Category Archives: 1930s

Black Legion

Cover of "Black Legion"

Cover of Black Legion

Directed by Archie Mayo & Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Produced by Robert Lord
Written by Story: Robert Lord
Screenplay: Abem Finkel & William Wister Haines
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Dick Foran
Erin O’Brien-Moore
Ann Sheridan
Music by W. Franke Harling, Howard Jackson & Bernhard Kaun (all uncredited)
Cinematography George Barnes
Editing by Owen Marks
Studio Warner Bros.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) January 17, 1937 (NYC)
January 30, 1937 (US)
Running time 83 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Black Legion is a 1937 film that depicts an offshoot of the notorious Ku Klux Klan. Many of the messages contained in the film are just as poignant today as they were 70+ years ago, that is that in times of trouble that it is easy to blame and scapegoat migrants. Having recently read the ramblings of a Melbourne white supremacist who among other things labelled me a ‘race traitor’, shows that despite what some people say, deep racism is still around. Just by browsing the Anti-Bogan website you can see just how warped some people still are about these things.

In Black Legion Humphrey Bogart plays Frank Taylor, a factory worker who gets passed over for a promotion at his job, which goes to Polish American Henry Brandon. Taylor ends up falling for the propaganda of the Black Legion, a clandestine white supremicist organisation. Thanks to the ideas promoted by the Legion, Taylor begins to blame foreigners for his woes. There are consequences for Taylor as he loses his wife and child and then murders his best friend after letting slip his membership of the Legion.

The film is very well acted and the young Bogart is great. This was still a year or so before he became a big star. The film is a little preachy, but it is still totally absorbing.


The Public Enemy

Cover of "The Public Enemy"

Cover of The Public Enemy

Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Written by Kubec Glasmon, John Bright &Harvey F. Thew
Starring James Cagney
Jean Harlow
Edward Woods
Joan Blondell
Mae Clarke
Cinematography Devereaux Jennings
Editing by Ed McCormick & Edward McDermott
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date April 23, 1931
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Public Enemy was the first of many gangster films that Warner Bros. made in the 1930s starring Jimmy Cagney as Tom Powers. It features one of cinemas most iconic scenes where Cagney shoves 1/2 a grapefruit into the face of Mae Clarke. It is a great film and Cagney’s performance is quite menacing and the evil Powers, although a lot of the time he does have a weird smile on his face which I don’t know whether to attribute to Cagney having a lot of fun with the role, or whether it just shows the smug conceit of Powers.

It is worth comparing Cagney’s portrayal of Tom Powers with that of another of the great 30s cinematic gangsters in Paul Muni’s Tony Camonte from Scarface. Whereas Camonte wants to prove himself a bigshot and his bravery turns out to be a mere facade without any support from his family or friends, Powers is an angry young man who seems to have no fear. While Camonte is seduced by power and money, Powers only motivation seems to be that he is a truly evil person.

You can also make a comparison about the two gangster’s mothers. Whilst Camonte’s mother knows that what he is doing is wrong and will cause the downfall of the family, Powers’ Ma is oblivious, or at the very least turning a blind eye to, all of his criminal activity. When Powers’ dead body is dumped at his family home we know his Ma is in for the shock of her life, whilst Camonte’s mother seems to be expecting his doom.

I think that the only disappointment with The Public Enemy is the brief performance of Jean Harlow as a gangsters moll. Her accent is all over the place.

Either way both The Public Enemy and Scarface are gret films featuring truly charismatic performances from the lead characters.


