Category Archives: 1934

The Thin Man (1934, W.S. Van Dyke)

While enough cannot be said about the efficiency of W.S. Van Dyke’s direction of the The Thin Man, the efficiency of the script deserves an equal amount of praise. Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich get in so much little character stuff for the supporting cast, it’s hard to imagine how the film could possibly function without it. Robert Kern’s editing is essential for it to work too–the pace of reaction shots is fabulous.

Of course, the script’s structure is also peculiar. Until their second big scene–their first one alone–William Powell and Myrna Loy aren’t the leads of the story. Instead, it’s Maureen O’Sullivan. She starts out the film and it then moves to introduce various people into her story. Even at the end, after O’Sullivan has long since given up the primary supporting role to Nat Pendleton’s police inspector, she’s still integral.

From Powell and Loy’s first scene, their chemistry commands the film. The script has the banter, but it’s the way the actors play off each other (under Van Dyke’s able direction). Also wonderful is how the intercuts of their dog enhances the scenes. Van Dyke cuts to these reaction shots of Asta the terrier and it makes the viewer feel part of this peculiar family.

It’s important too, since much of the film takes place in Powell and Loy’s hotel suite.

The leads are great, the supporting cast is excellent–Edward Brophy, Harold Huber, Minna Gombell, Porter Hall being the standouts.

The Thin Man’s a masterpiece; it’s brilliant filmmaking.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, James Wong Howe; edited by Robert Kern; music by William Axt; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick), Myrna Loy (Nora), Maureen O’Sullivan (Dorothy), Nat Pendleton (Guild), Minna Gombell (Mimi), Porter Hall (MacCaulay), Henry Wadsworth (Tommy), William Henry (Gilbertt), Harold Huber (Nunheim), Cesar Romero (Chris), Natalie Moorhead (Julia Wolf), Edward Brophy (Morelli), Cyril Thornton (Tanner) and Edward Ellis (Clyde Wynant).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | THE THIN MAN.

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Murder on the Blackboard (1934, George Archainbaud)

As its title suggests, Murder on the Blackboard concerns a murder in a school, specifically an elementary school. Only one student appears; Blackboard concentrates on the rather shady goings-ons of the staff. There’s a drunk janitor, a lecherous principal, not to mention a love triangle between teachers. And, one mustn’t forget, Edna May Oliver’s Ms. Withers.

Blackboard is the second in the Withers and Piper (James Gleason) series, though it’s not a direct sequel to the first. Here, Oliver and Gleason bicker and flirt in their charming and funny cantankerous people of a certain age way, but without any relationship development.

Willis Goldbeck’s script has a great structure, which makes Blackboard sail along–ably assisted by the aforementioned bickering. It’s a full ten minutes before Oliver even appears, as Blackboard establishes not just the suspects, but the possible victims, and then it’s a real-time investigation for a while once Gleason shows up. Archainbaud’s direction is okay, though he apparently didn’t give Archie Marshek enough material for smooth cutting. Nicholas Musuraca’s photography–Blackboard almost entirely takes place in the school–is real nice.

There supporting cast is competent, but they don’t make much impression after those first ten minutes. Bruce Cabot, Gertrude Michael and Barbara Fritchie are the teacher love triangle; Cabot’s easily the best of the three. Tully Marshall’s amusing as the principal, particularly opposite Oliver.

Oliver, Gleason and Goldbeck produce an excellent diversion. They distract from the mystery’s lack of mysteriousness for nearly the entire running time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Archainbaud; screenplay by Willis Goldbeck, based on the story by Stuart Palmer; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Archie Marshek; music by Bernhard Kaun and Max Steiner; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Edna May Oliver (Hildegarde Withers), James Gleason (Inspector Oscar Piper), Bruce Cabot (Ad Stevens), Gertrude Michael (Jane Davis), Barbara Fritchie (Louise Halloran), Tully Marshall (Mr. MacFarland), Frederick Vogeding (Otto Schweitzer), Regis Toomey (Detective Smiley North), Edgar Kennedy (Detective Donahue) and Jackie Searl (Leland Stanford Jones).


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Black Moon (1934, Roy William Neill)

Before getting into all the great things about Black Moon, I need to talk about the racism. There’s the general thirties racism, with the black sidekick (Clarence Muse) being constantly cartoonish. But the film’s entire plot is racist–it’s about a Caribbean island full of voodoo cult natives who’ve brainwashed a white woman (Dorothy Burgess). According to Moon, American blacks are fine. The Caribbean ones? Unthinkably savage. Oh, and the Black in the title? Veiled reference to Burgess being a race traitor.

Those incredibly uncomfortable elements aside, the film’s beautifully made and often wonderfully acted. Jack Holt plays Burgess’s husband, who has no idea his wife is a sleeper agent for a voodoo cult. Holt’s excellent in the leading role; he and Muse do quite well together.

Cora Sue Collins plays Holt and Burgess’s daughter. She’s excellent too.

Burgess has the most difficult role and has ups and downs, but hits an incredible high point near the end.

As Holt’s adoring secretary, Fay Wray has almost nothing to do. She’s okay, but her character doesn’t belong in the script. Logically speaking, Muse’s character should have gotten that time.

The film’s weakest performance is Arnold Korff. He’s never able to sell the plot twists and revelations. But he’s not bad, just not on par with the others.

Technically speaking, Neill’s direction, Joseph H. August’s photography and Louis Silvers’s score make Moon an exceptional picture. The final sequence is unexpected and masterful.

The racism damages Moon, but it still deserves a look.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Roy William Neill; screenplay by Wells Root, based on a story by Clements Ripley; director of photography, Joseph H. August; edited by Richard Cahoon; music by Louis Silvers; produced by Harry Cohn; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jack Holt (Stephen Lane), Fay Wray (Gail Hamilton), Dorothy Burgess (Juanita Perez Lane), Cora Sue Collins (Nancy Lane), Arnold Korff (Dr. Raymond Perez), Clarence Muse (‘Lunch’ McClaren), Eleanor Wesselhoeft (Anna, the nursemaid), Madame Sul-Te-Wan (Ruva), Laurence Criner (Kala, the priest), Lumsden Hare (John Macklin) and Henry Kolker (The Psychiatrist).


Oliver the Eighth (1934, Lloyd French)

Watching Oliver Hardy muddle through Oliver the Eighth‘s terrible dialogue makes one wonder if the short truly did not have a writer–there isn’t one credited–or if the actors just made it up on the spot.

Given the rampant stupidity in Eighth, the latter seems more likely.

The short’s idiotic “writing” hampers it more than enough and director French’s ineptitude just makes the viewing experience work. Eighth concerns Hardy and Stan Laurel ending up locked in a house with a murderous widow and her nutty butler. The butler, played by Jack Barty, is mildly amusing at times, making him the only good thing in Eighth.

In order for the plot to work Hardy and Laurel have to be incredibly stupid and incredibly passive. The short opens with them owning a barber shop. It isn’t believable they could get to a job, much less own a business.

Eighth is awful.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Lloyd French; director of photography, Art Lloyd; edited by Bert Jordan; produced by Hal Roach; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Stan Laurel (Stan), Oliver Hardy (Oliver), Mae Busch (Mrs. Fox) and Jack Barty (Jitters the Butler).


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