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Category: Missing Title Reviews

Thunderbolt (1929)

Thunderbolt (1929)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Guide for the Film Fanatic title; click here to read more.]

“There’s a dame behind every guy in this joint.”

Thunderbolt Poster

Synopsis:
A wanted gangster named “Thunderbolt” (George Bancroft) refuses to let go of his long-time moll (Fay Wray), even though she’s in love with a hard-working banker (Richard Arlen) who wants to marry her. Bancroft eventually gets sent to jail, and is soon joined by Arlen, who has been framed for murder — but will Bancroft confess to playing a part in Arlen’s unjust imprisonment before he’s put to death?

Genres:

  • Fay Wray Films
  • Framed
  • Gangsters
  • George Bancroft Films
  • Josef von Sternberg Films
  • Obsessive Love
  • Prisoners

Review:
Made between The Docks of New York (1928) and The Blue Angel (1930), this Josef von Sternberg flick — starring Oscar-nominated George Bancroft — isn’t listed in Peary’s GFTFF, but is mentioned in his Alternate Oscars, which is why I’m quickly reviewing it here. Unfortunately, it deserves its status as a “Missing Title”: there’s little here to keep one’s attention or interest, other than occasional evidence of von Sternberg’s visual talent. As noted in Time Out’s review, the director’s “first talkie suffers from painfully slow pacing, poor performances, and gobbets of excruciating sentimentality.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography
    Thunderbolt Nightclub
    Thunderbolt Cinematography

Must See?
No; skip this one unless you’re a diehard von Sternberg completist.

Links:

Baby Face (1933)

Baby Face (1933)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Guide for the Film Fanatic title; click here to read more.]

“What’s going to become of you? It’s up to you to decide.”
George Brent FIlms

Baby Face Poster

Synopsis:
Inspired by a philosophy-spouting mentor (Alphonse Ethier) and accompanied by her servant (Theresa Harris), an ambitious young woman (Barbara Stanwyck) climbs her way out of poverty and into the arms of increasingly influential men — eventually becoming embroiled in a fatal love triangle that sends her to Paris, where she romances a wealthy playboy (George Brent).

Genres:

  • Barbara Stanwyck Films
  • Femmes Fatales
  • George Brent Films
  • Social Climbers
  • Strong Females

Review:
It’s truly puzzling that Peary neglects to include this acknowledged Pre-Code classic — one of the primary movies cited as motivation for enforcement of the Production Code — in either his GFTFF or Alternate Oscars. The smartly scripted, swiftly moving storyline shows us in no uncertain terms how easily men-in-power can be manipulated through sex, flattery, and outright deception. (“She climbed the ladder of success – wrong by wrong!” barks the original tagline.) Stanwyck’s powerhouse performance grounds and propels the film: she portrays a woman so embittered by mistreatment as a young girl — when she was prostituted by her abusive father (Robert Barrat) — that her sole purpose in life has become the attainment of material security at any cost. We do see a single glint of humanity poking through her serpentine veneer, as demonstrated by her loyalty to Harris — an indication that all hope for redemption is not completely lost; yet this is essentially a tale of a ruthless vamp, the type of woman “ordinary” females have every right to fear, given that she’s playing by an entirely different set of rules.

Note: A fully restored version of Baby Face was uncovered in a Library of Congress film vault in Dayton, Ohio in 2004; click here to read more about the differences between the two releases.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Barbara Stanwyck as Lily
    Baby Face Stanwyck
  • Orry-Kelly’s costumes
    Baby Face Costumes
    Baby Face Orry Kelly2
  • Theresa Harris as Chico
    Baby Face Harris
  • Fine direction by Alfred E. Green and cinematography by James Van Trees
    Baby Face Direction3
    Baby Face Direction
    Baby Face Direction2
  • Plenty of zingy Pre-Code sass:

    Brent: “I’m sure your apartment is attractive.”
    Stanwyck: “I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed.”

    Baby Face Legs

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable classic of the Pre-Code era — and for Stanwyck’s Oscar-worthy performance.