Scarface

Scarface (1932 film)

Image via Wikipedia

Directed by Howard HawksRichard Rosson
Produced by Howard Hughes
Written by
Scarface by Armitage Trail
Screenplay by Ben Hecht
Starring Paul Muni
George Raft
Ann Dvorak
Karen Morley
Boris Karloff
Cinematography Lee Garmes &  L.W. O’Connell
Editing by Edward Curtiss
Distributed by United Artists
Release date April 9, 1932
Running time 93 minutes
Country United States
Language English & Italian

Firstly this is the original Scarface – AKA Scarface Shame of a Nation, not the 1983 version featuring Al Pacino. This is the 1932 version featuring Paul Muni and George Raft and directed by Howard Hawks. It is probably one of the most celebrated gangster films of the 1930s, with Paul Muni giving a great, charismatic performance as the ambitious villain Tony Camonte. His performance is perhaps the equal of James Cagney’s in Public Enemy or Edward G Robinson in Little Caesar, although he seems to be rather forgotten today. One criticism of the picture I have is that I do think that Boris Karloff was horribly miscast as the rival gangster Gaffney. It is very hard to believe that someone with a proper English gentleman’s voice (and what a voice) would be a hard-nosed gangster from Chicago.

This was a very controversial film in its time, with the censors demanding lots of cuts and even am alternative ending because it was felt that this movie glorified the life of gangsters. Fortunately the film was being financed by the richest man on Earth at that time, Howard Hughes, and he was able to make these changes to the picture, although when the censors still would not pass the movie he just released the original version in states that had very relaxed censorship regulations.

There were also several accidents on set with Gaylord Lloyd, brother of silent screen comedian Harold Lloyd, losing an eye after being shot by live ammunition!!!


Busy Bodies

Cover of "Laurel & Hardy (Sons of the Des...

Cover via Amazon

Directed by Lloyd French
Produced by Hal Roach
Starring Stan Laurel
Oliver Hardy
Charlie Hall
Tiny Sandford
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date 7 October 1933

This is another fine Laurel & Hardy short film from the early 1930s. It features lots of funny slapstick and is perhaps one of their funniest movies. A lot of the film plays out like a silent film, despite being made in 1933, with Stan in particular showing off his pantomime skills. The film gave me a few good chuckles and doesn’t seem to have dated too badly.


The Cat And The Canary

“]Cover of "The Cat and the Canary [Region ...

Cover of The Cat and the Canary [Region 2

Directed by Elliott Nugent
Produced by Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Written by Walter de Leon & Lynn Starling
Play Author: John Willard
Starring Bob Hope
Paulette Goddard
John Beal
Douglass Montgomery
Gale Sondergaard
Music by Ernst Toch
Cinematography Charles B. Lang
Editing by Archie Marshek
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date 1939
Running time 72 min.

The Cat and The Canary is the first of two comedy/horror films that Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard made in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The other one was The Ghostbreakers. This movie is perhaps not as polished as The Ghostbreakers but it still has a few funny and chilling moments.

The two stars are the central focus of the film. Hope is the cowardly wisecracking hero while Goddard plays the pretty damsel in distress. They make a great team although Paulette doesn’t really do all that much except look pretty and brave (unlike Bob), which is in contrast to the strong roles that Charlie Chaplin had been giving her in Modern Times and The Great Dictator.  It is still an enjoyable film if only because of the chemistry that the two had.


Freaks

Directed by Tod Browning
Produced by Tod Browning
Written by Tod Robbins
Starring Wallace Ford
Leila Hyams
Olga Baclanova
Henry Victor
Harry Earles
Cinematography Merritt B. Gerstad
Editing by Basil Wrangell
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date February 20, 1932
Running time Original cut 90 min.
Released cut 64 min.
Country United States
Language English

“We accept her! We accept her! One of us! One of us! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble!”

Freaks is an interesting film that perhaps doesn’t deserve its notoriety. It’s not particularly scary or very well acted. The movie was banned in Britain (and Australia too I guess) for thirty years but it’s not that bad. There is a twist in the film in that the true monsters of the picture are not the Freaks themselves, but the supposedly normally looking aerialist and strongman who try to exploit one of the Freaks for their own profit. Perhaps the film works better as a satirical piece than as a horror film. It’s worth a look but I don’t think it deserves to be held as the 15th sacriest film of all-time. It is a film of its time though.


