Tag Archives: Myrna Loy

Whipsaw (1935, Sam Wood)

Whipsaw takes some detours, but eventually reveals itself as an unlikely road picture… albeit one with limited stops.

The first few scenes are in London, with a lot of exposition introducing Myrna Loy and Harvey Stephens as jewel thieves. There are some other jewel thieves who want in on their score. At this point, Whipsaw seems like it’s going to take place entirely at sea.

But then it skips to New York, three weeks later, with both the cops and the rival crooks staking out Loy in hopes of finding Stephens.

At this point, there are about eight characters to remember–all of whom might end up being significant to the plot.

Then Spencer Tracy shows up as an undercover cop. Even after he does, it still takes Whipsaw another twenty minutes to finally define itself. While Howard Emmett Rogers’s script is messy and often meanders, there’s a lot of enthusiasm to it. The structure’s odd, since Tracy’s deceiving Loy, who he assumes is deceiving him; it doesn’t work for the first act, but once the couple is on the road… Whipsaw gets good.

Loy and Tracy are both fantastic. Their characters have to respect the other’s intellect, try to outsmart the other one and constantly lie. It creates a lot of personal conflict, which the actors essay beautifully.

Wood’s direction–aided by James Wong Howe’s wondrous photography–has some sublime moments but not enough. Basil Wrangell’s editing is weak.

The earnest ending misfires. Loy and Tracy weather it ably.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Wood; screenplay by Howard Emmett Rogers, based on a story by James Edward Grant; director of photography, James Wong Howe; edited by Basil Wrangell; music by William Axt; produced by Wood and Harry Rapf; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Myrna Loy (Vivian Palmer), Spencer Tracy (Ross McBride), Harvey Stephens (Ed Dexter), William Harrigan (‘Doc’ Evans), Clay Clement (Harry Ames), Robert Gleckler (Steve Arnold), Robert Warwick (Robert W. Wadsworth), Georges Renavent (Monetta), Paul Stanton (Justice Department Chief Hughes), Wade Boteler (Detective Humphries), Don Rowan (Curley), John Qualen (Will Dabson), Irene Franklin (Madame Marie), Lillian Leighton (Aunt Jane), J. Anthony Hughes (Justice Department Agent Bailey), William Ingersoll (Dr. Williams) and Charles Irwin (Larry King).


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The Rains Came (1939, Clarence Brown)

I was expecting The Rains Came to be a standard soap–with some ethnic flair, of course (Tyrone Power’s an Indian doctor, Myrna Loy’s a British lady). Instead, it’s a little like… Maugham-lite. Neither Loy nor Power is the lead (in fact, Power’s in it so little he should get a “special guest star” credit). The lead is actually George Brent (who gets third-billing).

He opens the movie and he carries it for quite a while. Loy doesn’t show up for a while and, even when she does, Brent’s around the entire time. His troubles with missionary’s daughter Brenda Joyce, for example, take up the screen time when Power should be getting his own backstory. Brent’s the bored Englishman on self-imposed exile in India (hence, Maugham-lite) and he drinks and threatens to cavort. He makes Rains a joy to watch, even when it’s going through it’s more melodramatic sections.

As it turns out, Loy is not a stoic, upstanding British woman as I expected. She’s a bit of a tramp, frequently stepping out on her odious husband–played by Nigel Bruce, whose death scene is played for laughs. It makes Loy a little bit less than likable (elevating the initially annoying Joyce to that position) and quite tragic once she discovers selflessness–again, Maugham-lite.

Additionally, there are great special effects, harmless direction from Brown and some fine supporting performances–Maria Ouspenskaya in particular.

