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Dishonored
(1931)

Color Me Confused
I was pretty excited about the prospects of "Dishonored." Austria wanted to use a female spy to help them expose one of their own. The fact that a nation was willing to put convention to the side in order to get the intel they needed was novel, bold, and commendable. Then the whole thing went left.

It was 1915 during The Great War aka WWI and Marie Kolverer (Marlene Dietrich) was recruited by the Austrian army to find out who was giving state secrets to the Russians. As her recruiter (Gustav von Seyffertitz) put it:

"There are times in my work when a man's brain cannot accomplish as much as a woman's charm."

It wasn't exactly flattering, but OK.

Marie accepted the position and was given the code name X27. She found the Austrian traitor in short order then set her sights on the Russian spy. She found the Russian spy named Colonel Kranau (Victor McLaglen) still on Austrian soil, but she couldn't capture or kill him.

Her next mission was to go to Russia and spy. She successfully gathered intel in Russia, but was then caught by Col. Kranau largely because of a cat she carried with her. The cat was a dead give away, but she proclaimed that it gave her luck. It must've had some luck to it because after sleeping with Kranau she slipped him a sedative that allowed her to get away.

The score is now 1-1 for those keeping count. Kranau got away on Austrian soil and Marie got away on Russian soil. Now we go to sudden death.

If you're asking yourself why she slept with Kranau, you're not alone. I, too, wondered why she slept with him. Was it because she fell in love? Was it because it was exciting? Was it to make him more vulnerable? Or was it what she was expected to do for her country? I don't know and it was hard to know from Marie's behavior. Marie was impassive the entire movie. She never showed a single emotion other than ambivalence from beginning to end. It didn't matter if she was trying to be seductive, tough, or coy--she had the same mode of speech and mannerisms.

Whatever the reason was that she slept with Kranau I thought it was an incredible blow to her character individually and women in general. It was already asserted that a woman could get further with her charm; I was half expecting her to prove that she could get a lot further with her brain. Sleeping with the enemy was an insult, as if a female spy will resort to sex because she can't resist a handsome powerful man.

The war went on a bit longer and Kranau was captured by the Austrian army. The only one who knew who he was was Marie. She outed him as a spy and he was summarily sentenced to death.

Marie asked for permission to speak to him because perhaps she could get him to talk. The Austrian brass didn't believe she could, but they gave her ten minutes with him anyway.

Then she helped him escape.

The score is now 2-1 Russia (or 2-1 Kranau if you prefer).

At this point I'm totally befuddled and I'm pretty perturbed. How... why... wha...? What is she doing? What is going on here? What did I miss? And again, Marie gave away nothing in her words or behavior. She was just as impassive as she was in the opening scene.

When asked by the Austrian army why she helped him escape, she said, "Perhaps I loved him."

When the court refused to accept that as an answer she nonchalantly said, "I suppose I'm no good."

Her answers were infuriating to say the least. And her smug behavior only made her answers more infuriating. Her attitude and her answers said, "You don't deserve a reason and I'm not giving one," but it didn't add up.

The movie began with her calling the police on a man she thought was trying to harm Austria, so it was made apparent that she loved her country. So, to then let a notorious spy escape didn't jibe. Did she really fall in love with Kranau or did she become disenchanted with her country? If it was the former, then it was again an incredible insult to women. If it was the latter, they did a horrible job conveying that.

If it was that she fell in love, then the movie is proclaiming that women can't be trusted to do important work around men because they will fall in love. Now, to be fair, the men she used were equally guilty of falling short in their duties due to their lust for a woman, but that will always be overlooked. The fact is that she represented all women at the time of her service and she did a disservice.

If it was a case that she became disenchanted with her country, then why and at what point? What was done to her by her country to make her have such negative feelings towards Austria? I want answers!

The court martial charged her with treason, she gave no defense, and she was sentenced to death. Right before a lieutenant was set to give the command to fire he threw down his sword and shouted, "I will not kill a woman!"

It was pathetic.

This movie was already trouncing on gender roles and they went so far as to make it ungentlemanly to kill a woman even if she's guilty of treason. A man guilty of treason, sure use every bullet in your arsenal; a woman guilty of treason, "Oh! I dare not," as though somehow a woman's treason is less dangerous or more excusable.

This movie took an excellent premise and sharted on it. It had the potential to be significant and good, yet inexplicably they threw it away. What began as a promising movie was squandered and without any explanation. Marie was such a mercurial character and we were never allowed to know why. If I just knew more of her backstory, more of what made her tick, then maybe her behavior throughout would've made some sense. But instead they left us ignorant, which essentially left us to our own suppositions as to who and what she was and I suppose she was just a woman who didn't care much about anything or anyone, not even herself.

Free on Internet Archive.

A Free Soul
(1931)

Look Where Your Indiscretion Got You
The first time I get to see Clark Gable in a prominent role and he's a gangster. I'm not mad though.

Clark Gable played Ace Wilfong, a gangster who was acquitted of murder. Representing him was a lush of a lawyer named Stephen Ashe (Lionel Barrymore). Steven Ashe was a single father who was rather liberal with his daughter's upbringing. Their relationship was barely that of father and daughter, it was more like two friends and at times it sounded as if they were lovers. Steven's liberality with his daughter Jan (Norma Shearer) was a bone of contention with the rest of his very aristocratic family; but Jan nor Mr. Ashe cared a bit about their opinions.

Just to throw her free-spirit in the face of her family, Jan went out with Ace, a man who was hardly Ashe material. It was a slight to her kin and an even bigger slight to her fiance, Dwight Winthrop (Leslie Howard). Jan didn't want to marry Ace, she just wanted to play. She was determined to live her life the way she wanted regardless of the consequences. Not even being shot at on her first outing with Ace made her turn away. If anything it excited her more. She began sneaking around with Ace steadily and pretty much kicked Dwight to the curb.

When Ace told Stephen that he wanted to marry his daughter Stephen was dead set against it, and I had a case of deja vu. Didn't I already see this?

Oh yes! Lionel Barrymore was in another movie in 1931 in which he played a lawyer of a client who wanted to marry his daughter, and from whom he wanted to protect his young daughter. "Guilty Hands" was the name of that flick.

So, here we were again with Lionel Barrymore in the role of protector for a free-spirited and adventurous daughter he fawned over and dared not upset with things like rules, orders, or ultimatums.

Stephen was devastated when Jan told him that she was just as into Ace as he was into her, but he was powerless to do anything about it.

The movie wrapped up with a dramatic courtroom scene that was more theatrics than it was law. Dwight was on trial for killing Ace after Ace essentially threatened to kidnap Jan if she turned him down. It was a premeditated murder by any definition. Dwight went to Ace's gambling hideout and shot him dead. Did Ace deserve it? Yes. Was it murder? Yes, but how would the jury see it?

Stephen, after being MIA for months, was dug up from the gutters of San Francisco to help represent Dwight in court. Stephen gave an impassionate closing argument in which he explained that if anyone was to be blamed for Ace's murder it should be himself for not being an adequate father. Then he dropped dead right there in the court as though it was all part of his speech in a bold attempt to sway the jury. His passionate speech was just that, a speech. It wasn't evidence and it shouldn't have been viewed as such, but it was enough for the gullible jury to acquit Dwight.

Dwitght was guilty as sin, and what's more, he admitted to killing Ace! To be perfectly honest, I don't even know what the trial was about since he had admitted guilt. Did Dwight deserve the death penalty or a life sentence? No, but he certainly shouldn't have walked because that sent all the wrong messages.

"You can kill so long as the guy deserved it."

"You can kill so long as you're killing for a woman who had no mother growing up."

"You can kill so long as you're killing for a woman who had a drunk as a father."

