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Archive for the ‘Myrna Loy’ Category

Test Pilot

31 Mar

Test Pilot – directed by Victor Fleming. Drama. 1 hour 59 minutes Black And White 1938.
★★★★★
The Story: A champion test-pilot refuses to be grounded by the lady he married, despite the good offices of his best friend.
~
What a terrific picture!

Beautifully written!

Alive!

Complete!

Clark Gable before he got frozen into Clark-Gable-roles, one ice cube after another. Which means the studio knew what lines he said good, and so gave him scripts in which he could say those good lines his way. John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, the same. Line reading actors at the end of lively careers.

But here? Not yet. Wow! Is he good!

Clark Gable has one of the great, mobile, actor-faces. Many events in that face. Broad readable features. Big expressive eyes. Flexible brows. A mouth that, even silent, never stops telling stories. And, like many actors of his era, a distinctive voice and delivery. The face is an entertainment in itself. Plus a big masculine energy. Lots of humor. And willingness to play the dope.

Here’s he plays a rash Test Pilot, womanizer, and cocky, short-fused, high-liver who emergency-lands his plane in a Kansa farm field, owned by the lovely good sport Myrna Loy. Brash, blunt Gable falls for the lady.

He brings her home, where his side-kick, Spencer Tracy looks askance at the dare-devil’s marrying anyone, when death lies in the very next sky. Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy were one of the country’s favorite screen marriages of the ‘30s.

Watching Gable seize this part in his handsome jaws and shake it for all it’s worth reminds us of the sort of the happy-go-lucky sap he played so thoroughly in It Happened One Night, for which he won the Oscar in ’34.

The flight footage is the best I have ever seen – exciting, different, convincing. In fact, the film shows Tracy and Gable flying a B-17, which became a principle WWII weapon. The flight sequences were taken at air shows of the sort we used to go in the ‘30s. It’s whiz-bang entertainment. The U.S. (then) Army Air Force supplied the planes, and they’re fascinating to watch.

After the comic beginnings of the marriage, Loy realizes she has gotten herself into a pickle – the mortal danger test pilots court. Her part is a changeable personality, so you never know how she will resolve this irresolvable matter. Tracy offers her consolation and bitter truth. He plays the fulcrum of two crucibles in which a wobbly love loves on. You never know how the love story or the flight tests will end.

Victor Fleming, soon to direct Gable in Gone With The Wind, provides the actors with space to perform to the max. Test Pilot is wittily written; it was nominated for three Oscars, Best Editing, Best Story, and Best Picture.

I had a grand old time with it. You will too.

 

Song Of The Thin Man

15 Jun

Song Of The Thin Man – directed by Edward Buzzell. Comedy WhoDunIt. A nightclub owner elopes with an heiress, and someone is killed on a gambling boat who shouldn’t be, and a clarinetist goes nuts, and the Charles’ little boy is kidnaped, and …oh, to heck with it. Asta solves the crime as usual. 86 minutes Black and White 1947.
★★★★★
A jolly picture, indeed.

There’s a lot of forced jive talk, much of it executed by Keenan Wynn. And Gloria Graham sings a number in a gold gown that you must not deny yourself a gander at. Patricia Morrison is the lady of Leon Ames (never without a smoke in his chops), Don Taylor as the demented dypso, Ralph Morgan as a tycoon, Jayne Meadows as the society bitch, Marie Windsor as a gangster’s tomato. Connie Gilchrist is the maid once more. Esther Howard has a neat moment as a counter woman. That best of all child actors, Dean Stockwell is Nick Junior, and Asta Junior plays Asta, since this of 1947 was the last of the Thin Man Movies and the first was in 1934.

Myrna Loy said she felt the movie did not work, because their favorite director had died, but in fact it works as well as any of them, and in exactly the same way as they all do. For as Loy also said, what she felt the public liked was that they seem to be included in an amusing conversation between two smart and affectionate married people.

William Powell is all that deftness might define. And Loy assumes her position of proud and knowing spouse, never to appear in less than radiant costume, by Irene, her gorgeous hair-dos by Sydney Guilaroff. We just want to love her.

The badinage and banter is from a previous era, true but we do not mind now, and they did not mind then, because nobody ever really talked like that, but everybody wished they did.  The picture was a big hit.

And the plot when it unravels is completely incomprehensible, as usual. This was the era of Raymond Chandler and The Big Sleep where no one ever could figure out what had really happened, and, it all went by so fast, no one had the chance to. Same thing here with Dashiell Hammett. But that it is a price we rejoice to pay since that is not why we watched the movie to begin with. We watched it to partake of the highball of all highballs, as though we were sophisticates too.

