Archive for the ‘George Brent’ Category

Miss Pinkerton

21 Jun

Miss Pinkerton – directed by Lloyd Bacon. Murder Mystery. 66 minutes Black And White 1932.
The Story: A hospital nurse takes on a police case in a creepy mansion.
Joan Blondell is the face of the ‘30s. Big-eyes open to life, quick of tongue, game, pretty, and strong as an ox. Not Crawford or Shearer or Hepburn or Lombard or Arthur, but this lower-class tootsie, Joan Blondell, a little too susceptible to love, but up for any role, any case, any dance. She was the world’s greatest tonic for The Great depression. As lovable as she was skilled.

She played leading roles sometimes, such as Miss Pinkerton, but she was not a leading lady but a jolly soubrette.

Here she plays a bored-to-death hospital nurse who is assigned the care of an old woman in whose grisly mansion a shooting has occurred.

So many plot twists and angles and changes and characters interlope on her attention that you wonder how the makers of the picture are ever to solve the murder. I’m not sure they ever did.

The film is beautifully shot, and imaginatively directed by Lloyd Bacon. He keeps us guessing and off balance, yet leaning forward still into what is going on.

The picture is 1932, a year in which Blondell made nine films, and is advertised as pre-code. While it has nothing risqué in it that I could tell, it sure has a lot of love twisters. And more meaningful looks than a bathhouse. And it has the suavely smirking George Brent as the likeable detective assigned to crack the case. He has a voice like a cast iron radiator. Smooth-talker that he is, he soft-soaps her into his arms consistently and, of course, at last. She is eager.

This is Warner Brothers cheap entertainment, which does not mean it is bad entertainment. Not at all. Coney Island is good entertainment, because it is well done. So is this.

We passed the time with Blondell in many a movie in those days, and she went on acting (in over 100 pictures) right until the end.

She was sexy, funny, ripe, and vulnerable. A fast-talking dame, she could dish out the snappy dialogue with the best of them. To Cagney she delivered the renowned put-down: “You’re the biggest chiseler since Michelangelo!” He never recovered – in that movie anyhow.

We watch her in this one with complete sympathy, interest, approval, and concern. But she saves herself from doom every time. No one could scream on camera like Joan Blondell. No one was ever so simply likeable.


Baby Face

05 Feb

Baby Face – directed by Alfred E. Green. Drama. 71 minutes Black and White 1933.


The Story: A speakeasy owner’s daughter and her negro pal take off to make their fortunes with two dollars between them and a plan for one of them to sleep to the top.

When Zanuck headed up Warner’s before he moved to Fox, he seldom allowed a female to carry a film. Instead, they were used as leading ladies opposite strong male stars. Baby Face is one of his few exceptions.

Zanuck thought up the story and worked on it with Barbara Stanwyck. We have full records of their sessions. They needed to get it into a form which would work with the censors, which in fact eventually it did not. Stanwyck is 25 at this time, and, since the Silent Era, she is making about four pictures a year. In some of them she plays the calico virgin, in others the hard-bitten dame. Or it might be better to say, she plays, as she did in The Lady Eve and Double Indemnity, a duplicitous woman. Here, she seduces and abandons one man after another on her way to the penthouse, which she actually arrives at. Over the bodies of John Wayne, Douglass Dumbrille, Henry Kolker, and Donald Woods she stalks, leaving them all pleading for more.

This is a wonderful ploy on the part of a script to make a star desirable in the eyes of both male and female audience. And Stanwyck is perfectly convincing at it up to a point. She’s great at flirting. But her technique is inconsistent and her choices sometimes unwise. For instance, the way to play telling lies is to be forthright, but Stanwyck plays innocent, she plays poor-me, she plays The Victim. But nobody would ever be convinced by it. At other times her line readings are flat. Both these things remained true for her all her long life as an actor.

But what is truer is her conviction. She is an actress of only surface emotional depth, but she is completely honest on that level, and that level is all that it takes to tell the story of a film, which is really what the audience has come to be satisfied by. Which is why so many B films were well attended: their stories were always more arresting than the performances of them.

