Category Archives: 1933

One Sunday Afternoon (1933, Stephen Roberts)

One Sunday Afternoon suffers from some of the standard play-to-film problems. The scenes go on too long, especially in the first half, which only contains three real scenes. The opening, which is a lengthy, seemingly direct adaptation from the play, features Gary Cooper and Roscoe Karns talking to each other as way of establishing the characters and setting. It’s problematic to say the least, since their dialogue isn’t particularly interesting and because it just drags the film down, right from the start.

What’s strange about the opening is the make-up. One Sunday Afternoon is told mostly in flashback, with the opening and end in the modern day. The film establishes Cooper and Karns in old age make-up at the start. It’s a conventional narrative move and what’s strange about it has nothing to do with it as a storytelling device. The strange thing is the fantastic make-up work. I can’t find any credits for it, but whoever came up with it did an amazing job. It’s more of a shock seeing Cooper without the make-up on than it is seeing him without.

So after the three or fourth lengthy scenes, the film skips forward a couple years and drastically changes. The scenes are shorter, more filmic, and it has a lot more weight. The long, early scenes seem more like foundation for the brief middle section. It doesn’t seem like an intentional, deliberate move, just fortuitous pacing.

What makes the film is Cooper’s performance. He’s not playing a smart guy here or even a nice one. Cooper does a great job of it, never making his character amusing in his denseness or self-absorbtion. He never makes him entirely bad either, the stupidity excuses just enough of the inconsideration.

It leads to some good scenes with Frances Fuller, who starts the film with a weak character, but–no shock–she strengths in the middle section.

Unfortunately, both Fay Wray and Neil Hamilton are weak. Wray, just like most everyone, is more interesting in the middle, but she’s barely present. The plotting for the first part of the flashback is too melodramatic for Wray’s character in particular. Even though she’s amusing as she leaves the film, she really never brings anything to it. Hamilton’s generally bad throughout, though he’s a little better in the present day setting. His excellent make-up probably helped out a little.

The film greatly suffers from being too short in the good parts and too long in the middling. Cooper’s performance does wonders for it–and the fine production values as well–but there’s no creative direction. As a director, Stephen Roberts is entirely passive. I can’t remember seeing a single surprising frame of film. But the positive elements–running high off the middle–bring the film nicely to its conclusion. The end’s a little stretched, as the film suffers from wholly deceiving the audience until the last act, but it’s solid.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Roberts; screenplay by Grover Jones and William Slavens McNutt, based on the play by James Hagan; directors of photography, Victor Milner and Karl Struss; edited by Ellsworth Hoagland; music by John Leipold; produced by Louis D. Lighton; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Gary Cooper (Biff Grimes), Fay Wray (Virginia Brush), Frances Fuller (Amy Lind), Roscoe Karns (Snappy Downer), Neil Hamilton (Hugo Barnstead) and Jane Darwell (Mrs. Lind).


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Private Detective 62 (1933, Michael Curtiz)

Private Detective 62 is not much of a mystery. Except perhaps the title, which has nothing to do with the film so far as I could tell. Instead, it’s an interesting drama taking place at a detective agency. William Powell plays a diplomatic agent who gets busted by the French while on assignment and gets fired, so he has to find a job. Five minutes later–and a lot of looking in a nice montage–and he’s a private detective. Except the agency owner oscillates between dumb and evil, making things interesting for Powell, who’s trying to run a helpful detective agency… not one trapping wives in precarious situations to help their husbands divorce.

It’s no surprise Powell’s good–the story moves around quite a bit in the first act, giving him more to do than be a moral detective–or Michael Curtiz. Curtiz doesn’t have many jaw-dropping sequences in this one (he had such sequences in the early 1930s, including one in a Philo Vance starring Powell), but he does an excellent job throughout. Unfortunately, Curtiz’s excitement behind the camera isn’t matched by the screenplay, which is disinterested in itself.

Arthur Hohl is pretty good as the villain, James Bell is better as his stooge. Margaret Lindsay is a fine romantic interest for Powell, even if her character gets stupid at times and it’s absolutely unbelievable she ever would.

The film’s not particularly involving–at one point I realized I didn’t even care if Lindsay and Powell got together at the end–but Powell’s performance carries it and it’s really well made by Curtiz.

It’s also very interesting as a social document–the film deals both with the Depression (one prospective employer tells Powell he should have stayed in Europe) and Prohibition. Very interesting to see how people talked about the issues contemporaneously–has got to be the first time I’ve used that word.

The location shooting–not sure if it was on the lot, IMDb reveals no information–is excellent as well. On the technical side, however, there may have been some significant editing defects.

But still… a fine way to spend sixty-seven minutes.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Curtiz; screenplay by Rian James, based on a story by Raoul Whitfield; director of photography, Tony Gaudio; edited by Harold McLernon; released by Warner Bros.

Starring William Powell (Don Free), Margaret Lindsay (Janet Reynolds), Ruth Donnelly (Amy Moran), Gordon Westcott (Tony Bandor), Arthur Hohl (Dan Hogan), Natalie Moorhead (Mrs. Helen Burns), James Bell (Whitey) and Hobart Cavanaugh (Harcourt S. Burns).


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Dinner at Eight (1933, George Cukor)

It’s called Dinner at Eight, not Leading Up to Dinner at Eight. I had this film taped from TCM and it was near the head of my movielens recommendations–and movielens has been frighteningly accurate–so I watched it….

There’s a lot of good acting in the film–I can’t decide which Barrymore is better or if Wallace Beery is the best. Billie Burke, as the hostess, is good and Jean Harlow’s got some nice moments.

But, really, come on. I can’t believe this one has the reputation it does. It’s not just that it’s stagy, it’s that it isn’t about any of the characters, just about being about them. And it’s too long. Way too long. And there’s no dinner. Don’t be cute, show me the damn dinner.

For a while, it seemed all right. Star-crossed lovers and ruminations about aging… but then it just got long and irritating.

I think I’m going to have to go with Lionel, now that I think about it more.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by Frances Marion, Herman J. Mankiewicz and Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber; director of photography, Williams H. Daniels; edited by Ben Lewis; music by William Axt; produced by David O. Selznick; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Marie Dressier (Carlotta Vance), John Barrymore (Larry Renault), Wallace Beery (Dan Packard), Jean Harlow (Kitty Packard), Lionel Barrymore (Oliver Jordan), Lee Tracy (Max Kane), Edmund Lowe (Dr. Wayne Talbot), Billie Burke (Mrs. Oliver Jordan), Madge Evans (Paula Jordan), Jean Harsholt (Jo Stengel), Karen Morley (Mrs. Wayne Talbot), Louise Closser Hale (Hattie Loomis), Phillips Holmes (Ernest DeGraff), May Robson (Mrs. Wendel), Grant Mitchell (Ed Loomis), Phoebe Foster (Miss Alden), Elizabeth Patterson (Miss Copeland), Hilda Vaughn (Tina), Harry Beresford (Fosdick), Edwin Maxwell (Mr. Fitch), John Davidson (Mr. Hatfield), Edward Woods (Eddie), George Baxter (Gustave), Herman Bing (The Waiter) and Anna Duncan (Dora).