Categories

Links:

Min and Bill (1930)

Min and Bill (1930)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“Now you listen to me, you gutter rat! You or nobody else is gonna ruin that kid’s chances! No sir!”

Min and Bill Poster

Synopsis:
The owner (Marie Dressler) of a waterfront hotel encourages her adopted “daughter” (Dorothy Jordan) to leave and create a better life for herself — but will Jordan’s alcoholic birth-mother (Marjorie Rambeau) interfere with her newfound happiness?

Genres:

  • Marie Dressler Films
  • Strong Females
  • Suffering Mothers
  • Wallace Beery Films

Review:
Peary doesn’t include this early talkie — a gritty Stella Dallas-like weeper, based on a script by Frances Marion — in his GFTFF, but he lists it in his Alternate Oscars, where he nominates Dressler as one of the Best Actresses of the Year. He writes that it’s understandable the Academy Award that year went to Dressler “for her tough but softhearted waterfront saloonkeeper” — though he accurately argues that “her part [is] one-dimensional”, given that she plays “a sourpuss for an entire film”. Indeed, Dressler’s role here is both thankless and inconsistent: at first, she seems to be capitalizing on Jordan’s convenient labor to help her run her hotel (rather than sending her to school), then suddenly uses questionably harsh tactics in forcing her away from home — yet she’s meant to be viewed as a secretly loving and selfless mother-figure, someone so fiercely protective of Jordan’s ultimate happiness that she’s driven to extreme measures.

Beery — “Bill” of the film’s title — doesn’t play much of a central role in the storyline, and was clearly included simply to capitalize on his and Dressler’s status at the time as top box-office attractions (!); their extremely rough-and-tumble fight with one another (when Dressler catches Beery fooling around with Rambeau) surely appealed to audience members (see the still of the original movie poster above for further evidence of this marketing slant). Rambeau’s role, meanwhile, is terribly written: she simply shows up one day in full harridan-mode, illogically demanding respect from her long-abandoned daughter. Yet despite the script’s flaws and cliches, it’s filled with plenty of enjoyably salty dialogue:

“Cut out the applesauce — just what did you say?”
“When I was young, I used to make ’em sizzle.”
“I’ve drunk everything from bug juice to rot gut.”

While it hasn’t held up well as entertainment for modern audiences, Min and Bill is worth a look for those interested in Dressler’s erstwhile popularity.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marie Dressler as Min (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
    vlcsnap-2014-04-03-14h58m59s32
  • Fine use of waterfront locales
    vlcsnap-2014-04-01-15h17m14s237

Must See?
No, though completists will likely be curious to see it simply because of Dressler’s Oscar-win.

Links:

Man You Loved to Hate, The (1979)

Man You Loved to Hate, The (1979)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“Never before had a studio so ruthlessly exercised its power over a major director.”

Man You Loved to Hate Poster

Synopsis:
Austrian emigre Erich von Stroheim becomes one of silent-era Hollywood’s most talented directors, but perfectionism and extravagance bring a halt to his promising career.

Genres:

  • Documentary
  • Movie Directors
  • Rise and Fall

Review:
Years before cable network channels such as AMC and TCM began airing biographies of famous directors and movie stars, Patrick Montgomery helmed this revealing documentary about the troubled life of Austrian emigre Erich von Stroheim, whose notorious extravagance, perfectionism, and rigidity quickly led to the demise of his directorial career. It’s both surprising and impressive to learn that von Stroheim — born simply Erich Oswald Stroheim, the son of a Jewish hatmaker — was an entirely self-made man, someone who gambled on his own talents and won (for at least a brief while). The fact that nearly all of his full-length films were butchered by studio heads and/or producers speaks to his inability to conform to the studio system, or to tailor his vision in light of pragmatic concerns; we learn, for instance, that he insisted on utilizing real caviar in an opening breakfast scene from Foolish Wives (1922), claiming that he (the character eating the caviar) would know the difference (!).