Jan made her bed, it was for her to lie in. She played it carefree and loose her whole life until her indiscretion got her into a real jam. But no bother, she's a pretty lady, there will be some man to come along and rescue her. What a terrible message.

2.99 on most platforms.

City Streets
(1931)

A Nice Combination
A little bit of romance and a little bit of gangsterism. A nice combination. Gary Cooper plays the good guy again, but at least he has a little bit of mud on himself this time.

Gary Cooper plays The Kid, a sharp shooting carnival employee who got mixed up with the mob when his sweetheart, Nan Cooley (Sylvia Sidney), went to prison.

You couldn't find a better woman than Nan if you were inclined towards criminal behavior. She did a stretch for her father (Guy Kibbee) when he gave her a hot gun to toss in the river. She did her bid like a champ, though her old man was a grade A chump for letting his baby girl go down for his crime.

When she got out she was through with the mob. She was understandably bent out of shape at the way they let her take the fall and didn't do anything to help her. Unfortunately, when she got out her beau was all in. He'd moved up the mob ranks and was living the good life. It wasn't something he ever intended to do, but he got suckered into it by Pop Cooley.

Nan got out and immediately The Big Fellow Maskal (Paul Lukas), the mob boss, had eyes on her. This was bad news for The Kid and Nan because he would bump off The Kid if that's what it took to be with Nan. It was a tough spot for Nan and the Kid even though the Kid was a tough guy.

A movie is always better when you like the characters and I liked The Kid as well as Nan, and I liked them together--which automatically made me dislike the Big Fella. This movie had some drama that was a bit more than the average movie of that age. I knew I wasn't going to see a Kaiser Sozay situation where the Kid eliminates everyone, so I was anxious to see just how he'd handle protecting his girl.

Free on Internet Archive.

The Easiest Way
(1931)

Emotional Maturity of a Teenager
The easiest way isn't always the best way. Laura Murdock (Constance Bennett) found that out the hard way.

Laura was a "tenement girl." She was a young lady who wasn't from money. She lived in a two bedroom apartment with her entire family. She worked at a department store for a little scratch and had to use it to help out the household.

This was one element of the movie I liked. There were so many high-society movies in the 30's it was refreshing to see regular folks. That's not to say no wealthy people were featured in this movie, because the co-star, Adolphe Menjou, was just that.

Laura was given a way out of her situation when the wealthy owner/president/CEO of an ad agency named William Brockton (Adolphe Menjou) took interest in her. Once she started dating him she was flush with cash and gifts which gave her the ability to send money home. Her father ate it up while her mother and her sister's husband despised her for it. She wasn't married to the man, she was a high priced adornment.

That seemed to change when she met Jack Madison (Robert Montgomery), an upstart reporter. The two met in Colorado and fell in love. After ten days together they were madly in love and practically betrothed. Jack wanted Laura to ditch Brockton and give back all of his gifts. Furthermore, he wanted Laura to stay true to him while he went to South America for a few months on assignment and Laura agreed.

This is where the movies of that era get me--the rapidity in which two people fall in love and change their entire lives for someone. They spent ten days together and Jack expected Laura to wait three months for him. I know love is an emotional thing that can't be quantified, but do the math.

Know someone for ten days. Expect her to wait for you for three months. It doesn't even equate.

Honestly, what does she know about Jack? What could she possibly know about Jack in all of ten days? Not much. All she knew was that she loved him and I'd even question that. The characters of that era had the emotional maturity of teenagers. They fell in love too quickly and, worse still, based all of their knowledge and assumptions of a person on the fact they loved them.

So, while Jack was presumably working hard in South America being a newspaperman Laura was back home in New York starving. She couldn't go back home because her mother was so mortified by her and she couldn't stay with her sister Peg (Anita Page) because her husband didn't want that element around. So Laura hocked any and everything to survive since she left Brockton.

When she hit rock bottom she went back to Brockton. She hadn't heard from Jack in weeks and she was on the verge of being homeless. Sure, she could've gotten two or three jobs to make ends meet, but she took "the easiest way."

She asked Brockton for a loan that she swore she'd pay back. Brockton said that he would not give her a loan but that he'd take her back. This is where her love for Jack was supposed to give her the strength needed to resist Brockton and stay faithful, even if it meant being a homeless beggar.

That didn't happen. Laura was hungry, Brockton had food.

When Jack finally breezed back into town he was ready to pick up where he and Laura left off. You could imagine his mood when he saw that Laura was back to being taken care of by her sugar daddy. It bears repeating: the emotional maturity of a teenager.

You knew this woman for ten days. Ten whole days. And you expected her to patiently wait for you in squalor until you came back from your excursion? What could you have possibly known about her after ten days and how could you possibly expect her to wait for you for three months?

Jack felt like he was played for a sucker and they broke up. Despondent, Laura left Brockton. In the end she was finally accepted in her sister's home. It wasn't quite happily ever after, but it ended with hope for Laura that one day Jack would come back and tear up the town looking for her. In other words, it ended on a pipe dream.

Free on YouTube.

Quick Millions
(1931)

Another 1931 Gangster Movie
With the help of IMDb I can see my ratings of movies grouped by year as well as an average for the given year. So far 1931 is coming up the rear averaging 5.39 for the 28 movies I've seen from that year. "Quick Millions" isn't going to help that average any.

"Quick Millions" is another gangster movie from 1931. Add it to the list including "Public Enemy," "Little Caesar," and "Smart Money." Every gangster movie is about a rise from nothing to prominence and then an unceremonious end.

Daniel J. 'Bugs' Raymond (Spencer Tracy) was the featured hoodlum in this movie. He began as a lowly truck driver and with "a little bit of nerve" he found a way to use his trucking as a means of extortion. He then kept climbing the gangster ladder until he was able to shakedown millionaires.

The movie was too poorly edited to really enjoy. It jumped from scene to scene too abruptly and it would jump into what could be considered the middle of the next scene. Scenes need context provided by dialogue or imagery that gives the viewer the necessary information to know what's going on and why. Things were happening so fast that I didn't know what was happening, I just knew that Bugs was moving up in the world.

Free on YouTube.

The Front Page
(1931)

The Problem with Having Two Loves
Before seeing "The Front Page" I watched "His Girl Friday" (1940) starring Cary Grant, which was the same movie except the role of Hildy Johnson went to Rosalind Russell.

"The Front Page" suffered from what many movies of that age suffered from: poor quality. Because of the poor sound it was very difficult to make out everything that was said, especially with how fast they were talking. Because I'd seen "His Girl Friday" I knew what was going on already, in spite of not picking up everything that was said.

Hildy Johnson (Pat O'Brien) was a newspaperman who was calling it quits. He aimed to marry Peggy Grant (Mary Brian) and move to New York. His only challenge was getting out of town before his boss, Walter Burns (Adolphe Manjou), could get his hooks into him again. Hildy loved Peggy, but he also loved the newspaper biz, and if he didn't make a quick getaway it wouldn't take much to have him camped in front of a Corona hammering out a story.

Hildy couldn't get as far as the train station before he was drawn in by a current event. A man named Earl Williams (George E. Stone) was set to be executed and all the reporters were covering it. Hildy postured like he was walking away from it all, but a shocking event kept him tied down a little longer.

It would be fast talking and shenanigans from then on as The Morning Post tried to get the scoop and Walter Burns and Peggy battled for Hildy's heart and body.

Free with Amazon Prime.

Little Caesar
(1931)

Not About Pizza
As I was watching "Little Caesar" I kept having the feeling that I'd seen the main character, Caesar 'Rico' Bandello (Edward G. Robinson), before. Yes, Edward G. Robinson played a similar role in "Smart Money" (1931), but that wasn't it.

Then it hit me: Looney Tunes. Whenever they showed a gangster in a Bugs Bunny cartoon he would look and sound just like Little Caesar.