The Rains Came has some excellent moments; they overshadow the mediocre ones.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clarence Brown; screenplay by Philip Dunne and Julien Josephson, based on the novel by Louis Bromfield; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; edited by Barbara McLean; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Myrna Loy (Lady Edwina Esketh), Tyrone Power (Maj. Rama Safti), George Brent (Tom Ransome), Brenda Joyce (Fern Simon), Nigel Bruce (Lord Albert Esketh), Maria Ouspenskaya (Maharani), Joseph Schildkraut (Mr. Bannerjee), Mary Nash (Miss MacDaid), Jane Darwell (Mrs. Smiley), Marjorie Rambeau (Mrs. Simon), Henry Travers (Rev. Homer Smiley), H.B. Warner (Maharajah), Laura Hope Crews (Lily Hoggett-Egburry), William Royle (Raschid Ali Khan), C. Montague Shaw (Gen. Keith), Harry Hayden (Rev. Elmer Simon), Herbert Evans (Bates), Abner Biberman (John, the Baptist), Mara Alexander (Mrs. Bannerjee) and William Edmunds (Mr. Das).


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Love Crazy (1941, Jack Conway)

Love Crazy has to be the worst film William Powell and Myrna Loy ever made together. Powell started his career in silents, so it’s possible it’s not his worst film, but I’m pretty sure it’s Loy’s. Love Crazy starts incredibly lazy. It doesn’t bother defining either character–they’re just Powell and Loy playing a couple, Powell’s charming, Loy’s enchanting. They’re playing caricatures, not people–Love Crazy would have been much more amusing if it’d been different actors impersonating Powell and Loy, David Niven and Maggie Smith really should have remade it.

But the script’s weakness doesn’t have much to do with the shallow characters. Like I said, Powell’s charming, Loy’s enchanting, they’re certainly actors one can spend ninety minutes with, even if there’s not much of a story. Love Crazy, unfortunately, has a story–and it’s a bad one. The film’s construction is incompetent. The first forty minutes or so take place over one evening, Powell and Loy’s four-year wedding anniversary. The four-year anniversary, according to Wikipedia, is linen or silk. Neither of these play a part in the film, I just got curious. The tradition–according to the expository dialogue–is for Powell and Loy to walk four miles into the country, get on a boat, then have a late dinner. Powell suggests they do it backwards, which sounds like a diverting enough premise for a picture. But they don’t do any of these backwards activities. Instead, Loy’s mother shows up and the evening goes to pot. While Loy’s off running an errand for her now injured mother–at this point, Love Crazy seems like it could be a mix of The Man Who Came to Dinner and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, told over one evening–Powell all of a sudden decides to skip off with ex-girlfriend Gail Patrick.

Here’s where Love Crazy flushes itself out to sea. Loy thinks Powell’s running around with Patrick, Powell protests his innocence, Loy doesn’t believe him and sets out to divorce him, viewer is supposed to believe Powell–even though the evidence is against him–because he’s William Powell; there must be a reasonable explanation. He and Myrna Loy are movie married after all. What Love Crazy never acknowledges is Powell’s character running out on his ailing mother-in-law (she’s annoying) to hang out with ex-girlfriend Patrick after Loy’s made it clear she doesn’t want him seeing her. It’s such a strange scene where Powell decides to scurry out with Patrick, it’s a ludicrous move just to get something going in the plot. Regardless of Powell’s innocence in terms of fidelity, he’s still a heel who ran out because he was inconvenienced by his mother-in-law. It’s lame.

There’s a lot of slapstick and it’s lame too. A scene where Powell gets his neck stuck in an elevator door implies he might get some brain damage, but it’s never explored. It’d be a far better way for the film to have gone. All of Love Crazy suffers similarly–it always could make a better narrative choice and never does.

Conway’s direction is fine. It’s not his fault. Powell and Loy are both fine. Florence Bates is okay as Loy’s mother. She occasionally overplays the annoying mother-in-law, but not often. She’s usually the good guy compared to Powell. Jack Carson’s good as Loy’s new suitor (a terribly underwritten part, in a film of underwritten parts). Patrick’s bad. Vladimir Sokoloff is awesome in a small role.