Stanwyck had a good voice for film. Sound editors for early Talking Pictures had trouble with its range, but once they got used to that, it worked well, and we are speaking here of an actress who was only in movies at all because of that voice. There was a directness to Stanwyck’s delivery that her crews applauded and were moved by. She was a one-shot actress, so you didn’t get to rehearse with her, but she was an actress of immediate dispatch. She was on the mark, ready, go. In fact, she was go. It’s great to see it.

Stanwyck, like Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford, was a redhead covered with freckles, and was, like them, plastered under a mask of makeup to hide them. Here they wanted to dye her hair, but Stanwyck never let her hair be dyed. Instead Perc Westmore, head of makeup at Warners and scion of a family of expert wigmakers, produced (they’re something to behold!) seven wigs each one richer in effect than the one before. And Orry-Kelly puts her in one overdressed outfit after another until at last, when married to banker George Brent, she seems entirely clothed in gold.

Time lists Baby Face as one of 100 greatest films.


FBI Girl

23 Oct


FBI Girl – directed by William Berke. Crime Fighting/ Police Procedural. Leafing through the fingerprint files, a clerk must trap the truth about a sordid senator. 74 minutes Black and White 1951.


Even in a pinafore, Audrey Totter always looks like the hostess in a West Virginia nightclub run by racketeers, and as such she is always a big plus to any film she appears in. Her mouth is so voluptuous that even when she is playing a good girl, as here, you think she must go bad by the next reel. It lends her roles a sumptuous ambiguity. I like her very much. As to the level of talent she possesses, this is not question one asks of such an apparition. It would be like asking the Angel Gabriel if he can type. Oh, no, one sits back and rejoices in the atmosphere her presence guarantees.


Such is also the case with Cesár Romero, except it is quite easy to see that he can act like gangbusters, which is, in fact the part he plays. Romero’s screen energy is always peppy, always out front, vigorous, and apt. He was a handsome man who never aged, who looked marvelous in clothes – and here it looks like he wears them from his 1,000 suits wardrobe. His beautifully tailoring does not suppress his vitality or his humor.


Romero was to make hundred of movies. He went on acting into his 90s. He played parts that Gilbert Roland and Anthony Quinn ditched. He didn’t mind. For he had also played with perfect confidence cads in a mustache opposite Getty Grable in her heyday, and added a lively foil to that fine entertainer’s ebullience. It’s always good to see him.


It’s never good to see George Brent, unless you find fascination in staring at wallboard. It is extraordinary how inert he is. Listlessness was his volcano. He played opposite Bette Davis in 12 of her pictures. Did that laminate him? The odd thing is that, off camera, he was evidently desirability itself. Set next to Romero in this piece, the contrast is destructive to a degree of Brent, and Romero is not attempting to steal scenes. Brent has the animation of a Steiff penguin, except that in Brent’s case, although the adjective is abused, he was life size and his suit didn’t fit.


Tom Drake, late of the boy-next-door roles, gives you a sense of the terrible destructiveness of cute youth. The boy-next-door, if he is this cute and this aware of it, is but one step, if even one step, away from the cad-next-door. And this is the part he plays.


If the movie is silly, it is held at anchor by the performance of Raymond Burr, the man you love to hate, a sort of male Eleanor Bron. For perhaps not the only time but at least here his performance is restrained, collected, interior, and, despite that he plays a vile and ruthless assassin, one cares about him, for some reason. Sometimes Burr was an actor, not just of a part, but of parts, and this is one of those times.


Though it says it is, it’s not noir, and the plot is not plausible. For belief cannot be suspended when one gazes upon the arresting gowns Totter dons as the customary evening attire of a file clerk. On the other had, she is even more out of place in an apron. When credibility knocks at the door in Hollywood, no body comes to answer.


In This Our Life

18 Nov

In This Our Life –– directed by John Huston. Drama. A young Southern woman runs over the lives and loves of everyone in town. 97 minutes Black and White 1942.