Caesar was a small-time and small town gangster who sought to be big. It wasn't about the money for him, it was all about the name recognition. He and his partner, Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), pulled up stakes and relocated to the big city. Joe wanted out of gang life, but Caesar wasn't going to let him simply walk away.

Caesar was a fearless, cutthroat gangster who would go up against anyone to rise to the top. He eventually got the name recognition he was looking for, but at what cost?

The gangster movie was planting its roots around this time. There was "Public Enemy," "Smart Money," "Little Caesar," and probably others I'm not aware of. Even though they were all somewhat different, they all featured an up-and-comer who got big to eventually take a fall. "Little Caesar" was no different in that respect, but it was a sight to see if for anything; the drive-by.

When I was growing up in the Bronze Age of the 80's and 90's I thought drive-bys were a new invention created by the Bloods and the Crips. In fact, I heard an author say that gangs didn't even use automatic weapons until the movie "Colors" came out in 1987. How wrong he was and how sneaky the American media was for allowing that to be widely believed. Good thing I have good ol' 1930's gangster movies to show me the truth.

Free on YouTube.

The Smiling Lieutenant
(1931)

A Story About Lust Not Love
As a musical this movie was awful, as a comedy it was bad, and as a romance it blows.

The main character, the smiling lieutenant, Niki (Maurice Chevalier), fell in love with Franzi (Claudette Colbert), a traveling violin player. The two of them were the only ones who performed musical numbers. Maurice Chevalier couldn't have sounded worse if he was gargling razor blades and Claudette Colbert was no songbird herself. It was dreadful listening to the two of them sing.

They were hot and heavy item until an incident broke up their happy union.

While standing at arms for the king and princess of Flausenthurm, Niki was smiling at his sweetheart. At the same time the carriage carrying the princess passed by and she was greatly offended because she thought that the lieutenant was laughing at her. When he was called to answer for his perceived insolence he said, "I was smiling at a very beautiful girl." You know rom-coms, so you know that was misunderstood. The princess thought he was referring to her and she was instantly smitten.

Then through Hollywood comedy and chicanery Niki was unhappily married to Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins). He stayed relatively faithful to Franzi while he was married to Anna. Then, Franzi decided to give him up. She wasn't the one married to him and it was breaking Anna's heart that he was stepping out on her. So, Franzi showed Anna all the things she needed to do to grab his attention--how to dress, what music to play, and how to carry herself.

And then I knew the movie was BS.

When Franzi left Niki a Dear John letter he was predictably upset and heartbroken. Then, not even a minute later he heard the piano being played with an upbeat tune. He went to the piano room to see Princess Anna playing like a woman possessed with a cigarette hanging from her lips (apparently this enhances a woman's sexuality).

Niki was practically drooling at the sight. He ran upstairs to get some wine, then stopped, and came back down when the piano stopped to find Anna in some sexy (1930's sexy) negligee.

Niki could barely contain himself. He ran back upstairs again for the wine he'd left and came down to see Anna in an evening gown. She was a new woman and Niki was thoroughly hooked. So, someone tell me about this "love" that was spoken about.

If he "loved" Franzi as he said he did, there's no way that Anna's new look would've made him forget all about Franzi that quickly. It was like Franzi never existed. Or, more realistically, it was like he was simply hot for Franzi and she was the best looking thing around. As soon as she was out of sight and a new flower was put in his face he was on to the next one.

He couldn't have looked more like a hound dog. It ruined an already bad movie. The only saving grace this movie had was that Niki truly loved Franzi and that not even being married to a princess would keep him from her. I was fully expecting Niki to scoff at Anna's cheap attempts to lure in the husband she strong-armed into marriage, and run after his true love.

Yeah. That didn't happen.

I'm not even a romantic (far from it in fact) and even I expected more romance. It wasn't the least bit romantic for the lustful Niki to be so instantly turned on by Anna when he was so forlorn for Franzi. A better title for this movie would've been "True Colors Revealed."

Free on Dailymotion.

Smart Money
(1931)

A Buddy Ain't no Blonde
"Smart Money" could've been a whole lot better if it didn't have some offensive elements to it.

It stars Edward G. Robinson as Nick 'The Barber' Venizelos, a gambler with uncanny luck. He won every bet and every game of chance. He was so good that his fellow townsfolk sponsored him to go to "the city" to partake in a high stakes underground poker game with a $10,000 buy-in. Nick the Barber got hustled hard in the big city. He was barely able to walk away with his shirt.

He was able to recover from that and get staked again for another big poker game, but this time he would make sure that he was playing a straight game of poker. He met with Sleepy Sam (Ralf Harolde) again--the man who hustled him. He was able to clean up, and from there he became a high roller with gambling houses of his own. He did so well for himself that he made the dean's list of criminals wanted by the coppers.

If the cops were going to get him, they'd have to be pretty slick. Their only chance was perhaps using a blonde, for which he had a weakness for. He'd already been played a couple of times by blondes, and in spite of that, it stood to reason that another blonde could make him slip up as well if she did a good enough job. He had his buddy Jack (James Cagney) to keep him straight, but a buddy ain't no blonde.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned some offensive elements. If you're still reading, then you've reached the point in the post to highlight them.

First, I'll readily admit that I'm more in tuned to things of this nature and far more sensitive to them than a lot of people may be. Nick the Barber and Sleepy Sam both had Black manservants. Nick the Barber's "help" was named Snake Eyes (John Larkin who played Uncle Ben in "Sporting Blood") and Sleepy Sam's "help" was named Suntan (Spencer Bell), both uncredited. That's no biggie, it was 1931 and I already know that those were pretty much the only jobs available to most Black people and I know that speaking roles didn't guarantee you a movie credit.

What didn't have to be done was Nick the Barber rubbing Snake Eyes' head for good luck. Was that a thing, rubbing the Black man's head for good luck? And if it needed to be shown, it could've been shown for the demeaning action it was. You rub kids' heads as a sign of affection, not grown men. Snake Eyes was clearly older than Nick the Barber and by extension, someone who should've been respected in a normal society. Maybe it was seen as an affectionate action in 1931, but to me it looked incredibly disrespectful and patronizing.

Then there was Sleepy Sam's treatment of his servant. Best case scenario it was bullying, and worst case scenario it was racist. His nickname for Suntan (already a disgusting name) was "Stupid." I don't need to explain how offensive that is.

I don't want to make the movie be about the treatment of Black men at the hands of white men, because that's not what it was about. Like I said, those are elements I'm especially sensitive about. What it was about was a small time gambler, who was easy to root for, turned small time gambler who was easy to loathe. He got big and he got cocky, yet he was still the same sucker underneath the veneer.

2.99 on Amazon.

The Vice Squad
(1931)

Bravo you Bullies
Ah the vice squad. The very name is arrogant and preachy, maybe that's why we don't have them anymore. The name suggests that we are in need of a law enforcement agency to keep us from our vices. In the show "Miami Vice" our vice was drugs. In "Vice Squad" the vice was women. It seems the vice squad itself had a vice, and that was arresting as many women as possible by any means.

The main character, Stephen Lucarno (Paul Lukas), was a foreign diplomat who was seeing an ambassador's wife (Juliette Compton). He was in the car with her in the process of breaking the relationship off when a vice squad officer rolled up on them. They were only talking, but apparently, being in a parked vehicle with the lights off meant something dirty was going on. The cop accused them of "necking." Even though the officer wasn't going to arrest them (because he had no proof), he was going to take down the license plate for his records.

The ambassador's wife was not about to allow her name or vehicle to be put in the records. It would've been a disastrous scandal for her if it were discovered she was on the side of the road with another man. So she ran the cop over and kept going. Stephen, by that time, was outside of the car and could only watch in horror as she mowed down the flatfoot. Stephen was now an accessory to murder unless he accepted the terms laid forth by Sergeant Mather (Rockliffe Fellowes): be a stool pigeon or go to jail. Stephen opted for the former.