It’s a terrible film. I’d never seen it before–Evelyn Prentice instead being the worst Loy and Powell pairing I’d seen–and I wish I never did.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Conway; screenplay by William Ludwig, Charles Lederer and David Hertz, based on a story by Hertz and Ludwig; director of photography, Ray June; edited by Ben Lewis; music by David Snell; produced by Pandro S. Berman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Steve Ireland), Myrna Loy (Susan Ireland), Gail Patrick (Isobel Kimble Grayson), Jack Carson (Ward Willoughby), Florence Bates (Mrs. Cooper), Sidney Blackmer (Lawyer George Renny), Sig Ruman (Doctor Wuthering), Vladimir Sokoloff (Dr. David Klugle), Donald MacBride (‘Pinky’ Grayson), Sara Haden (Miss Cecilia Landis), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs. Bristol), Fern Emmett (Martha), Joseph Crehan (Judge), George Meeker (Lawyer DeWest), Clarence Muse (Robert) and Elisha Cook Jr. (Joe).

William Powell stars in DOUBLE WEDDING, directed by Richard Thorpe for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Double Wedding (1937, Richard Thorpe)

Much of Double Wedding–around two-thirds of it–is a supreme comedy. It might feature William Powell’s best comedic performance, just because of the limitless opportunity it offers him. It’s hard to top Powell in a fur coat and a fake wig… with a German accent (and a walking stick). Or Powell going through a big demonstration of how sidekick John Beal should win back his fiancée (who’s now in love with Powell). A crowd gathers to watch Powell and Beal and it’s the most natural thing–who wouldn’t want to watch Powell in this film.

The script gives him a lot of freedom–his character is revealed (a little) throughout, so there’s very little constraint on him. For whatever reason, I wouldn’t have thought Powell could have done the Peter Pan bohemian painter but he does it great. Double Wedding even makes a joke at expense of the dignified characters he more often portrayed in a spectacular little scene.

There’s a lot of dialogue in Double Wedding, which is probably not from the source play (given it was probably written in Hungarian). The actors have some lengthy deliveries–starting with Myrna Loy’s hilarious explanation of how she’s related to Beal. It’s so confusing, it’s hard not to see the connections drawing out in the mind’s eye… just to keep up with Loy, whose delivery is wonderful. But Beal and Powell also have some long monologues and both are a joy to watch.

Beal’s character, quiet and reserved, gets these great situations–often when he’s got to explain why he’s acting passive, but the ones where he nears his boiling point are funny too. He has good chemistry with the object of his affections, played by Florence Rice. So it’s too bad when she disappears a third into the film, since Powell’s got Loy to romance, not her. It’s hard to even remember Rice is around, especially during some of the sequences with Sidney Toler, as Loy’s dimwitted butler who fancies himself a detective and spies on Powell for her. Powell gets the aforementioned beard from Toler, who’s trailing him in disguise.

The various absurdities in Double Wedding–along with a couple convenient revelations–create a fanciful atmosphere. It’s like the film anticipates what the viewer wants to see happen and delivers. Loy and Powell, for instance, have a romantic scene in the forest and it turns comedic at just the right moment–and then the film doesn’t stick with it too long, director Thorpe gets out at the ideal moment.

I’m sure I’ve seen other films of Thorpe’s before, but his direction here is very impressive. He knows how to use the actors well, even when it’s as simple as walking across a room or glancing into a mirror. And Thorpe manages to keep the rather large and out of control conclusion together, which is a significant feat.

The ending is where Double Wedding falls apart. It relies on standard comedy pacing instead of doing its own thing, it follows the standards instead of writing them–the first two-thirds is unlike anything else and the last third is extremely comfortable. The film stops before the story’s done, but also before the viewer is ready for it to be over. The tedious final act, with its paltry pay-off, is okay… however, the film raised expectations much higher.