I saw it when it came out and remember it well –– because of its closing scene in which Bette tells off Charles Coburn and then drives her convertible over a cliff. The scene was actually directed by Raoul Walsh, but what was impressive about it was the intensity and rashness of Davis’s ability to tell the truth. The question is not whether she is mean, selfish, immoral, or even sociopathic, but her daring to find in her guts and let loose the emotional truth. I never forgot it, and neither did anyone else who saw it. It was what I could not do at the time, nor for years to come. There was no major film star of Bette Davis’ era who was not a full embodiment of Women’s Liberation. This was Davis’ version.

Davis deplored the picture, which is incorrect, for she chews scenery already there for her digestion. She is never bigger than the part. And she is certainly never smaller than the part. Her costumes, by Orry-Kelly, are superb in their careful want of subtlety: she is always tricked out for game. Perc Westmore executed the makeup, which gives her a bee-stung upper lip and mascara flounces at the outside corners of her eyes. Her hair is free curling just above the shoulder with a disgraceful bang on her brow.

Bette Davis is the most kinetic of all major female stars. Her body is always engaged or about to spring. More than any other actress of her time, she brings to the screen the quality of someone no one has ever loved, and this gives her sexual seething. One way or another she is hot.

This picture is made in her heyday, between The Man Who Came To Dinner, which is her best screen performance, and Now Voyager, which is one of her most iconic. Once again she plays the brat. She had played it for years. And she played it successfully until All About Eve, after which she played it unsuccessfully, because, once over forty, it became barbaric, immature, and neurotic. After Eve, Bette Davis ceased to be an actress and became a persona, which is to say she became a statue in a public park forty years premature to her death.

But here she is giving vent to what all of us, males and females, only wish we could give vent to –– the suppressed life we’ve had to sit on, now released, fuelled, nasty or not, with the rage of our resentment at having had to sit on it so long.

This is John Huston’s second picture, and it is very well told. Ernest Haller who filmed Gone With The Wind makes beautiful light arrangements, and Ed Koch who will write Casablanca does a sound and economical script, particularly since the Pulitzer Prize- winning novel by Ellen Glasgow it comes from hinges on the Davis character’s attempt to incriminate a negro boy for a crime she herself committed. In a memorable jailhouse scene, Davis attempts to cajole and manipulate this boy to confess to it – a scene she plays well, as does the boy. Davis had found the actor, Ernest Anderson, as a waiter in the Warner’s commissary, saw his quality, and got Huston to use him; Anderson went on to have a long acting career. The handling of the negro truth has a moving first-time ever quality that rings true still.

His mother is played by Hattie McDaniel, and it is interesting to see her well-matched in a key scene opposite Olivia de Havilland. Both women were up for supporting Oscars for Gone With The Wind, and when McDaniel won it, de Havilland fled to the ladies’ room in a weeping rage. A friend shook her and said to her that McDaniel would never have another chance to win an Oscar and that de Havilland would, and it brought her to her senses. And here the two women are, face to face, filmed by Ernest Haller once again, while a score by that same Max Steiner strums by.

Olivia de Havilland gives a subtle, strong reading of Davis’ sister. Never in competition with Davis, because her instrument is essentially lyrical, the small telling registrations of her face bring this good woman to life fully. She’s wonderful to watch. She presents a formidable antagonist to Davis. It is one of de Havilland’s most fully realized characterizations.

But it is Davis’s film. Her leading men, Dennis Morgan and the penguin actor George Brent form part of a strong supporting cast which includes Lee Patrick as the care-free friend, and Frank Craven and Billie Burke as the parents. But it is Davis’ scenes with Charles Coburn that are exemplary of Davis acting at her best. Davis had more brass than a doorknocker and she and Coburn come alive to one another whenever they are together, because Coburn has brass too. Their incest scene on the couch is one for the books.

Bette Davis played The Brat for years: Jezebel, Of Human Bondage, The Letter, Dark Victory, Mr. Skeffingon, Elizabeth And Essex, The Little Foxes, and this is her quintessential take on it, and not to be missed. The title comes from the last line of a poem of George Meredith from Modern Love, a book inspired by his wife’s running off with another man. In In This Our Life, Bette runs off with another man. She also runs off with the picture.

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