A stool pigeon is like a confidential informant, but worse. A stool pigeon is more like an agent provocateur. He gets paid by the law enforcement agency to be a part of, or even instigate the crime for the agency to then make an arrest. In this case, Stephen was meeting with ladies who were too smart to meet with a cop in order to catch them taking payment for sex. It was a shameful job for Stephen, but he was desperate not to go to prison.

After two years of stool pigeoning Stephen had had enough and preferred death to what he was doing. As he went to step in front of a moving train a nice woman named Madeleine Hunt (Judith Wood) saved him. She then took him to his home, dried him out, and took care of him for a couple of days. For her efforts she was made a vagrancy (prostitution) target by Sgt. Mather. And worse still, Stephen unknowingly was the stool pigeon used to arrest her. No, she didn't accept money from him for sex. A crooked Sgt. Mather arrested her even when Stephen said she was not a prostitute.

The point of this movie was to show how vice squads were corrupt and/or abusive. They used their positions as police to entrap women and secure convictions when it came down to the woman's word against the cop's word. Even today we know which way that's going to go.

I didn't know it was acceptable to out the police department on film in 1931 so I was glad to see this. Somehow, I didn't think police suddenly became corrupt during the time of Serpico, and even if these cops weren't on the take, they were being unethical and using dirty tricks just to harass and arrest women. Bravo you bullies.

Free on YouTube.

The Public Enemy
(1931)

THE Public Enemy
Growing up the only Public Enemy I knew was a rap group with Chuck D., Flava Flav, and Terminator X. I had no idea that James Cagney was "THE Public Enemy."

James Cagney played Tom Powers, a gangster who grew up stealing and everything else to make a buck and make a name for himself. He was rough and tough and didn't give a fluff. When he got older he ran with Paddy Ryan's crew. They got into big money during prohibition by selling booze. His sidekick from childhood to adulthood was Matt Doyle (Edward Woods--not to be confused with Ed Woods). Tom was a cold-blooded killer while Matt seemed to have some reservations.

"The Public Enemy" is supposed to be a cautionary tale about the gangster life. You can see elements of this movie in later gangster movies such as "The Godfather," "The Good Fellas," and "Road to Perdition." Sure, you can make some dough and get some respect, but in the end it can only get you dead or in jail.

Free with HBO Max.

Behind Office Doors
(1931)

Not an Office Romance
"Behind Office Doors" was one of those movies that you walk away from unsure of what to think. The movie was fairly clear in its plot, but the situation the main character was in made me hem-and-haw.

The main character, Mary Linden (Mary Astor), was hopelessly in love with a salesman named James Duneen (Robert Ames) because of a small kindness he'd done for her in the past. James didn't quite think of her the same way, not because he couldn't love her, but because she was a woman he respected so much he almost dared not see her in anything but a professional light. In general, his view and treatment of Mary was exactly what it should've been. He was a man who worked with a woman and was not looking to get romantically involved. For Mary, his view of her was not quite what she wanted it to be.

With Mary's help James became the president of a paper company. She remained at that paper company being his personal secretary. She worked long hours and had valuable input on just about every decision. Today (I'd hope) she would've been vice president of that same company, or an exec of some high rank. She didn't mind the work she put in for James because she was a professional who had pride in her work and she loved him, but she hoped just once he would look at her like he looked at other women. And that's what gave me pause.

Part of the time I saw Mary as an intelligent professional woman who made herself indispensable. She was the very best person for her job regardless of gender. At other times I thought she was doing a disservice to women everywhere. Instead of wanting to keep the relationship all business she was looking for some office romance with her boss.

Then I discarded that thought.

Like I said, Mary loved James from before he ever got to where he got, and he only got to where he got because Mary loved him, wanted to see him succeed, and helped him out majorly. As he climbed the ladder of success she was there--in a professional capacity, but there-- still in love with him.

You see, Mary should not have been regarded as a woman who couldn't separate a business relationship from a personal one. She was spectacular at separating the two. She loved him and just so happened to work for him, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Free with Amazon Prime.

Lonely Wives
(1931)

Scandalous and Comedic
"Lonely Wives" sounds scintillating like the movie is going to enter into forbidden territory. Or the title sounds like it's depressing like a bunch of married women are going to be sitting around crying about how their husbands are out. The reality? "Lonely Wives" was scintillating and comedic.

Edward Everett Horton played two characters in what's probably the earliest version of one person playing two characters that interact with one another. We first see him as Richard 'Dickie' Smith, a busy criminal lawyer who has a weakness for beautiful women. Once the clock strikes eight he behaviorally transforms to a wolf looking to dance and dine with some fine lady.

He set up a date with two women, Kitty Minter (Patsy Ruth Miller) and Diane O'Dare (Laura La Plante), at the same locale. If he could just get away from his mother-in-law (yes I said mother-in-law)--who was in charge of keeping him home while his wife, Madeline (Esther Ralston), was away--then he could live it up with the two dames.

He was given the perfect opportunity to do so when E. E. Horton's second character entered the picture. Felix, the Great Zero was a vaudeville actor who did impressions and wanted to do an impression of Dickie on stage. Dickie said that he'd give Felix the permission to impersonate him if he could stay at his house in his stead and fool his MIL until he got back. Felix agreed and the game was on. Dickie went on his date while Felix stayed in Dickie's home pretending to be him. It would've been a great plan except that A.) Dickie's wife came home early from her trip abroad and B.) Dickie was going on a date with Felix's wife unbeknownst to either of them. It became an all out spectacle from then on.

"Lonely Wives" is funny in a silly way. The comedy relies on miscommunication, double entendres, and a little physical humor. It's a comedy that works for 1931 though I wouldn't want to see the same thing today.

Free with Amazon Prime.

Scandal Sheet
(1931)

A Hardcore Newspaperman
I saw "The Scandal Sheet" (1952) starring Broderick Crawford before seeing this one. I don't like seeing remakes before seeing the original, but in this case there was no harm done. Though similar, they differed enough to make "Scandal" (1931) like watching a totally different movie.

"The Scandal Sheet" (1931) is about a hardcore newspaperman. Mark Flint (George Bancroft) was the editor of a burgeoning New York rag and he was the reason for its recent success. He didn't let anything get in the way of him printing a news story--not personal relationships, personal feelings, or anything else. When it came to news he was as cold as ice. His heart and mind couldn't be budged.

His code and principles would be severely tested when his wife became the subject of a salacious news story. His wife, Edith Flint (Kay Francis), was photographed in the home of a banker named Noel Adams (Clive Brook). Noel was being tailed by reporters because his bank was the subject of a shady deal gone wrong. Edith just so happened to be careless enough to be spotted there.

When the publisher of the paper, Franklin (Gilbert Emery), brought the photo and the information about Edith to Mark's attention he had the first real test of his career. Print this salacious story or bury it.

I thought "Scandal" did a wonderful job even setting up the drama. It's always riveting when the drama involves the morals of a principled person: will they compromise or won't they? It helped that "Scandal" had a villain so-to-speak as well. No one likes a cheat and his wife was just that. How could he punish his wife, and keep his principles as a newspaperman, and keep his reputation clean? Or is that even possible? It was well worth watching to find out and the ending didn't disappoint.

Free on YouTube.

Other Men's Women
(1931)

From the Eyes of a Guy
I wanted to watch this movie for James Cagney. I know the name, but I don't know his work so I wanted to familiarize myself with his movies. Too bad this movie didn't feature him much. It starred Grant Withers and Regis Toomey.