And I can’t forget Loy. The third act really fails her, in terms of material. She becomes a fifth wheel in her own film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Thorpe; screenplay by Jo Swerling, based on a play by Ferenc Molnár; director of photography, William H. Daniels; edited by Frank Sullivan; music by Edward Ward; produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Charlie Lodge), Myrna Loy (Margit Agnew), Florence Rice (Irene Agnew), John Beal (Waldo Beaver), Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Kensington-Bly), Edgar Kennedy (Spike), Sidney Toler (Mr. Keough), Mary Gordon (Mrs. Keough), Barnett Parker (Mr. Flint), Katharine Alexander (Claire Lodge), Priscilla Lawson (Felice) and Bert Roach (Shrank).

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The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933, W.S. Van Dyke)

The Prizefighter and the Lady mixes a couple genres–the philandering husband whose wife can’t stop loving him standard and, additionally, stunt casting. Heavyweight contender Max Baer stars as a heavyweight contender, who fights the champ, played by champ Primo Carnera. Myrna Loy plays the suffering wife, while Walter Huston and Otto Kruger finish the supporting cast. There are boxing and wrestling cameos–the biggest being Jack Dempsey.

The film culminates with the fight between Baer and Carnera. Loy’s supposed to be cheering for Baer’s defeat, while Huston–Baer’s boxer is an almost unparalleled narcissist–I can’t remember a feature with a more despicable protagonist who the viewer is supposed to adore and admire–is quietly cheering his fighter on. Kruger sort of stands around, looking doe-eyed, as former love Loy can’t resist the manliness of Baer.

What’s strangest about the scene is the film’s relationship with the viewer–it certainly appears the audience is supposed to be cheering Baer win, after spending forty minutes of him acting like a complete jerk and however much time before with him acting like a moderate jerk. The film opens strong because of Huston, whose performance as a broken down, drunken boxing manager who gets another shot, is utterly fantastic. Every line Huston delivers is perfect. He’s marvelous.

The big fight isn’t even directed with an emphasis on the exhibition. Instead, the film cuts between fight shots and reactions in the crowd and among the main cast. The sequence has great sound, with the background rumble overpowering everything else. Van Dyke has some excellent shots here, but the emotional impact is obviously more important.

Except it’s not, because Baer’s a jerk. The conclusion’s even ambiguous as to the future of his philandering. Whatever lesson Baer’s supposed to have learned through the running time, whatever change he’s going to make to his life, whatever development… the film’s indifferent. He’s a hero because he’s a real-life boxer; he’s not accountable for his actions.

Van Dyke’s got some great shots and some fine moments throughout the picture. Kruger’s gangster with a heart of gold is okay–he and Loy have some good scenes together. She’s fine, if completely unbelievable in the role as it gets towards the end. Like I said before, Huston’s superb. There’s some nice work from Vince Barnett and Robert McWade. Carnera shows more charisma in his practically wordless performance than Baer does as the protagonist.

There’s a lot of filler–musical numbers, mostly, trying to obscure the lack of story. Baer isn’t terrible–he can’t emote, of course–which might have been from Howard Hawks working with him… or not (Hawks was going to direct before MGM signed Baer, then may or may not have stuck around to work with him while Van Dyke finished up a different picture). He can’t make the character likable, which makes the whole premise fail. But he could be worse….

A lot like the film itself. It could be worse–and I had to keep reminding myself of that one.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by John Lee Mahin and John Meehan, based on a story by Frances Marion; director of photography, Lester White; edited by Robert Kern; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Myrna Loy (Belle), Max Baer (Morgan), Primo Carnera (Carnera), Jack Dempsey (Dempsey), Walter Huston (The Professor), Otto Kruger (Willie Ryan), Vince Barnett (Bugsie) and Robert McWade (Sonny).

William Powell and Myrna Loy star in I LOVE YOU AGAIN, directed by W.S. Van Dyke for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

I Love You Again (1940, W.S. Van Dyke)

I Love You Again is such a confident success–the whole thing rests on William Powell and everything he does in the entire picture is fantastic–it’s hard to think of anything wrong with it. It moves beautifully, its ninety-nine minutes sailing by, the supporting cast is all excellent and every one of its big comic scenes work.