Unfortunately, while the film does an admirable job demonstrating why and how von Stroheim’s career took such a rapid nosedive, certain elements of his personal life remain frustratingly opaque. For instance, we’re told that he had a lover during many of his later years, yet he remained married until his death, and this wife — who’s interviewed for the film — doesn’t seem particularly upset; in addition, we can’t help wishing interview clips with von Stroheim himself were included (are there any? there must be). Regardless, this engaging documentary remains must-see viewing for all film fanatics, and it’s a puzzling omission from Peary’s GFTFF. Fortunately, it’s easily available for viewing these days on a Kino DVD release of Foolish Wives, as a full-length second feature.

Note: The film’s title refers to the nickname von Stroheim earned during his early years as a character actor, playing a villain — a trend he continued even as he gave himself starring roles in his own films (viz. his vile Count Karamzin in Foolish Wives, to name the most obvious example).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A revealing look at one of Hollywood’s most notorious directors
    Man You Loved to Hate Still

Must See?
Yes, as an informative overview of von Stroheim’s troubled but patchily brilliant career.

Categories

Links:

Show People (1928)

Show People (1928)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“I didn’t know that they made them that green.”

Show People Poster

Synopsis:
Accompanied by her father (Dell Henderson), a naive aspiring actress (Marion Davies) arrives in Hollywood and befriends a kind actor (William Haines) who helps her break into slapstick comedies. Soon, however, she’s lured into making “highbrow” pictures, and rejects Haines in favor of her new leading man (Paul Ralli).

Genres:

  • Aspiring Stars
  • Comedy
  • Hollywood
  • King Vidor Films
  • Marion Davies Films
  • Silent Films

Review:
Although Peary doesn’t list this King Vidor-directed silent comedy in his GFTFF, he nominates Marion Davies as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars, so I’m reviewing it briefly here. Fortunately, while Davies’ performance is indeed a lot of fun — what a gifted, no-holds-barred comedienne she was! — the film itself is also worth a look by all film fanatics, given its insightful skewering of silent-era Hollywood (it would make a great double-bill with Singin’ in the Rain). An especially delightful scene shows us Davies attempting to cry on cue, with “Hearts and Flowers” (so that infamously sentimental ditty has a name!) playing in the background, and a helpful assistant peeling onions nearby. Watch for a host of cameos by famous stars of the day — including Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Vidor himself.

Note: Show People is also of interest given the presence of William Haines, an openly gay man in early Hollywood who gave up his career when he refused L.B. Mayer’s request to engage in a “lavender” (sham) marriage to camouflage his homosexuality.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Marion Davies as Peggy
    Show People Davies
  • William Haines as Billy Boone
    Show People Haines
  • Peggy’s strained attempt to produce tears
    Show People Crying
    Show People Crying2
  • A fun skewering of silent-era Hollywood
    Show People Hollywood

Must See?
Yes, for Davies’ performance, and as a fun Hollywood satire.

Categories

Links:

Sadie Thompson (1928)

Sadie Thompson (1928)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“Sadie Thompson, you are an evil woman!”

Sadie Thompson Poster

Synopsis:
A fun-loving woman (Gloria Swanson) fleeing from San Francisco arrives in Pago-Pago, where a judgmental missionary (Lionel Barrymore) tries to convince her to repent her sins, and a handsome soldier (Raoul Walsh) tempts her with the prospect of a new life in Australia.

Genres:

  • Gloria Swanson Films
  • Lionel Barrymore Films
  • Literature Adaptation
  • Morality Police
  • Prostitutes and Gigolos
  • Raoul Walsh Films
  • Silent Films
  • South Sea Islands