Grant Withers played Bill White, a drunkard who was headed towards making a mess of his life. That is until his friend and coworker, Jack Kulper (Regis Toomey), invited him to stay at his home with he and his wife, Lily (Mary Astor). With the love and care of Lily, Bill cleaned up--and as the title suggests, he fell in love with Jack's wife. If that wasn't bad enough, Lily fell in love with Bill. What do they do about it is the question?

Bill wanted to tell Jack the truth while Lily dared not. Jack found out the truth anyway because the two of them acted so strange they didn't even have to say anything to give away their secret.

The situation would've been sad if it wasn't foreseeable and preventable. Bill and Lily spent so much time together and became really chummy with each other. Sure, platonic relationships can exist between man and woman, but that's not a chance you take with your wife. If a man and a woman, in any environment, spend an inordinate amount of time together, especially alone, the chances are good something might develop between them. Even if the woman has the mindset and goal to keep things platonic, guys are a different breed. And this is coming from a man.

The love between Bill and Lily that "just happened" led to a fight between Jack and Bill. Bill struck Jack and injured him so severely he lost his sight. Then Hollywood did one of its tricks that, apparently, it has been doing for nearly a century. They got rid of one of the sides of the love triangle to pave a guiltless path for the remaining two lovers.

In this case, it was the blind husband who was done away with. Jack attempted a feat that was sure to end in his death. It didn't make any sense except that he wanted to kill himself because he was now handicapped and he felt like less of a man. For Hollywood it created an opening for Bill and Lily to make their illicit love kosher. I've seen Hollywood do this many times with love triangles. Love triangles are always a problem that need to be resolved. To resolve the problem someone usually has to go. One of them simply leaving is normally not enough because they still exist and as long as they do the heart of the base of the triangle will never be settled. But, if you kill off that second lover, it makes everything alright.

I really didn't like this movie at all. It was too elementary and one dimensional. Guy falls in love with friend's wife. Guy runs away to uncomplicate matters. Guy wants to kill himself because of the mess he made. Friend kills himself instead. Guy meets widow months later and they reunite. As a guy myself, this wasn't my kind of story.

Free on YouTube.

The Royal Bed
(1931)

Comical Nature Sorta Saved It
Only the comical nature of this movie saved it from being completely insufferable. On the one hand we had the oppressed princess and on the other hand we had a down to earth and comical king.

As for the princess, Princess Anne (Mary Astor), she was the typical oppressed princess. You know the one--she can't do anything she wants to do and she's being forced to marry someone she doesn't want to marry. Only if she were a common peasant then she'd be free.

Gag.

Oppression is oppression no matter who is being oppressed, but I still find it difficult to watch a princess complain about how terrible her life is, or how she'd prefer being a beggar over being a princess. It's language like that that makes rich and royalty so unrelatable.

As for the king, King Eric VIII (Lowell Sherman), he was a solid dude. He loved his daughter, liked playing checkers with his palace guard, and was in favor of a republic. He was also in favor of his daughter running off and eloping with her secret lover, Freddie Granton (Anthony Bushell), the king's secretary. The king was in an untenable position that required some deft moves to navigate. He would have to use all of his wits to keep the peace, give his daughter what she wanted, and remain king at the same time. He did what he could and kept it funny all the while.

Free with Amazon Prime.

The Common Law
(1931)

John Needs to Grow Up
A man falls in love with a prostitute, and it's not the first time in 1931 that's happened on film. Please watch "The Lady Refuses," it was much better anyway. She limited herself to one man, but it's clear that her arrangement with him was financial one.

Again, we have to sift through innuendos and implications to deduce that a woman, in this case Valerie (Constance Bennett), was a prostitute. It was taboo to say it on screen or strongly implicate it so they had to do it subtly in hopes that the audience would pick up on the cues.

Valerie West wandered into the studio of John Neville (Joel McCrea) after breaking off her affair with Dick Carmedon (Lew Cody). And by "affair" I mean her paid services. Valerie began modeling nude for John and bada-bing bada-bang they fell in love. There was an issue though, John didn't know Valerie's past and everyone else did. Furthermore, John was from high society which made his involvement with Valerie doubly bad.

Throughout the movie people kept mentioning Dick Carmedon like he was a boogeyman. "Oh, don't you know she was with Dick Carmedon?" It was a roundabout way of saying she was getting paid for sex, or that she was with a sexual deviant, which I don't think was the case.

When John became aware that Valerie used to be with Dick he got in his feelings and decided not to propose to his model turned sweetheart. To me it was another gimme-a-flippin'-break moment from early 20th century films. Too many times I've seen people fall in love while not knowing much about the other only to be surprised to hear that the person has skeletons in their closet. It's as if it's impossible for them to fall in love with anyone other than a pure, sinless soul. Like their heart is supposed to tell the difference between an angel and a fallible human being, so once they find out the object of their love is fallible they are crushed. It's very infuriating because the solution is so simple. Before proposing, or accepting a proposal, ask what the person's past is that they may want to share. If they decline, then know something shady exists in their past, if they open up and tell you, now you can make an informed decision.

John made the decision to cut Valerie out of his life once he found out about her past. She was rightfully upset because she never hid anything from him. If he had asked, she would've told him, but she genuinely thought he wasn't interested in her that way. All the same, John cut Valerie off clean.

Remember this is a romance though, so somehow they were going to have to reunite. Well, Valerie essentially crawled back into John's life as though she was the guilty party and the one needing to make amends. The petulant, moody John took her back. Their relationship would face one more obstacle set up by John's sister, Claire (Hedda Hopper), as she attempted to expose Valerie. Claire's devious plan didn't work and John and Valerie ran off to get hitched and, presumably, live happily ever after.

The whole thing was a joke. Somehow John was made to be the victim in all this when he was far from it. He fell in love with a woman he knew little about and he acted like an angry brat the rest of the movie once he did learn about her past. He was a child. A grown child, and that's why he was portrayed as the victim. He was an innocent child while Valerie was the worldly woman. How dare this worldly woman play with the emotions of a child? But that's not at all how I saw it. John was a naive, gullible, Mary Sue. He was a man-child who needed to grow up, and by all indications, that never happened and never was going to happen.

The Lady Refuses
(1931)

Pretty Woman in a True Romance
"The Lady Refuses" is in itself a good title. It indicates a woman has taken control of her own life and is not going to be pressured into anything. So often in the prewar movies we find that women never refuse, especially when it comes to marriage. I'd put "The Lady Refuses" on par with "Millie" for movies of that era starring an independent woman.

Our Lady in this flick is June (Betty Compson) and it's not marriage that she refuses. She was on the streets of England, on a rainy night, trying to get away from police when Sir Gerald Courtney (Gilbert Emery) opened his door for her. The indications were that she was a prostitute, but that word would never be uttered on screen in the 30's. They just use every silly innuendo to hint at a woman being a prostitute. Words like sex, or even euphimisms for sex, were never spoken, so sex for money was definitely out of the question.

So how could they indicate her profession? She's a common girl (not rich), walking on the rainy streets late at night, unescorted, and the police recognized her as a "new girl." The police, of course, would never say why they were after her, they just stammered with statements like "we thought she was a..." and the like.

Then you have June who told Gerald, "You see, this is my first night at that sort of thing... I was broke and I decided it was either that or the bridge."

Gerald followed with, "And just tonight you decided to put yourself...uhh... let us say... on the market?"

"I'm afraid I have," was June's reply.

June was a bit of a godsend for Sir Gerald. At the time his son was being seduced by an unscrupulous woman who was preventing him from fulfilling his goal of becoming an architect. Gerald offered June 1000 pounds ($5000) to woo his son, Russell (John Darrow), away from his current fling, Berthine Waller (Margaret Livingston).