The film’s premise–Powell as a teetotaler who, following a hit on the head, discovers he’s really a con artist–is well-suited as a vehicle for he and Myrna Loy. Loy plays the divorcing wife–bored with the teetotaler–who finds him a changed and intriguing man. I Love You Again comes about seven years after their first pairing and the two work in absolute unison, allowing the narrative to do without added exposition.

Watching Powell pursue Loy–and run afoul of her new beau, played by Donald Douglas (in one of the film’s only weak performances)–is delightful, with their pre-existing film partnership part of the agreed upon amusement. And it’s their filmic relationship, the one playing out in I Love You Again, where the film gets overconfident. It assumes the viewer will take that relationship for granted to a degree; the romance, which becomes the film’s driving force, isn’t the biggest plot foil.

Instead, there’s an elaborate con going on. The con’s good and beautifully handled–it’s a shame Edmund Lowe doesn’t have more scenes, but Frank McHugh’s great as Powell’s sidekick–but it confuses the film’s effectiveness. Loy’s hardly in the film’s last third, just because there’s an elaborate and hilarious set-up for the con involving Powell dressed up as a Boy Scout. Because the sequence is so good–and because Loy and Powell do have a nice scene dealing with the romance plot following it–as the film plays, it isn’t clear how much time Loy’s been off-screen.

The first half of the film, filled with some of its best comic scenes–there’s a great dinner scene with Powell, Loy and Douglas, another scene with Powell and Loy shopping–is heavy on Loy. She’s an integral part of the experience and to put her off-screen because it’s workable is bothersome (I know I’m harping on it, but Loy doesn’t get a very good close).

In some ways, this pairing is more convenient than collaborative. Powell gets to do physical comedy, play two wildly different parts (the teetotaler being completely against type for him) and gets to work with McHugh. He and Powell have a great chemistry and McHugh gets most of the film’s best lines; his character is the only one free of a real narrative.

But the film viewing experience itself is so joyful, it’s hard to identify the shortcuts the filmmakers are taking while watching. The film’s a superior diversion and the slightly less than filling feeling takes a few minutes to set in. During, there are a few moments where it’s clear Van Dyke’s not really giving the direction his all. Some of the camera set-ups are identical–even if they frequently do have some excellent cuts–and he’s not really trying. He doesn’t have to, not with the material, not the with the cast, but it’d have been something if he had.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Charles Lederer, George Oppenheimer and Harry Kurnitz, based on a story by Leon Gordon and Maurine Dallas Watkins and the novel by Octavus Roy Cohen; director of photography, Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Gene Ruggiero; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Lawrence Weingarten; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Larry Wilson), Myrna Loy (Kay Wilson), Frank McHugh (Doc Ryan), Edmund Lowe (Duke Sheldon), Donald Douglas (Herbert), Nella Walker (Kay’s mother), Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer (Leonard Harkspur Jr.), Pierre Watkin (Mr. W.H. Sims), Paul Stanton (Mr. Edward Littlejohn Sr.), Morgan Wallace (Mr. Phil Belenson) and Charles Arnt (Mr. Billings).

Wings in the Dark (1935, James Flood)

Wings in the Dark is three-quarters overwrought melodrama with the remainder squandered potential. The film opens with Myrna Loy as the protagonist, an aviatrix (never thought I’d get to type that word) whose flying abilities can’t compensate–in terms of professional opportunities–for her lack of male gender. This part of the film, with Loy trying to make a living when she can’t do much more than stunt flying, is interesting. It reminded me, Amelia Earhart or no Amelia Earhart, I don’t think I’ve ever flown on a flight with a female pilot (or even a female member of the flight crew).

But the film quickly turns Loy into a standard melodramatic female role with the appearance of Cary Grant. Grant’s a successful pilot–who doesn’t even have to time to acknowledge fliers like Loy–and Loy seems to love him for it. It’s excusable at this point, part of the narrative; it isn’t until later the melodramatic syrup clogs the whole film down.

