial for the advancement of medical research, this brings up ethical and moral issues. Who is to be saved and who is not?

Ronald Colman - Arrowsmith (1931)
Arrowsmith presents his plan to doctors in the West Indies

Things get more complicated when scientist Sondelius gets sick, Leora becomes a victim of circumstance and the beautiful Joyce (Myrna Loy) catches Arrowsmith’s eye.

Myrna Loy - Arrowsmith (1931)
Myrna Loy as Mrs. Joyce Lanyon

The screen play was adapted by Sidney Howard and based on the 1925 novel by Sinclair Lewis.  For accuracy in his depictions of science and medical research, Lewis relied on his adviser Dr. Paul de Kruif . Lewis was awarded with the Pulitzer Prize the following year but refused to accept the honor.

The film is choppy. The first 30 minutes are dreadfully slow and linger far too long on the small-town portion of the story. As soon as the Sondelius character enters the story the pace of the plot quickens. He moves the story out of New York City and into the West Indies where the true drama takes hold. Director John Ford as been pinpointed as the source of the film's unevenness. According to Joseph McBride, author of Searching For John Ford: A Life:
“At Sam Goldwyn’s request, Ford made a written pledge not to drink during the shooting of Arrowsmith. It was a telling sign of Ford’s malaise in this period that a studio chief had to enforce a discipline Ford normally was able to impose on himself. Ford’s unhappiness and distraction while making Arrowsmith was reflected in its extreme stylistic unevenness, its highly episodic nature, and its schizoid variations in mood.”

Ford also had issues with actress Helen Hayes. They had a love-hate relationship and some of her scenes were put on the back burner or were hastily put together. Ford was loaned out from Fox by independent producer Samuel Goldwyn who fired him for not keeping his sobriety contract. He was then fired from Fox. Fortunately, Ford was re-hired by Fox a couple years later.

Clarence Brooks - Arrowsmith (1931)
Clarence Brooks as Dr. Oliver Marchand
Even with its flaws Arrowsmith (1931) is a glorious Pre-Code film. It tackles a difficult subject, isn’t afraid to experiment and there is a refreshing lack of racism. Actor Clarence Brooks’ portrayal of West Indies doctor Oliver Marchand is very progressive for the time. Marchand is a well-spoken, college-educated doctor and lacks many of the racist stereotypes that were often applied to black characters during that time.

At first the wealthy patriarch of the island is reluctant to allow his mansion to be used as a makeshift hospital. However, he and his family, including his guest Joyce (Myrna Loy), befriend Dr. Arrowsmith and help him in his efforts to eradicate the bubonic plague. In one telling scene, the family lines up with the natives to receive their serum. They don’t cut the line or use their status to get any special treatment.

Arrowsmith (1931)

Myrna Loy’s character Joyce was mostly edited out of the film to appease code regulations. Although this is a Pre-Code, filmmakers still had to be cautious. It’s only suggested that Joyce and Arrowsmith have an extra-marital affair. It’s clear that Joyce lusts for him but they are careful to portray Arrowsmith as only mildly interested. Morality and ethics play a key role in the film. The administration at the McGuirk lab demonstrate greed for fame and recognition when they are quick to publicize Arrowsmith’s work even before it’s put to the test. Characters struggle with the dilemma between what is good for humanity versus what is good for science.

The lighting and cinematography in this film are absolutely stunning. I love the use of light and shadow.
Helen Hayes - Arrowsmith (1931)
Leora (Helen Hayes) and the unfortunate cigarette
Doors are very symbolic in this film. The opening and closing of doors represent passage of time, opportunity waiting on the other side and the advancement of Arrowsmith’s career. Doors separate the sick from the healthy. They separate chaos from calm. 

I would be remiss not to point out the lovely Art Deco sets used for the McGuirk lab. Art Deco is used to represent opulence and coldness which mirror the qualities of the McGuirk enterprise.

Arrowsmith (1931)

Arrowsmith (1931)

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Writing, Adaptation (Sidney Howard), Best Cinematography (Ray June) and Best Art Direction (Richard Day).

Arrowsmith (1931) is available from Warner Archive on DVD-MOD. You can also purchase it from the TCM Shop.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received Arrowsmith (1931) from Warner Archive for review.

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