Poppy

Directed byA. Edward Sutherland
Writing credits Waldemar Young and Virginia Van Upp (screenplay)
Based on a play by Dorothy Donnelly

Cast (in credits order)

W.C. Fields … Prof. Eustace McGargle
Rochelle Hudson … Poppy
Richard Cromwell … Billy Farnsworth
Catherine Doucet … Countess Maggi Tubbs DePuizzi
Lynne Overman … Attorney Whiffen
Granville Bates … Mayor Farnsworth
Maude Eburne … Sarah Tucker
Bill Wolfe … Egmont
Adrian Morris … Constable Bowman
Rosalind Keith … Frances Parker
Ralph Remley … Carnival Manager

Poppy seems a bit different to the other W. C. Fields films that I have seen. It seems to be a typical 1930s comedy featuring Fields rather than a film that was built around him. It’s a lot more melodramatic than other Fields films, although it does feature enough of his weird and wonderful comedy to be worthy of a look.

Fields of course performed in the broadway version of Poppy over a decade earlier. He also played the part of Professor Eustace McGargle in the 1925 silent film Sally of the Sawdust.

Poppy is a part of the W.C. Fields Comedy Collection Volume 2 with The Man On The Flying Trapeze, You’re Telling Me, The Old Fashioned Way and Never Give A Sucker An Even Break. This DVD box set is available from Amazon for $43.99. You can purchase it by clicking here…


A Chump at Oxford

Directed by Alfred J. Goulding
Produced by Hal Roach Jr. & Hal Roach
Written by Charley Rogers, Felix Adler & Harry Langdon
Starring Stan Laurel
Oliver Hardy
Wilfred Lucas
Jimmy Finlayson
Anita Garvin
Forrester Harvey
Peter Cushing
Charlie Hall
Music by Marvin Hatley
Cinematography Art Lloyd
Editing by Bert Jordan
Distributed by United Artists
Release date February 16, 1940
Running time 63 minutes
Language English

Like most Laurel & Hardy movies this is just a series of sketches stuck together to form a feature film. It’s perhaps not the strongest of their films but it is amusing. It does take a long time before they make it to Oxford, and sometimes it is hard to believe that Stand & Ollie are so stupid, even though they haven’t got an education, but it is OK.

The film also features an early appearance by Peter Cushing who would go onto more fame a decade later in the Hammer horror films of the 1950s.

An amusing and watchable film with a few chuckles but no really laugh out loud moments.


On the Loose

Directed by Hal Roach
Produced by Hal Roach
Starring Zasu Pitts & Thelma Todd
Distributed by MGM
Release date 1931
Country  United States
Language English

This is an interesting short film from 1931 that features a cameo appearance from Laurel & Hardy. Of course the real stars of the film are Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd.

The other day I was reading about the untimely death of Todd and the rumours surrounding it. Rumour has it that the gangster Lucky Luciano murdered her because she vocally opposed him setting up am illegal casino. The official line is that she committed suicide, but police bungled the investigation completely.

The other star of the picture, Zasu Pitts is also interesting. In the silent era she was a dramatic actress but was relegated to comedy roles in the talky era due to her highly distinctive voice. In fact Mae Questal modelled her characterisation of Olive Oyl on Zasu Pitts, and in watching this film you can see the origins of that.

Overall the film is quite amusing in that 1930s way an interesting to watch.


The Dentist

Directed by Leslie Pearce
Produced by Mack Sennett
Written by W.C. Fields
Starring W.C. Fields
Babe Kane
Arnold Gray
Elise Cavanna
Dorothy Granger
Cinematography John W. Boyle
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date September 9, 1932
Running time 22 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Dentist is an early talky by W. C. Fields. It’s a series of funny sketches joined together so that the film reaches the 20 minute mark. There is only a slight plot about Fields being a dentist who firstly plays golf, then returns to see a couple of patients in his surgery. There is also another plot with his daughter wanting to marry the iceman but Fields being against it. There are a couple of good chuckles to be had, especially when an errant golf ball from Fields hits another golfer on the head. (This is always funny!)


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