Grant ends up blind–but not really blind, there’s the chance he’ll get his sight back–and the film becomes an advertisement for anti-blindness. It’s too bad there isn’t a word for it, as it’s difficult to describe the film’s hostility towards the blind. Where they could make distinctions between Grant’s character’s situation and those of blind people, they make generalizations. It’s stunning–being blind, according to Wings in the Dark, is worse than being a leper. It really is a burden on friends and family and the world at large. Plus, Grant might awkwardly bump into things, you know, to show off how he can’t see after just having an argument about people deceiving him because he can’t see. All it needs is a laugh track.

Grant and Loy do have a lot of chemistry, which keeps it going through some of the worse scripted scenes. There’s a walk through the woods, for instance, and it’s beautifully done. James Flood’s a fine director, but he can’t do much with the content.

Just before the worst of the poor blind Grant scenes, there’s some more fine Loy as the female flier material. The film’s trying to put way too much into seventy-five minutes and without the screenwriters to pull it off. Both leads have individual story lines deserving of attention and the film’s attempt to tie them together fails.

It doesn’t help the supporting cast is phoning in their performances. Hobert Cavanaugh’s direction was apparently to have a loud Scottish accent and he does, even if it’s shaky at times. Roscoe Karns, who should be lovable as Loy’s thoughtlessly ambitious manager, is not. Any time he comes on the screen, it’s unbelievable Loy would associate with such a snake. Dean Jagger’s good, but he’s only in it at the beginning and end.

There’s some nice aerial photography and there’s a fine effects sequence at the end, but the movie stops early. That effects sequence earns it some more consideration and instead of playing it all out, it ends at the first possible moment following. Going a little longer and concluding some of the story lines wouldn’t have helped a lot, but it would have helped some. Especially since Loy spends the last quarter of the film alone in a cockpit, not the most interesting place for an actor to be….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Flood; screenplay by Jack Kirkland and Frank Partos, based on an adaptation by Dale Van Every and E.H. Robinson and a story by Philip D. Hurn and Neil Shipman; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by William Shea; music by Heinz Roemheld; produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Myrna Loy (Sheila Mason), Cary Grant (Ken Gordon), Roscoe Karns (Nick Williams), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mac), Dean Jagger (Top Harmon), Russell Hopton (Jake Brashear), Matt McHugh (Mechanic) and Graham McNamee (Radio Announcer).


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William Powell and Myrna Loy star in EVELYN PRENTICE, directed by William K. Howard for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Evelyn Prentice (1934, William K. Howard)

Evelyn Prentice only runs eighty minutes, but it goes on forever. At seventeen minutes alone, it’s getting tiring. The big problem is the lack of thoughtful approach. It’s constantly revealing big twists, twists to shock the audience, but they just end up detracting from the film’s possibilities. Because Evelyn Prentice is not a deep study of floundering marriages or endless guilt. It’s an adultery melodrama, down to the frequent fade-outs to punctuate “affecting” scenes. It’s not even an interesting adultery melodrama–there’s a whole courtroom angle the film never shows, just because it’s withholding information the scenes would reveal. Information the film’s principles, reading newspapers, would know (but somehow do not).

It’s a frustrating film too, because of Myrna Loy and William Powell. It’s one of their least successful pairings, because Powell’s playing toward their standard (after a first act diversion) and Loy is not. She’s in a different film completely. Powell’s in one where Edward Brophy pops in for comic relief, Loy’s in one where she’s ready to collapse from internal struggle. But the script doesn’t know how to tell that story (Prentice is 1934 MGM, not a lot of subtlety) and it’s too bad, since director Howard probably would have done better with that approach than the melodrama one. He’s got one great shot at the end, makes up for the frequent panning and generally lackluster direction.

Both Loy and Powell have some good moments, but since they’re in these genre-defined, rote roles, it’s really the supporting cast who have the best roles. Well, the best roles for actors, not necessarily the best written (the script treats the entire supporting cast as superfluous). Una Merkel’s role, for instance, is to give Myrna Loy someone to have scenes with. Merkel does a fine job in the thankless role, but at least she gets to be in the whole picture. Henry Wadsworth has a lot of fun at the beginning as Merkel’s constantly intoxicated romantic interest. Then he disappears, once Powell returns to the film.