June took the job and was wonderful at it so the expected happened: Russell fell in love with June, but June was in love with Gerald who was also in love with June. What a tangled web we weave. The web got even more entangled when June let Russell know that she was hired to "accompany" him. Russell thought he had something real only to find out that June was a professional. We'd see something similar decades later in the movie "True Romance," but in that movie Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette (the prostitute) fell in love with no secrets.

What's likable about this movie is that June held her own with the two men. She knew what she was and what she wasn't. Gerald, in particular, knew what she was, but she wasn't going to let Gerald bring her down. It was a rather unconventional love story for the times, but I think it was done better than similar love stories done later (I'm looking at you "Pretty Woman" and "True Romance").

Kept Husbands
(1931)

Exposing All Suckas
The whole idea of this movie disgusted me. It reminded me of the Richard Pryor movie "The Toy" where a young rich kid says, "I want to buy that Black man." "Kept Husbands" doesn't have the racist overtones of "The Toy," but it has the same sentiment of rich people getting what they want. The leading lady, Dorthea 'Dot' Parker (Dorothy Mackaill), wanted Richard 'Dick' Brunton (Joel McCrea) for her husband and you would've thought she was talking about wanting a new fur coat.

This movie wanted to drive home two messages:

1.) Ambitious men who marry rich women will become emasculated pets.

2.) A "working" class person would never fit in with a high society crowd.

It could be said that the point of this movie was that these axioms are not true, but I'd proffer that the movie wanted to show an exception not a rule. In either case we got to see rich aristocrats in all their glory.

Sidebar.

It seems the 30's were all about showing wealthy people. I've watched many movies from that decade and many of them feature rich people partying and attending one social engagement after the other. They're all pretentious people that don't behave like they're from this universe. It was as though Hollywood wanted to provide a means of escapism for the millions of poor people out there.

Back to "Kept Husbands."

Along with the rich cardboard cutout people we got to see a couple of kept husbands. They were "yes dear" automatons with no gall, gumption, or life.

Richard became such a husband though he put up a weak front. Dot told her father, "I'm going to marry him... that boy was made for me, and what's more, I'm gonna have him."

Her father, Arthur Parker (Robert McWade), replied, "Now I'm a pretty good judge of men. I tell you this boy has real character and he'll never propose to you."

"Now see here dad, listen," Dorothy retorted. "There isn't a man in this world a woman can't win if she really wants to land him." And with that she told her father that she'd have Dick in four weeks tops.

And four weeks it was. Dick didn't propose to her, she proposed to him, but he accepted. Then, by and by, he became a trophy husband. He was given a cushy job he didn't earn where he didn't do any work, yet was paid handsomely--all to take care of daddy's little girl.

Did Richard lack integrity or did he love his wife so much he only wanted to please her, even if that meant living off of daddy and being available for all of her social engagements?

I'll say this: it was hard to tell if Richard was being a pet out of love, it looked more like obsequiousness. He'd take a stand only to relent after his "Kitten" pouted. It was enough to make a grown man cry. So, whether it was a lack of integrity or genuine love, where I'm from we call a guy like that a simp, a stooge, or a sucka.

Millie
(1931)

Millie was no Joke
In the 80's Eric B. And Rakim came out with a rap song titled "I Ain't no Joke." That term became a common phrase in the 'hood and elsewhere. It basically meant I'm not to be messed with. If someone was said to be "no joke," then that was high praise. Don't eff with him... or her.

Millie (Helen Twelvetrees) was no joke. I loved Millie, from the beginning to the end. She was absolutely the strongest female character I've seen in any movie from 1930 until the 60's. She was so unlike any other female lead in the dozens of other movies I've seen from that time period.

Millie was like any other woman to start. Jack Maitland (James Hall) unromantically proposed to her and she accepted as though she had no other choice. When, four years and one child later, she caught Jack cheating on her, Millie was forever changed. She was done with marriage, but not before punching out Jack's mistress. She was going to be independent, which was a rarity for that time.

Later on we see Millie working in the lobby of an office highrise and she was the object of every man's affection and attention. Two men pressed hard, Jimmy Damier (John Halliday) and Tommy Rock (Robert Ames). Tommy would be the one she chose, though she would not marry him. Tommy wanted to do the right thing and get married. "Marry me won't you. I want something to hold us together," was Tommy's proposal.

Millie's reply was, "But Tommy, love will do that. If it can't then the rest doesn't matter."

That one statement from Millie spoke volumes. One thing it conveyed was that she had a better understanding of love than any of the women in that era per the dozens of movies I've seen. It also conveyed that Millie had no problem openly flouting societal mores. It was strange and refreshing to see.

Millie and Tommy were a recognized item, but Tommy ended up being no better than Jack. He cheated on her too. It was like Millie had a shelf life. Every man wanted her until they got her, then they wanted to move on.

If the first spoiled relationship made Millie independent, the second one made her a savage. She was set on using men whenever and however she wanted, whether they were married or not. And if she was done with you, she would tell you.

Eight years after her break up with Tommy and roughly sixteen years after her divorce with Jack, Millie was noticeably older, yet still being sought after, though not as much. Her daughter was now sixteen and an old suitor of hers now had his eyes on her daughter.

Yes, it's just as appalling and disgusting as it sounds.

The predator, Jimmy Damier, who I mentioned earlier, was a bit old for Millie when he was aggressively pursuing her which would put him in dirty-old-man territory for Millie's daughter, Connie (Anita Louise).

When Milie heard that Jimmy was finding various reasons to be around her daughter she kindly, yet sternly, demanded that he stay away from Connie. Jimmy swore that he had no ill-intentions towards Connie and he promised to leave the girl alone.

Like all predators, Jimmy lied. One night he had his driver take him and Connie to his lodge in the country. The driver correctly perceived that something was not right about it and called Millie. Millie did what a strong, loving, concerned mother would do--she got her gun and got in a cab.

I was team Millie all the way. As far as I was concerned there wasn't a gun big enough nor enough bullets to take care of Jimmy. I was only hoping that Millie would be the strong female character that she'd been so far and complete the job. In other words, I didn't want her to get to Jimmy's place and then get over powered, or faint, or simply wilt.

To my delight, that did not happen. She beat on Jimmy's door and demanded to search the place when Jimmy proclaimed that Connie wasn't there. Jimmy had already hidden Connie and was going to physically prevent Millie from searching his place. When Millie heard her baby's voice, that was it. One shot later Jimmy was dead.

Regardless of what happened to Millie after she killed Jimmy, she was a hero. If she was arrested, if she fled, if she served time, etc. It didn't matter to me. She was acquitted, which was the best ending, but that only validated the jury, not Millie. She needed no validation. Millie had lived a life of heartache and pain at the hands of various men, in various ways, so the men of the jury certainly were in no position to define what Millie was at this point. She was strong, she was fearless, she was independent. She was her own woman to the end.

Confessions of a Co-Ed
(1931)

The Pits
This movie is the pits. I've seen many movies completely out of touch with reality (and yes I understand they're movies); this has to be 1931's detached from reality winner.

The co-ed doing the confessing in this pitiful movie is Patricia Harper (Sylvia Sidney). The movie began with her being a freshman at Stafford College. Right away she was heavily pursued by two guys, Dan Carter (Phillips Holmes) and Hal Evans (Norman Foster). Dan was the more aggressive, skilled, and desirable of the two.

Dan put some heavy moves on her and brought out some lines he'd carefully crafted, such as:

"You're the first girl that I've ever met that I'd rather talk to than kiss."

Pat was sunk. He had her hook, line, and sinker. She went back to her dorm room to wistfully write in her diary about the swell guy she'd just met.

Peggy (Claudia Dell), Pat's sorority sister, was steamed. Dan was her man. She told her to keep away, and also told her not to fall for the line that he gives every woman.

Pat's bubble was burst. Dan was a creep.