We’re still that way.

 

The Thin Man Goes Home

18 Jan

The Thin Man Goes Home – directed by Richard Thorpe. Who-Dun-It. The city sophisticates in a small town offer murder and detection to it. 100 minutes. Black and White 1945.
★★★★★
This series was not really murder mysteries. but pleasing charades in which the audience colluded – which is why they were so enormously popular. The murders are inconsequential. But the poise of Myrna Loy carries everything forward. Or you might say that the terror-tone of the pictures was really determined by Asta, the faithful trick dog of William Powell. Or it might be set by Powell’s cavalier suits.

Or it might be that we are always reminded that we are watching a movie. Which is really what we came to the Bijou to do. We are in on the joke of Nick and Nora Charles. Flippancy was the comedy of the age.

Anyhow, we the audience certainly feel we are part of a marriage which is sexy and affectionate. And we also feel, although she rags him something fierce, that the wife really supports the husband’s work to a degree that she becomes really part of it. But everyone keeps his temper, until the wrap-up, when the dastardly killer is unwrapped in a series of explanations impossible and not even desirable to grasp. And we are all part of that too.

As we are part of the banter between Loy and Powell, here written by Dwight Taylor (son of the great Laurette Taylor), so we always feel part of the party. Yes, these two are New York Sophisticates; and we are not; yes, they drink more than regulation allows, and we do not (although not here; here, only cider), but we go along with their ride as to the manner born. MGM let’s one peek into a world that never existed. That is the MGM style in its heyday, which this is.

And MGM’s huge stable of fine actors is corralled into this piece to give it depth of talent if not of profundity. Harry Davenport, Edward Brophy, Lucile Watson. Minor Watson, Anne Revere, Leon Ames, Gloria DeHaven, Lloyd Corrigan, Donald MacBride, and that tiny mushroom of bashfulness, Donald (O rightly named) Meek. I look upon him with wonder. Year after year, in film after film, he played exactly the same part. Fumbling, uncertain, apologetic, timid. With his appealing Jiminy Cricket face, he performed perfectly, an actor whose skill we enjoy but do not explore. A cartoon. I wonder what his life was like. He could not possibly have been the thing he portrayed. But what? He died the following year, but not before having made three more films.

Along with the movie, on the extras, is an MGM cartoon. I only remember Warner Brothers Cartoons at that time, but here is a brilliant one (the Warners manner, true), so good it has the imaginative power of a nightmare, if a nightmare could be very very funny. It is The Type For Cartoons. Don’t miss it..

It affords a pleasing chaser to our visit with the Charles, in this their penultimate of seven excursions in the form.

 

Wings In The Dark

20 Apr

Wings In The Dark — directed by James Flood. Action/Adventure Melodrama. To prove  the efficacy of blind instrument flying, a blind pilot … 75 minutes Black and White 1935.

★★★★

What made Myna Loy the great star of the 1930s? A melodious speaking voice? Yes. A long-legged slim figure that made her look tall and fabulous in calf-length clothes? Yes. Those restful wide-spaced yes? Yes. A talent for under-playing? Yes. The sweetest mouth in the world? Yes. But I think it was something else. I think it was the alternate sexuality of devotion. It is a sexiness that does not make demands on our endurance. Why? Because it itself endures. It does not flame up and it does not burn out. It is a quality that women in the audience could admire without envy because it represented marriage. It is a quality that men in the audience could admire without fear because it was settled. It led to the domestication of Loy’s talent in wife-roles for the rest of her life. Female transatlantic flyers were much in the news in those days, and this film, one of several aviatrixes Loy played, had Amelia Earhart on set as adviser, and Loy said she was charming, but was not called upon to do much. Loy was taken up for her first flight by famed daredevil pilot, Paul Mantz, who performed the stunts, and she flew upside down in an open cockpit. For Loy plays a barnstorming aviatrix performing trick flight for crowds at fairs – and I was born in 1933, before the days of airlines, and I remember my father taking me to see just such displays. When a plane flew over Queens in those days we all went out of the house to look. Loy marshals her talent to help Cary Grant, a blind-flying pilot-pioneer who actually has gone blind. Loy describes the film, one of 23 she made in three years, as not one of her best, but it has its charms and excitements. One of the charms is Grant who of course is interesting to watch and to hear. But he does have the tendency of the style of the period, to monotonize certain speeches. That’s to say, he will choose a basic emotion, and play it under everything he says, so that it loses variety and inflection and becomes a recitation. Actors don’t seem to do that much any more, but it was one of the riffs of the ‘30s. You can hear it in his high-minded offer to commit suicide. He pitches his voice up an octave and keeps it in that noble, fake-ingenuous realm from beginning to end. It was the sort of stroke that the journalists of the period would call hokum, the journalists of the period being much more satirical and sharp-tongued than those of today. (Rosco Karns is brilliant as an example of it here.) But that high-mindedness was a notion of the age nobly to stalk above fate. It’s also interesting to note how action/adventure works. In the first part of the film, you have wonderful character exchanges, talk, revelation, humor, but when the action/adventure takes over in such a movie, character, dialogue, everything, is swallowed up by the action and the excitement of the action. We know it’s going to turn out well, that’s doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the danger at the time, the thrill and suspense of that. Improbability doesn’t even factor into it. Only the peril. And in this case it’s very well handled by Flood and by cinemaphotographers Oscar-winning William Mellor on the ground, and in the air Dewey Wrigley. An action/adventure film is a story in the finale of which all humans are devoured. Except, of course, at the end when they are regurgitated for the fadeout.