The stuff with Loy and Powell and their kid, played by Cora Sue Collins, is actually pretty darn good, though the scenes still have that disconnect–Loy and Powell aren’t acting in the same film.

Rosalind Russell pops in for a minute too–even though she’s pretty bad, had her character stayed in the film, it would have really helped things out.

At eighty minutes, Evelyn Prentice is an abbreviated but still monotonous melodrama. None of the acting really makes it worth seeing (Loy’s been just as good in similar roles in good movies and Powell’s not doing anything special) and that one shot at the end is too paltry a reward. Had the film run much longer–around two hours–and been a big melodrama, it would have been better. The same problems would probably still be there, but maybe the added minutes who make it more compelling. As it runs, there’s just not enough going on to make it watchable.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by William K. Howard; screenplay by Lenore J. Coffee, based on the novel by W.E. Woodward; director of photography, Charles G. Clarke; edited by Frank E. Hull; music by R.H. Bassett; produced by John W. Considine Jr.; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (John Prentice), Myrna Loy (Evelyn Prentice), Una Merkel (Amy Drexel), Rosalind Russell (Mrs. Nancy Harrison), Isabel Jewell (Judith Wilson), Harvey Stephens (Lawrence Kennard), Edward Brophy (Eddie Delaney), Henry Wadsworth (Chester Wylie), Cora Sue Collins (Dorothy Prentice), Frank Conroy (Dist. Atty. Farley) and Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Blake).

Clark Gable and William Powell star in MANHATTAN MELODRAMA, directed by W.S. Van Dyke for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Manhattan Melodrama (1934, W.S. Van Dyke)

It’s funny how obvious writers’ contributions can be in certain films. For instance, Joseph L. Mankiewicz very likely wrote some of the best scenes in Manhattan Melodrama and Oliver H.P. Garrett wrote some of the worst. The clue is the dialogue. Mankiewicz has distinctive dialogue, even in a film relatively early in his career, and it’s very good dialogue.

Unfortunately, uneven writing isn’t the only problem with Manhattan Melodrama. Running ninety minutes and covering thirty years, it plays like a summary of a longer film. The characters exist only in their scenes, never in between. Myrna Loy’s got a particularly troublesome role in that regard, because her character rarely makes sense for longer than ten minutes at a time. She’s good in some of her scenes and a little lost in the others, the fault clearly resting on the script. Her character is constantly yo-yoing between, she thinks, Clark Gable and William Powell. Except, rather specifically, Gable informs her she is not. But the script keeps it up, because without it and with the rapid pace, there’s not enough… pardon the term… melodrama.

Gable gives a fantastic performance, a great leading man performance. He’s amazing in every scene, bringing both a sense of humor and sadness to the film.

Nat Pendleton and Isabel Jewell help with the humor when Gable’s being sad and their comedic scenes–along with some of the romantic scenes between Powell and Loy–are when Van Dyke’s doing his best work in the film. His worst work is when he’s being melodramatic and, oddly, a little artistic. Way too artistic for him. There’s a clear divide in the film–the good scenes sound like Mankiewicz and have good direction, the bad scenes don’t sound like Mankiewicz and have poor direction. It’s just not Van Dyke’s kind of film–the ninety minutes sounds right and I can even understand some of the lack of coverage (Van Dyke shot notoriously fast)–but Manhattan Melodrama occasionally feels like The Godfather in terms of its potential and it doesn’t (or couldn’t) even acknowledge them.

It’s clearest at the end, when Gable and Powell shake hands, when it’s perfectly honest–even in this film–they need to hug. Well, it was 1934 and they couldn’t hug and that reality is probably what makes Manhattan Melodrama a doomed effort.