Sometime later Dan got Pat alone to work on her again. Pat, intentionally or unintentionally forgetting about their first encounter, fell for his charm one more time. She playfully resisted him initially, but his pursuit was too much for her to resist and she fell in love with him.

I thought it was a bit pathetic, but it happens. Maybe Dan was reformed or maybe Pat didn't mind being one of his conquests.

Skipping ahead a bit more and Dan was kicked out of school. He left school rather unceremoniously which left Pat a broken woman. That one day or so she spent with Dan was so magical she couldn't get over him. What she didn't know is that Hal, in a fit of jealousy, got Dan kicked out so that he could have her. Hal didn't do anything really shady, he just told the dean about an incident Dan was guilty of before and had gotten away with.

Skipping ahead three years and Pat is now married to Hal and they have a son. And Pat is STILL in love with Dan.

This is the part I don't get. I admit my heart runs a little colder than most, but I can't imagine 1.) falling in love with someone after one night. 2.) Still being in love with that same person who walked out of my life three years ago and whom I haven't heard a peep from since. But here was Pat, unhappy in her large home because she still loved Dan. Like "Titanic," Dan must've given Pat the best twenty-four hours of her life.

Dan showed up at Hal's job intent on reuniting with Pat, not knowing that he and Pat were married. Hal mentioned that he was now married, but he decidedly kept it a secret who his wife was. Dan said he came back to town for one woman and also didn't mention the name. Obviously, they were talking about the same woman.

When Dan finally revealed that he came back for Pat, Hal was noticeably bothered, but he still didn't mention that he was married to Pat.

Then the scene got otherworldly.

While Hal was still keeping his marriage to Pat a secret from Dan, he asked Dan, "Couldn't she have forgotten all about you?"

With total confidence Dan said, "No, I don't think so. No she hasn't forgotten. Peggy and the others, sure. Not her."

Translation: "I gave it to her so good there's no way she forgot about me. That girl was sprung."

This translation is spot on, because that's exactly how Hal understood it, and Pat confirmed it.

When Pat made her entrance and it was clear that she was married to Hal that gave Dan pause, but it didn't deter him. Then, without saying it, Pat confirmed that she slept with Dan and essentially said that her son belonged to Dan, not Hal. It took some reading between the lines, but it was clear.

She told her husband, Hal, that there was something else she had to tell him that he wouldn't like, and before she got it out, her three year old son came downstairs with blondish hair like Dan's. The little boy spoke to Dan kindly while never speaking to Hal while Pat exchanged glances with Dan that said, "Yes, he's yours." Of course, they never say it because God forbid she openly admit to having premarital sex and a child out of wedlock in 1930.

After that scene in which nothing, yet everything was said, Pat asked Hal, "What do you want? Divorce?" as Hal sat stewing.

Dan boldly chimed in, "I hope he does Pat because I've come back to marry you and that's all I've come back for."

It was comical and infuriating at the same time.

After a few more minutes of conversation and Pat battling with her feelings she broke down and admitted she still loved Dan. Dan confidently told Hal, "Hal, I'm taking her with me," to which Hal simply answered with a smile, "There's nothing I can do about it. You've licked me this time," like he just lost at marbles.

The final ten minutes of this tripe was just bizarre. None of it registered with me. From Pat still being in love with Dan to Hal easily giving her up, it was all nonsensical to me. Some 1930's films showed some strange relationships, but this was by far the worst.

Man of the World
(1931)

I Didn't Respect the Characters
William Powell plays a swindler who fell in love in "Man of the World." His role was virtually the same as the one in "Ladies' Man." In both he plays a suave, high society, ladies' man who leeches off of other people.

In "Man of the World" he played Michael Trevor, a disgraced newspaperman from America who relocated to Paris in order to start anew. In Paris he earned his living conning unfaithful businessmen who were abroad without their wives.

When he conned Harry Taylor (Guy Kibbee) out of $2000 that gave him the opportunity to meet Mary Kendall (Carole Lombard), Harry's niece. It was clear that Michael was instantly attracted to Mary. He would have the chance to spend quality time with Mary when her significant other, Frank Reynolds (Lawrence Gray), went out of town on business. Frank was thrilled to leave Mary in capable hands, which I don't get.

Sidebar.

I've noticed in a few movies now that high society men are totally fine with other men entertaining their wives and girlfriends. I've seen it in "Ladies' Man" and other movies where wealthy aristocratic men, too busy to entertain their wives, allow another man to do it for them like it's a great relief. I don't know what school of thought that's from, but I'm certainly not a student of it.

When Frank left town and Michael took Mary out to show her a good time, the predictable happened: they fell in love. I remember thinking, when Frank remarked he'd only be gone ten days, "It only takes one day for you to lose your girlfriend." And sure enough he lost her on day one.

Michael had a problem though: his current occupation. His grifting partner, Irene Harper (Wynne Gibson), wasn't going to let Michael walk off the job because he was in love. For starters, he was supposed to be using Mary for a big payday. Added to that is the fact Irene still had feelings for Michael.

None of that mattered to Michael. He was going to discontinue his con, admit his past, and tell Mary he loved her.

He did just that and she reciprocated. Not only did she reciprocate, she asserted that his past didn't matter to her at all. At this point I had all kinds of NSFW names for Mary intimating just how foolish she was.

You mean to tell me that the past of a man you've known for one full day doesn't matter because you love him? Woman, you don't even know how deep or dark his past is! You don't even know if Michael is his real name!

This happens so often in older movies especially. Women quickly fall in love (which makes me believe that they don't know what love is or I don't know what love is) and don't bother to vet the guy at all. And if he reveals something disparaging about himself, then it's a wrap. He must be the one. Only a good man would open up and reveal the skeletons in his closet. Apparently, men didn't begin seriously lying until the latter part of the 20th century.

So Mary proclaimed her love for Michael while also stating how she didn't love Frank. In addition, whatever past crimes Michael may have committed, they're over now. His past was his past, even if it was as recent as yesterday. SMH.

The relationship fell through anyway after Irene bent Michael's ear. She laid it down plainly how his past is a lot more sordid and impossible to run from than he could've explained to Mary in a five minute conversation. As Michael pondered on Irene's words he came to the same conclusion and broke it off with Mary in a rather cold manner. For Irene's part she got to be Michael's sorry second choice. She didn't seem to mind.

As for me, I minded. I minded how little everyone seemed to mind. How little Frank minded Mary being entertained by Michael. How little Mary minded what Michael was. How little Irene minded being an afterthought. If you can't respect the characters, it's hard to respect or like the movie, and I didn't like this movie.

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas
(1931)

Some Loves Were Not Supposed to be
Taboo: (among the Polynesians and other peoples of the South Pacific) the system, practice, or act whereby things are set apart as sacred, forbidden for general use, or placed under a prohibition or interdiction.

In this nearly all Polynesian cast movie, there were two taboos. The first taboo was Reri (Anne Chevalier), the virgin designated to be chaste and untouched as a means of appeasing the gods. The second taboo was a spot in the water that was off limits to pearl divers. Both taboos were challenged.

Early in the movie Reri and Matahi fell in love. Ordinarily that wouldn't be a problem except that Reri, unbeknownst to her, was selected to be "the sacred virgin" whom "man must not touch... or cast upon her the eye of desire." This was a big blow to her and Matahi, but why let a little thing like tradition and the threat of death stop love?

Reri and Matahi didn't. They ran off to another island where they could be together, but the threat to Matahi's life and Reri being taken back would be ever-present.

This movie was able to do a lot with a little. There was no dialogue. Only a few times we got additional information in the form of letters and such. The rest of the story we had to understand from actions and visible emotions like the silent movies from earlier in the century.

I would be lying if I said that the Polynesian cast wasn't a plus. It was exciting to see a movie featuring people of color in their own environment, and the story was great.

