The second recap in my resolution to watch 50 movies made before 1950 in 2018 [see Part I]. I’m still a little behind if I want to hit 50, but I’ve got plenty of time to make up the shortfall. This time around, I continue to hit obscurities, but have also peppered in some genuine classics:
- The Thin Man (1934) – Adapted from a Dashiell Hammett novel, the story revolves around Nick and Nora Charles. Nick is a former detective who married up to Nora, a wealthy socialite. They generally spend their time drinking in speakeasies and throwing parties in their hotel. Nick is drawn into a murder mystery and, with Nora’s encouragement, takes on the case as something of a lark. The mystery itself isn’t particularly special, but Nick and Nora sure are. It’s the banter and witty dialogue that sell everything. When Nora asks if Nick has “a type” of woman, he says: “Only you darling, lanky brunettes with wicked jaws.” There are some visual gags too, like the way Nick dangles a hat as a lure. And then there’s Asta, their adorable dog which actually manages to crack the case at one point. The mystery is functional and a good base for the banter and copious amounts of alcohol. A very enjoyable flick, well worth seeking out. There were lots of sequels, which I may need to check out at some point during this little project. ***
- D.O.A. (1949) – A noir film with a pretty unique premise. A man enters a police station:
“I’d like to report a murder.”
“Who was murdered?”
It’s a nice hook, isn’t it? The rest plays out in standard noir fashion, with our hero simply attempting to figure out who murdered him (via slow-acting poison, it should be noted) and why. The steps along the way aren’t exactly groundbreaking or anything, but it’s nice to see a non-standard noir premise, even if it’s played out in typical ways. I think my favorite thing about this is that the premise reminds me of the Jason Statham Crank films (and any of a number of other “ticking clock” premised movies). As of right now, it’s on Amazon Prime, and worth a spin for noir fans. **1/2
- Paradise Canyon (1935) – Early B-grade John Wayne western about a man who goes undercover in a medicine show to bust a counterfeiting ring. The medicine in question is Dr. Carter’s Famous Indian Remedy, a 90% ABV elixer that would cure lots of things, like having an esophagus. Pretty bog standard stuff, but short and sweet, and diverting enough for what it is. I kept getting struck by various details (such as the aforementioned elixer). They also do this thing where instead of shooting people, they just shoot their horses. Ultimately nothing special, and the transfer that’s floating around on streaming/cable isn’t anything special, but it’s not a complete waste of time. Damning with faint praise, I guess, but here we are. **
- Foreign Correspondent (1940) – Hitchcock tale about a reporter seeking to expose enemy agents in London. Along the way, we get an assassination, a spy ring is uncovered, and naturally, our hero falls in love. I’d like to promise you that one of these 50 Under 50 posts won’t contain a Hitchcock flick, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep that promise. As these things go, this is also pretty minor Hitchcock, but as per usual, minor Hitchcock is still pretty good. Hitch has a knack for elevating what would normally be a mundane 40s spy thriller. The romance is a bit flimsy and there’s some clumsy exposition and all-too-convenient plot happenings here or there, but it’s otherwise pretty good stuff. Some decent set pieces at the windmill and cathedral, but the real visual standout is the assassination sequence with a sea of black umbrellas. Still probably only of major interest to Hitchcock completists, it’s somewhere in the middle of his oeuvre. **1/2
- Stagecoach (1939) – John Ford western about a group of travelers on the titular stagecoach. The travelers represent a microcosm of society, illustrating class struggles and various prejudices. The stagecoach is threatened by native Americans, but despite a solid set piece, the film ultimately boils down to the relationship between John Wayne’s Ringo Kid and Claire Trevor’s Dallas. Speaking of which, the zooming reveal of John Wayne is a ludicrous classic.
Apparently you can pinpoint the moment when John Wayne went from popular actor to utter superstar, and that’s the one. I could quibble about some pacing issues and the insta-romance between Wayne and Trevor’s characters, but there’s lots to chew on here. I’m not an expert in the genre and this isn’t my favorite, but it does seem like it’s an important one, for what it’s worth. ***
- Babes in Toyland (1934) – A story that weaves various Mother Goose nursery rhymes into a Christmas-themed musical. Laurel and Hardy are solid, but they feel shoehorned into the story and there’s too many other characters and song and dance numbers (a personal bugaboo, not really something to fault the movie for, I guess, but these didn’t really grab me at all) and whatnot for them to overcome. The finale with the whole “march of the wooden soldiers” bit is neat, but again not quite enough to make up for the rest. **
- Sullivan’s Travels (1941) – In search of inspiration, a filmmaker goes on the road with only a shabby outfit and a dime in his pocket, looking to connect with the common man or somesuch. Along the way, he meets Veronica Lake and of course, falls in love with her. At first, I was a little unsure about this guy’s plan. He keeps getting rescued at the faintest hint of difficulty, something that he was ostensibly trying to explore. But the film eventually gets to where it needs to with a cleverly plotted mishap (and solution). Lots of great bits here. There’s a prescient scene in a movie theater, indicating that thoughtless patrons were always a thing. One of Sullivan’s butlers gives a great speech on the nature of the poor. The skewering of Hollywood tropes is fun (“With a little sex in it.”) Makes me want to watch the Coens’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? to spot the references. Witty dialog abounds, including something I will use for the rest of my days: “I don’t like musicals, they hurt my ears.” Lake is wonderful in the movie and I’ve already got a couple more of her movies in the queue for future 50 Under 50 viewing. Definitely worth watching. ***
More to come!