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Thursday, Oct 23, 2014
These two films by Robert Z. Leonard are showcases for June Allyson, who uses her youthful visage to her strategic advantage.

Now available on demand from Warner Archive are two minor entertainments directed by the old and reliable Robert Z. Leonard, both of which showcase June Allyson. A short, pert, perky blonde with a smoky voice, Allyson accents her ability to pass as a teenager.


The Secret Heart follows Hollywood’s postwar vogue for pat Freudian psychology. In a carefully worked out script with a flashback for the complicated backstory, we learn that Lee Adams (Claudette Colbert) is a hardworking real estate agent in New York because she’s paying off debts incurred by her late husband (Richard Derr), a frustrated pianist who embezzled bank funds and killed himself while she was having a good time with his friend Chris (Walter Pidgeon). If that’s not enough, the real focus of the drama is Lee’s moody, 17-year-old stepdaughter Penny (Allyson, almost 30 in real life), who keeps her father’s spirit alive by playing piano and falling for Chris as a substitute daddy, without realizing he’s got his eye on her stepmama.


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Friday, Oct 17, 2014
The subgenre of fanciful thieves stealing from the rich has seen much better iterations than these three takes on Fredrick Lonsdale's play The Last of Mrs. Cheyney.

A glamorous woman charms her way into high society and accepts an invitation to spend a weekend in the country. She’s being courted by a old blowhard and a young cad, and she’s surprisingly friendly with her butler. Soon the audience catches on that she’s part of a gang that intends to steal a valuable pearl necklace, but when will everyone else find out? Such is the plot of Frederick Lonsdale’s 1925 play The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, filmed thrice by MGM. All versions are now available on demand from Warner Archives.


cover art

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1927)

Director: Sidney Franklin
Cast: Norma Shearer, Basil Rathbone

(US DVD: 7 Apr 2014)

The 1929 version is the type of early talkie that gives this era the reputation of being stagey and static, and that’s because Lonsdale’s play is the type of rapidly-dating piece that requires people to stand around making arch comments, all cummerbunds and brilliantine. An escapist trifle set in a chic, high-ceilinged, evening-gowned world of British gentry who lounge around playing cards and making fatuous gossip, it might as well be set on the moon. The pacing isn’t helped by the way the actors pause after every alleged witticism to give us time to titter.


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Wednesday, Oct 15, 2014
That Joe E. Brown, he's got a mouth on him.

In the early ‘30s, director Mervyn LeRoy and Warner Brothers-First National Pictures put out hard-hitting projects that took account of Depression-era America. Broadminded and Elmer the Great, two Joe E. Brown vehicles, don’t count, however, as they represent the era’s flipside: willfully trivial escapism. With his sleepy eyes, puffy cheeks, and unnaturally big, wide mouth, Brown comes across as a bizarre vaudeville cartoon. Today, he’s best remembered as the eccentric millionaire who provides the punchline in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot. It’s hard to believe in a time when he was hot, but he ruled the early talkies.


Broadminded, whose cleverest joke is the title, functions more as a curiosity than a comedy. It begins with a “wild party,” more irritating than decadent, with everyone dressed up like babies. In a pre-Production Code bit of salaciousness, the hostess (Margaret Livingston) threatens to put everyone to bed. Brown is introduced in a very surreal manner, wailing from a baby carriage. In a later scene, he’s alarmingly convincing when imitating an ape.


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Monday, Oct 13, 2014
There are five reasons to revisit Bloody Mama in light of its recent Kino Lorber reissue.

1. Knock-off of Bonnie and Clyde: Producer-director Roger Corman kept his eye on trends, following some and anticipating others. He’d made a few gangster pictures before, but after Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde became a controversial hit, he saw an opening for another period bloodbath that takes liberties with real-life outlaws.


Thus, the world has Bloody Mama, based on the Depression-era exploits of Ma Barker and her wayward bank-robbing sons. They’d already been featured in a low-budget wonder called Ma Barker’s Killer Brood (1960) and an episode of TV’s The Untouchables; but heck, there’d already been a movie called The Bonnie Parker Story in 1958, and that hadn’t stopped Penn. Many critics saw Corman’s film as a vicious, violent, low-budget rip-off of a vicious, violent, respectable Hollywood hit, and reviewed it accordingly.


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Tuesday, Oct 7, 2014
This film may have picked up some sentimental value over the past 70 years, but it hasn't picked up much else during that time.

This film is a pleasant piece of wartime Americana that, like some of its characters, literally goes overboard. When it came out in 1946, after the war was over, it was past its sentimental sell-by date, which is why the opening announces that it takes place “a long, long time ago, way back in 1943”. It was already being nostalgic, but audiences who’d lived through the war were flocking to see The Best Years of Our Lives, which had something sensible to say. Now available on demand from Fox Cinema Archives, Wake Up and Dream comes across as a warm Technicolor slice of marmalade spread on thick.


John Payne plays Jeff, a gosh-gee farmer who’s tongue-tied around the spectacular Jenny (June Haver), a blonde and busty waitress at the local diner. He enlists in the navy and sends his somber little sister Nella (Connie Marshall, working in Margaret O’Brien mode) and her dog Tipsy (looking like Toto) to relatives, then promptly gets declared missing in action. With far-fetched reasons and an unclear sense of geography (exact locations were hush-hush in wartime anyway), Jenny and Nella go off with an old simpleton called Henry Peckett (Clem Bevans), who built a sailboat in the backyard and spends much time puffing philosophically about children and the power of belief.


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