 

Wife vs. Secretary

08 Feb

Wife vs. Secretary — directed by Clarence Brown. Comedy. Malicious friends raise their eyebrows at a pretty secretary and nearly ruin a marriage. 88 minutes Black and White 1936.

★★★★★

To me, Clarence Brown has always seemed a clunky director. Through silents and sound, he was Garbo’s principal director and gave her the closed sets she desired but not her best films. So it is mystifying to me how beautifully made this comedy is, for he seldom directed comedies. But this film is lively and bright. This is partly due to a terrific script. (“’Have you been faithful while I was away?’ he asks. ‘Yes. Twice,’ she responds.”)”The title is crude and off-putting, but Alice Duer Miller who wrote it with John Lee Mahin and Norman Krasna has made a snappy and unusual entertainment. Brown gives Jimmy Stewart, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, and Clark Gable room to shine in finely detailed and energetic performances in every scene. And both the choices of what to shoot and where and the film’s editing grant it narrative success. Myrna Loy plays the wife, as she always did, as a good sport at home and a glamor girl on the town. And Gable is a model of comedic actor enterprise, playing his scenes with high-hearted zest, moving across streets and sets with a will and a way. Gable was one of the most remarkable actors ever to appear in films, for the reason that, even though his natural energy was heavy, he was great in playing comedy. He really could do it. He could be very funny. That is to say, dignified though he was and mountainously masculine, he could make a jackass of himself at will. He could stumble, fall, be outwitted, look foolish, sing and dance badly, and be the dupe of the female of the species without permanent loss of dignity. He won his Oscar for a comedy. Like all the great male stars of 1930s who went to War he made few comedies after it, but here he is the snuggling lover of Loy, all over her, kissing her whenever he can and being sweet and funny for her when he can’t, and who wouldn’t want to?. His energy for comedy playing is the driving force behind this very smart and highly watchable work. But the part of the secretary is the one that surprises, for it is played by Jean Harlow, who could be covered in an ankle length mink and yet appear to be wearing nothing but a negligee. Here the platinum hair is gone and the sexpot is also gone. What we have instead is the embodied role of a high-end executive secretary and Gal Friday. One completely believes in her competence, her efficiency, her mastery of files and steno pads and contracts and big business. One believes that if her boss died she could run the firm. I never thought she could act, until now. Her take on this character is subtle and kind, and her confrontation with Loy at the end quietly and fully renders the material with the surprise the scene naturally contains. By never attempting either to emotionalize or to steal a scene she achieves presence and a character. This was her last completed film. She and Gable and Stewart and Loy, with a marvelous script, with magnificent white telephone art deco décor, with perfect suits for Gable and dresses for the dames, and sure-handed direction make a delightful entertainment – perfect for TV screens and for family viewing, then as now.

 

 

Evelyn Prentice

26 Mar

Evelyn Prentice. Directed by William K Howard. Pulp. She is the wife of a lawyer too busy to pay her much mind, so she commits an indiscretion. 78 minutes Black and White 1934.

* * * *

Myrna Loy is something to behold! Those huge wide-spaced eyes made up to a fair-thee-well. And those clothes! — wow! Such a lovely lady, already pretty much cast as the perennial devoted wife by now. A huge star, though, in the 30s. And here she has top billing. If you don’t expect a picture of this era to be a picture of our era, you won’t expect caviar to be cabbage. It’s an artifact of its time. Beautifully lit and filmed and costumed, and with William Powell nifty and droll in double breasted suits, the story is gripping — and it is a story — and it does wrap up after about an hour. This was Rosalind Russell’s first film, and you can see they did not know what to do with her yet. Everyone in it is good. It’s as smooth as whipped cream. Don’t expect shepherd’s pie.

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