Review:
W. Somerset Maugham’s short story “Rain” was adapted for the screen three times — most famously in 1932 with Joan Crawford, and later as Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) with Rita Hayworth. However, this early silent version — directed by and co-starring Raoul Walsh — remains worth a look on its own merits, both as an atmospheric adaptation of the story, and for Swanson’s iconic performance as Sadie. As I noted in my review of Cecil B. DeMille’s Male and Female (1919), Peary only includes three Gloria Swanson titles in his GFTFF, none of which portray her at her silent-era best — this title, I think, fits that bill. Given that Peary nominates both Swanson and Barrymore (nicely epitomizing moral hypocrisy) in his Alternate Oscars, it seems especially suitable to include here as a “missing must-see” title; however, be forewarned that its final reel is missing. Check out Wikipedia’s article to read more about the film’s troubled birth and production history.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gloria Swanson as Sadie (nominated by both Peary and the official Academy as Best Actress of the Year)
    Sadie Thompson Swanson
  • Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Davidson
    Sadie Thompson Barrymore
  • Fine cinematography
    Sadie Thompson Cinematography

Must See?
Yes, simply to see Swanson’s Oscar-nominated performance, and for its general historical interest.

Categories

Links:

Private Lives (1931)

Private Lives (1931)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“It was lovely — at the beginning…”

Private Lives Poster

Synopsis:
A recently divorced couple (Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery) encounter each other while on honeymoon with their new spouses (Reginald Denny and Una Merkel), and decide to give their failed marriage another chance.

Genres:

  • Marital Problems
  • Newlyweds
  • Norma Shearer Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Robert Montgomery Films
  • Romantic Comedy

Review:
Peary doesn’t review this pre-Code adaptation of Noel Coward’s best-known play (part of the “comedy of remarriage” subgenre) in his GFTFF, but he does nominate Norma Shearer as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars — thus, I’m reviewing it as a potential Missing Title. However, despite positive reviews both at the time of its release (Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times referred to it as “a swift and witty picture”) and more recently (TV Guide writes that “the acting is excellent, and the result is charming”), I find it difficult to see the appeal of either the story or the characters. We know from the beginning that Montgomery and Shearer are one of “those couples” — and we all know at least one — who simultaneously adore and detest one another (see my recent review of Two For the Road for another example), and will remain together through giddy thick or acrimonious thin; but it’s our sorry luck as viewers to have to sit through their tiresome series of fights and make-ups. Clearly, fans of Coward and/or Shearer will want to search this one out, but it isn’t must-see for all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Norma Shearer as Amanda Prynne
    Private Lives Shearer

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for Shearer’s performance.

Links:

Stolen Life, A (1946)

Stolen Life, A (1946)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“Your sister’s a very dangerous woman, Katie! She could worm the secrets right out of a sphinx.”

Synopsis:
An aspiring artist named Kate (Bette Davis) falls in love with a lighthouse engineer (Glenn Ford), and is devastated when her identical twin sister Patricia (also Bette Davis) seduces him away from her. When Patricia dies in a boating accident, Kate decides to impersonate her, hoping to win back Ford’s love.

Genres:

  • Bette Davis Films
  • Glenn Ford Films
  • Mistaken Identities
  • Romance
  • Twins

Review:
While Peary lists no less than 28 Bette Davis films in his GFTFF, he nonetheless leaves out several notable titles — including this cult favorite, the first of two films in which Davis was given an opportunity to play identical twins with opposing personalities (the other was Dead Ringer, made in 1964). Naturally, Davis runs away with the material here, effectively convincing viewers that humble Kate and boldly assertive Patricia are radically different women despite possessing similar hairstyles and overall appearances (Davis’s choice). The storyline is melodramatic in the extreme — when is a tale about identical twins not melodramatic in some way? — but remains absorbing from start to finish, thanks not only to Davis’s standout portrayals, but to fine use of rocky outdoor locales (with California’s shoreline standing in for Cape Cod), remarkable Oscar-nominated special effects, and a solid leading-man performance by Ford. This one is an enjoyable treat.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bette Davis as Kate/Patricia

  • Glenn Ford as Bill
  • Effective use of outdoor locales
  • Fine split-screen special effects

Must See?
Yes, for Davis’s tour-de-force dual performances.

Categories

Links:

Great McGinty, The (1940)

Great McGinty, The (1940)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Guide for the Film Fanatic title; click here to read more.]

“You’ve got to understand, honey: no man is strong enough to buck the party, no matter how much he wants to make his wife happy.”