The film does feature some of Powell’s best acting. I’m not familiar enough with his work outside the Thin Man series and a handful of other films–all comedies–but he had a very definite ability as a dramatic actor. So, of course, most of his more important scenes are the ones poorly written. Also, the film ends abruptly, resolving itself in the alloted time (with a really, really unfortunate scene).

I’d seen Manhattan Melodrama before and I remember it being a disappointment, but certainly not as disappointing as it turned out this time. However, Gable’s performance (and Powell’s too, but not in the showy, movie star way) is incredible.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Oliver H.P. Garrett and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on a story by Arthur Caeser; director of photography, James Wong Howe; edited by Ben Lewis; produced by David O. Selznick; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Clark Gable (Blackie), William Powell (Jim), Myrna Loy (Eleanor Packer), Leo Carrillo (Father Joe), Nat Pendleton (Spud), George Sidney (Poppa Rosen), Isabel Jewell (Annabelle), Muriel Evans (Tootsie Malone), Thomas E. Jackson (Snow), Jimmy Butler (Jim as a boy) and Mickey Rooney (Blackie as a boy).


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William Powell, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy star in LIBELED LADY, directed by Jack Conway for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Libeled Lady (1936, Jack Conway)

Libeled Lady suffers from a few things, but it’s hard to pinpoint what doesn’t work about the film because there are so many things working well. There’s a great William Powell slapstick fishing scene in the film, there’s a great wedding scene where the husband gets a peck and the best man gets a passionate kiss, there’s even a nice courtship between Powell and Myrna Loy, except Powell’s married to Jean Harlow and Loy is suing Harlow’s boyfriend, played by Spencer Tracy. The problem stems from not knowing what to do with Harlow. Libeled Lady is a ninety-eight minute comedy with four major stars, it having focusing problems isn’t even in question….

The film opens with Harlow and Tracy and it stays with Tracy for a bit, introducing Powell in a great way, but up until that introduction (and even immediately following) Libeled Lady is a newspaper comedy. This genre has disappeared, but it was prevalent in the 1930s. I’ve read the early talkie screenwriters were newspaper reporters, explaining the newspaper office as a frequent setting and the reporter as a dedicated hero. But then it turns and becomes an odd Myrna Loy-William Powell comedy, one where you really miss W.S. Van Dyke behind the camera. When Tracy and Harlow return to the film, Harlow has become superfluous. It’s not a traditional comedy–there are different expectations and responsibilities. It’s a little more serious. The audience comes to like Loy (or Loy warms to Powell and the audience warms to Loy while Powell in conflict). But, Powell never reveals the full extent of his subterfuge to Loy when the audience gets to see (again turning the film’s focus to Harlow and Tracy). There isn’t a scene because it doesn’t work with that returning focus to Harlow’s side of the story.

It’s a lot of fun, and Tracy is really good in the opening. He and Powell have a good repartee going too, but we only get to see it once. Harlow and Powell were together at the time and the chemistry cares over to celluloid, but it’s also a Powell and Loy film, which causes a disconnect. I think it’s in Myrna Loy’s biography–when Loy had a cameo in The Senator Was Indiscreet as Powell’s long-unseen wife, it wasn’t even a question for audiences she would be the wife–it was expected. It doesn’t help the film perturbs Harlow’s character arc to fit that clean ending or makes Tracy so ineffectual in the second half–though the scene with him running across a foyer is delightful. It’s in an awkward part of the film, but Tracy’s fun translates well.

It’s good. It is. It’s just the problems are more visible then they should be….

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Conway; screenplay by Maurine Dallas Watkins, Howard Emmett Rogers and George Oppenheimer, based on a story by Wallace Sullivan; director of photography, Norbert Brodine; edited by Fredrick Y. Smith; music by William Axt; produced by Lawrence Weingarten; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Jean Harlow (Gladys), William Powell (Bill Chandler), Myrna Loy (Connie Allenbury), Spencer Tracy (Haggerty), Walter Connolly (Mr. Allenbury), Charley Grapewin (Mr. Bane) and Cora Witherspoon (Mrs. Burns-Norvell).