Ladies' Man
(1931)

So Embarrassed for Norma
Have you ever been in a situation where you've been embarrassed for someone else who wasn't even embarrassed for themself? That was me watching Norma Page (Kay Francis) as she was subjected to more than one humiliating situation.

But let me back up.

Jamie Darricott (William Powell) was a known New York playboy. He was a ladies' man who had no qualms with taking valuable gifts from women, married or not. In fact, that's how he earned his living. At this point in his career he was escorting Elaine Fendley (Olive Tell), an older, wealthy, married woman who was positively in love with him. The two of them were a spectacle and an open secret. They barely hid their relationship from the public and from Horace Fendley (Gilbert Emery), Elaine's husband.

Also in love with Jamie was Rachel Fendley (Carole Lombard), Elaine's daughter. It was an ugly quagmire for Jamie. Or was it? They were both rich and he would benefit financially from whichever woman was on his arm.

The two women were both bumped to the side when Jamie laid eyes on Norma. He was instantly smitten and presumably, for the first time, it wasn't about money. Norma knew who Jamie was and what he was all about, yet she entertained his come-ons. At first, I thought she was just stringing him along in order to reject him for once in his life. But no. She only pretended to be uninterested and made herself available for him anyway--and that was the beginning of the embarrassment.

He laid a heavy game on her and in spite of all of her apparent rebuffs, she relented. She was supposed to leave town, but she buckled under Jamie's charm and went on the town with him.

To begin with, he took her out in a limousine that belonged to Elaine Fendley. He didn't even have the shame enough to hide the fact he was using his sugar mama's car to take her on a date. It was as though he knew his charm was so strong this wasn't a deal breaker.

Next, he ran into his sugar mama while with Norma. It was an awkward situation for Norma and Elaine. Norma knew this was the woman sponsoring Jamie's lifestyle, and Elaine knew this woman was Jamie's "sick aunt" for whom he needed her limousine. For Jamie's part, he was totally unperturbed. He knew Elaine would get over it and he knew Norma was still under his spell. Norma just stood there sheepishly. When she asked Jamie if Elaine would be upset with him, he simply said, "No, but she'll hate you."

And still Norma stayed.

They left that venue and went to a less swanky club where they ran into Rachel Fendley. Rachel was drunk and told all of Jamie's business and how she was in love with him. Jamie appeared unfazed as though he knew that nothing could break the hold he now had over Norma.

Again, Norma sat there uncomfortably, but never budged.

Jamie then invited Norma to his apartment. Norma feigned indignance then accepted the invitation anyway. There they found Rachel waiting to further proclaim her love and demand Jamie marry her. Norma again idly and patiently stood by as though she was just waiting for her turn with Jamie like every other woman got.

Once Jamie cleared his home of Rachel and her concerned brother, Jamie asked Norma when he could see her again. In her attempts to be proud and uninterested she said that he could come over for tea before she left, and no more.

At this point I was already thoroughly embarrassed for Norma. How could she allow herself to be subjected to such open disrespect and inconsideration? And then, after such an embarrassing evening, she still invited Jamie over for tea. Where is your dignity woman?

And then it got worse.

The next day, over tea, Jamie professed his love for Norma. At first she dismissed it, but after some more game from Jamie she wilted. He asked her to marry him and she said, "Of course."

So, after one night on the town filled with mortifying situations in which she was constantly affronted with Jamie's current paramours she fell in love with him and accepted his marriage proposal.

I'm used to instantaneous love and marriages in older movies. It always baffles me, but I'm still used to it. But never had I seen a woman fall in love with a guy who was a known womanizer the very next day after seeing the effects of his womanizing in action. It was as though the night before never happened and those women didn't exist. It was mind-boggling.

I guess the heart wants what the heart wants. As for me, I'm pulling my heart out of my chest and stomping on it with utility grade lineman boots if it allows me to remain with a woman after such humiliation.

Norma was spared the lifelong blemish of marrying Jamie, the ladies' man, because Horace Fendley killed him. Horace was finally awaken from his slumber regarding his wife and either pride, jealousy, or both drove him to rid the planet of Jamie, thereby depriving the many women of New York of his services.

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The Cheat
(1931)

Please Head to Lot B Tallulah
This was my third Tallulah Bankhead movie and I can barely distinguish one character from the next. She spoke the same, dressed the same, and behaved virtually the same in all three films, and since they were all released in 1931 she may have simply walked off of one set and on to another.

In "The Cheat" Tallulah plays Elsa Carlyle, the spoiled wife of Jeffrey Carlyle (Harvey Stephens), a man trying to stay ahead of his wife's spending habits. She was a gambler and a fairly morally loose woman who definitely pushed the limits of her marriage. She boldly and carelessly went to the home of a strange man after meeting him at a Long Island casino. The man, Hardy Livingstone (Irving Pichel), wanted more than her pleasant conversation, but she coyly rebuffed him as though she had no idea he invited her over for something more intimate than talking.

Once Livingstone got a taste of her flirtatious ways he was hooked. He was determined to conquer her even if her husband was fully aware.

Her husband, not wanting to seem jealous or as though he didn't trust her, reluctantly capitulated to her befriending Livingstone. Maybe that's a high society trait: pretending you're not bothered by your wife befriending strange single men. Jeffrey was more worried about the optics of their relationship than the potential of a romance.

Hardy kept up a hard press on Elsa until he got the break he was looking for.

Elsa owed the casino $10,000. She lost a $10,000 bet on a whimsical gamble against the house of who could draw the highest card. To get out of that debt she "borrowed" some charity funds she was in charge of and invested it in a "guaranteed" stock that was supposed to double in a week. Naturally, it collapsed. So now she owed the casino $10,000 and she owed her booster club $10,000.

In steps Livingstone.

He said he'd give her $10,000 as long as she agreed to meet him at his house on a given evening. Elsa knew full well what that meant, but she was desperate, and why should she make a good decision now after she's made so many bad ones?

She agreed to meet with Livingstone and then an unlikely thing happened. Her husband struck a million dollar deal. Now, all she had to do is sheepishly ask her husband for the $10,000 to give back to Livingstone so she didn't have to be his love slave.

She got the 10k from her husband without explaining exactly what it was for. When she offered the money to Livingstone as a means of breaking their deal, he did want any part of it. As far as he was concerned, he paid for her and he wasn't looking for a refund. When Elsa insisted that the deal was off, Livingstone branded her on her chest and she shot him. At this time her husband was on Livingstone's property as well. He tailed his wife there to find out what she really needed the money for. After he heard the shot, he ran to the room to find Livingstone on the floor wounded and his wife gone. In predictable chivalrous fashion Jeffrey took the blame for the shooting.

To me, that was a step further than I would've gone. I do love my wife, but if she got herself into hot water with a man that she had a lascivious contract with because of her own missteps, the last thing I'm doing is going to jail for her. In this case, you made your bed now you lie in it. If it wasn't bad enough she was racking up $10,000 debts from gambling and wantonly hanging with another man, it certainly was bad enough that she shot him after breaking their passion pact. That's a fall I'd happily let her take. But no, Jeffrey was ever the doting and loving husband willing to suffer his wife's hedonistic antics just to bask in her presence.

In very Hollywood, yet not the least bit realistic style, Elsa admitted to the shooting in a passionate speech in front of the court which absolved Jeffrey and made public sentiment turn on Livingstone. It was one of those dramatic displays where Jeffrey was on the witness stand, yet Elsa jumped up and yelled, "I did it," and continued to tearily say why she'd shot Livingstone.

In the end, Jeffrey was free, Elsa learned her lesson and had a brand as a reminder, and Livingstone was a social pariah. How everyone lives happily-ever-after after such an affair is beyond me. But, Hollywood has taught me that winning freedom, winning money, or winning love are all that's needed to make a person happy and whole.

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