Sunday, October 22, 2023

Heroes for Sale

Heroes for Sale

Directed by
William Wellman
Written by Robert Lord, Wilson Mizner
Strring Richard Barthelmess, Aline MacMahon, Loretta Young, Gordon Westcott, Charley Grapewin, Robert Barrat
IMDB Entry

Sometimss pre-code movies could be exceptionally dark. Heroes for Sale certainly fits this description, and also confounds audience expectations even today.

It begins during World War I. Tom Holmes (Richard Barthelmess) is part of a platoon ordered to capture a German solder. When is friend Roger Winston (Gordon Westcott) freezes and refuses to leave a foxhole, Tom goes out and accomplishes the mission, but is shot when returning the soldier to Roger, who is celebrated for his bravery in bringing the man back. Tom is found by the Germans and nursed back to health but develops a morphine habit. Roger, feeling guilty over his unearned adulation, helps get Tom a job in his father's bank, but when the habit is discovered, Tom is fired and goes into rehab.

Once clean, Tom rents a room from Pa Dennis (Charlie Grapewin) and his daughter Mary. He also meets Ruth Loring (Loretta Young), who helps him get a job at the commercial laundry where she works. Tom is given more responsibility and pay by the kindly owner Mr. Gibson (Grant Mitchell). He also sees an invention for an improved laundry device by the inventor Max Brinker (Robert Barrat) who is a committed Red. Tom implements the new device and marries Ruth; soon she has a baby boy.

Then tragedy strikes. Mr. Gibson dies and the new ownership takes over. Gibson has promised that no one would be fired because of Tom's new device.  The new owners ignore that. Despite Tom's trying to stop them, the fired workers riot. Tom is trying to stop it, but is mistaken for one of the rioters and, far worse, Ruth is killed.

Tom is sent to jail. When he gets out, he is marked as a Red. At the same time, he had been receiving royalties for the use of his invention. He gives the money to Mary and her father, to run a soup kitchen, feeding hundreds who have lost jobs due to the Depression. Mary also raises Tom's son. Tom is kicked out of town and goes from city to city, trying to find work.  It ends, however, on a hopeful note.

I've been more detailed in my usual description because the movie deserves more analysis. Tom is constantly getting the short end of the stick but still manages to keep a positive attitude. Audiences were probably shocked when Ruth died, and also surprised that Mary and Tom didn't become a couple.

Richard Barthelmess was a major silent film star, appearing for D.W. Griffith in Broken Blossoms and Way Down East, and becoming a heartthrob. His career faded as he grew older and he quit films in 1942.

This was early in Loretta Young's extensive career, which included an Oscar for The Farmer's Daughter.  Aline MacMahon also worked for decades, usually as a wisecracking character actress, a role that describes her here, though she turns more serious as the movie goes on. She also was part of the inaugural class of Method actors, and the first to appear in film. Charley Grapewin also worked regularly, notably as Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz.

Wilson Mizner, who co-wrote the screenplay, was renowned as one of Hollywood's greatest wits. There are several lines (given by MacMahon) that show some of this, but this is not a comedy.

Director William Wellman was a major success, with an Oscar for the script of A Star is Born and three other nominations. 

Thursday, October 12, 2023

In Memory of Keith Giffen

 Ambush Bug

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Vinland Saga

Vinland Saga 

Directed by 
Shūhei Yabuta
Written by Hiroshi Seko, Kenta Ihara, based on a Manga by  Makoto Yukimura 
IMDB Entry

I don't watch much manga or anime, but when someone recommended Vinland Saga, I decided to see what it was about. It turned out to be well worth looking for.

It's based on a manga by Makoto Yukimura and follows Thorin, living in Iceland and son of the great Viking warrior Thors. His father is called to join the ruler, but it turns out to be a trap, and Thors is killed while Thorin watches. Thorin vows revenge on Askeladd, the warrior who trapped him and, with nowhere else to go, he is taken on by Askeladd as something of a mascot. The young boy learns how to fight, with an eye to challenging him to a duel and killing him. Askeladd a mercenary, fights for the Danish king Sweyn and the Danish mercenary Thorkell, who is fighting for the English against Sweyn's invasion. There's also the issue of Canute, king Sweyn's son, who plays into Askeladd's plans.

The star of the show is Askeladd. He's a Viking warrior who is smart, treacherous, devious, willing to use anyone to get what he wants. Yet, despite this, he's a fascinating character. Indeed, many of the episodes focus on him, with Thorin, nominally the main character, barely plays a part.*

Thorin is a bit one-dimensional, defined by his revenges, but Askeladd is fascinating, and the story arc of Canute is surprising and emotionally strong.

The show is violent and filled with battle scenes, but the story is compelling from start to finish. It's available on Netflix.

*Neither does Vinland. It's mentioned early on (by Leif Ericksson) but not much afterwards.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Front Page

The Front Page
Directed by
Louis Milestone
Written by Bartlett Cormack, Charles Lederer, based on the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
Starring Adolphe Menjou, Pat O'Brien, Mary Brian, Edward Everett Horton, Mae Clark, Walter Catlett, Frank McHugh, George E. Stone
IMDB Entry

 The Front Page is a classic play about newspapermen in Chicago that was turned into the just as classic movie His Girl Friday, which switched the gender of one of the main characters. There was also a 1974 remake starring Walter Matthau (perfect casting) and Jack Lemmon as well as other adaptations. But the original was made in 1931 and still holds up very well.

The city of Chicago is about to execute Earl Williams (George E. Stone) for killing a cop, and much of the action takes place in the press room waiting for the fatal hour. It's filled with a motley crew of reporters who are cynical to a fault. They also talk about Hildy Johnson (Pat O'Brien) who is of high regard* and whose editor, Walter Burns (Adolphe Menjou), keeps calling to find out where he is. Turns out Johnson is engaged to Peggy Grant (Mary Brien) and is leaving on a train to New York, where he had a job waiting for him in advertising.  When Williams escapes, Johnson, who is visiting the press room to say goodbye, lucks into the story of his life.

Most of the movie is filled with sharp dialogue as the reporters make their cynical comments on the execution, seeing it as a political ploy to win an election and pointing out the incompetence of the police in trying to find him.  

Comparing it to His Girl Friday, it is much the same.  Howard Hawks didn't change the setup, only changing what was necessary to create the relationship between Burns and Johnson. Menjou is not Cary Grant, but he was at the time similarly regarded as the epitome of sophistication and wit. It's hard to pick who was better.  O'Brien can't really be compared, but he is fine as the reporter torn between his sweetheart and the excitement of his job.   Edward Everett Horton plays the prissy Bensinger, a hypochondriac who would rather write poetry.

Much of the dialog was reused for His Girl Friday; Hawks and his writer Charles Lederer (with Hecht contributing) knew not to mess with a good thing. I was particularly surprised to see that Johnson refers to Williams -- hiding in a roll-top desk -- as "mock turtle." Grant used the line, too, and I had thought it was an in-joke** referring to his role in the 1933 Alice in Wonderland. Grant must have liked the reference, though.

I was especially interested in what they would do with the final last line, the brilliant "That son-of-a-bitch stole my watch." It could not be used in the Hawks's remake since the Hays Office would never allow it. But Menjou delivers it just as written, accidentally banging against a typewriter to slightly obscure the word "bitch."  Even before the code, there were limits.

*It's fairly common for plays to talk about the main character before they come on stage.

**His Girl Friday is full of them.

*I have noticed that many plays begins by people talking about the main character before their entrance.