Synopsis:
A homeless man (Brian Donlevy) hired by a crime boss (Akim Tamiroff) to cast illegal votes quickly climbs the political ladder, becoming alderman, then mayor, then governor; but when his new wife (Muriel Angelus) encourages him to go straight, Tamiroff is anything but pleased.

Genres:

  • Character Arc
  • Flashback Films
  • Political Corruption
  • Preston Sturges Films
  • Rise-and-Fall

Review:
Notable as the first film Preston Sturges helmed himself, rather than simply scripting, The Great McGinty is a puzzling omission from Peary’s GFTFF, given that he lists or reviews all of Sturges’ other major directorial titles. In addition to being of historical interest, it remains an enjoyably pointed satire, one which clearly displays Sturges’ genius with utilizing dark humor to convey incisive political and social commentary. It’s finely acted by Donlevy (an inspired casting choice) and Tamiroff (never better), and moves along at a steady pace, neatly showing us Donlevy’s rise and fall via a strategic flashback framework (opening, closing, and intermittent scenes are set in the seedy barroom of a “Banana republic”). The moral of the story remains deeply cynical, but there’s no denying that Sturges had his pulse on the true nature of power and corruption in America. What’s most disturbing is how ultimately realistic — and modern — this story still feels. My only minor quibble with the film is how instantly forgettable Muriel Angelus is as Donlevy’s secretary-turned-wife; she’s serviceable but not much more. (Interestingly, this was her last film before she disappeared off the cinematic radar.)

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Brian Donlevy as Dan McGinty
  • Akim Tamiroff as “The Boss”
  • Sturges’ cleverly satirical script

Must See?
Yes, as Sturges’ first directorial effort.

Categories

Links:

Thief of Bagdad, The (1924)

Thief of Bagdad, The (1924)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“I am less than the slave who serves you — a wretched outcast — a thief.”

Synopsis:
In ancient Bagdad, a thief (Douglas Fairbanks) — aided by his trusted companion (Snitz Edwards) — vies against other suitors — including an Indian Prince (Noble Johnson), a Persian prince (Mathilde Comont), and an evil Mongol prince (Sojin) — to win the heart of a princess (Julanne Johnston). When his true identity is revealed, he embarks on a magical journey, while his competitors set out to seek the rarest treasure possible to bring back to the princess.

Genres:

  • Cross-Class Romance
  • Douglas Fairbanks Films
  • Fantasy
  • Raoul Walsh Films
  • Royalty and Nobility
  • Silent Films
  • Thieves and Criminals

Review:
Peary only lists two films with silent-era swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks in his GFTFFThe Mark of Zorro (1920) and The Black Pirate (1926) — thus curiously neglecting what may be Fairbanks’ most celebrated movie, The Thief of Bagdad. 40-year-old Fairbanks is at his most fit here, leaping across the screen in bare chest, clambering up and down ropes, standing on his head to shake stolen coins out of his kerchief; he perfectly embodies the title character’s scampish romanticism and unending thirst for adventure. However, it’s William Cameron Menzies’ truly astonishing sets — Baroque, fantastical environments which literally dwarf Fairbanks and his supporting cast — that make this film a must-see spectacle; combined with creative special-effects (including, of course, a flying carpet), we really feel we’ve entered into the magical world of ancient Bagdad and its environs. The film’s primary downfall is its length: at 2 hours and 20 minutes, it goes on for a bit too long; meanwhile, those offended by culturally insensitive depictions of “Asian menace” will be discouraged by the presence of sexy Anna May Wong as the evil accomplice to a Mongol despot (Sojin) with plans to take over Bagdad by force. However, it’s easy enough to ignore these concerns while marveling at the consistently innovative visuals, and appreciating just how athletically impressive Fairbanks really was.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Douglas Fairbanks as the Thief of Bagdad
  • William Cameron Menzies et al.’s truly magnificent sets and art design

  • Impressive special effects

Must See?
Yes, as an iconic silent film.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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