Category Archives: 1935

A Night at the Opera (1935, Sam Wood)

As good as the Marx Brothers are in A Night at the Opera–and George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind’s strong script is important too–director Wood really brings the whole thing together. The film has its obligatory musical subplot and romantic leads. Wood knows how to balance those elements with the comedy; during long music sequences, he brings in the Brothers for a quick gag. And Opera smartly establishes those romantic leads (played by Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones) in relation to their sympathies for Harpo and Chico.

Opera also benefits from having one wonderful heinous villain (Walter Woolf King as an obnoxious opera star) and two great doofus ones (Sig Ruman and Robert Emmett O’Connor). King has the biggest part in the film and the briefest comedic sequences. Ruman and O’Connor both have long, elaborate sequences.

But where Wood’s direction is most impressive is how he and Merritt B. Gerstad shoot the Marx Brothers. While there’s a great moment with Groucho admiring a long Harpo gag, my favorite is how Wood handles Chico and Harpo’s music scene. After a quick, finely staged song from Jones, Chico plays the piano, then Harpo plays the harp. Chico’s sequence is jovial and engaging. Harpo’s is jovial and emotive. It’s gorgeous and Wood gives it as much weight as any comedy sequence. It simultaneously breaks Opera’s reality and deepens the entire film.

The film’s perfectly timed, has some great exasperation from Margaret Dumont, and some wonderful sketches. It’s a marvelous Night.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Wood; screenplay by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, based on a story by James Kevin McGuinness; director of photography, Merritt B. Gerstad; edited by William LeVanway; music by Herbert Stothart; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Groucho Marx (Otis B. Driftwood), Chico Marx (Fiorello), Harpo Marx (Tomasso), Kitty Carlisle (Rosa), Allan Jones (Ricardo), Walter Woolf King (Lassparri), Sig Ruman (Gottlieb), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Claypool), Edward Keane (Captain) and Robert Emmett O’Connor (Henderson).


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The Bride of Frankenstein (1935, James Whale)

For The Bride of Frankenstein, director Whale takes a contradictory approach. It's either more is more, or less is less. More music, all the time. Franz Waxman's frequently playful music rarely fits its scenes, unless Whale is going for a melodramatic farce, which he really doesn't seem to be doing. I kept hoping he would be, because it might make the film more compelling.

More Monster–Boris Karloff is nonsensically running around the countryside, finding someone to accidentally kill or not. William Hurlbut's screenplay contrives connections between loose, if memorable, scenes and never pauses to explain why the Monster kills another little girl. Maybe he really liked doing it from the first one.

Of course, the Monster could explain since Karloff now has lines to deliver. But all of his lines are lame.

Poor Colin Clive has almost nothing to do. None of the characters in Bride have arcs running the whole film–not even the Monster–but Clive pops in at the beginning and then at the end. In one of Hurlbut's weaker moments, Clive goes from pro-mad scientist to anti-mad scientist at the snap of the fingers. It's ludicrous.

Ernest Thesiger's good as the villain. Valerie Hobson not as Clive's wife.

Whale doesn't have enough coverage so Ted J. Kent's editing is usually bad. Except the finale, which is wondrous and is so tightly edited, one has to wonder why the rest of the film is so loose. Probably because there has to be a story.

It's a trying seventy-five minutes.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Whale; screenplay by William Hurlbut, based on an adaptation by Hurlbut and John L. Balderston and a novel by Mary Shelley; director of photography, John J. Mescall; edited by Ted J. Kent; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Boris Karloff (The Monster), Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Valerie Hobson (Elizabeth), Ernest Thesiger (Dr. Pretorius), O.P. Heggie (Hermit), Una O’Connor (Minnie), and Elsa Lanchester (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley).


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The Whole Town’s Talking (1935, John Ford)

The Whole Town’s Talking has some peculiar third act problems, but it also has this extraordinary first act set over three scenes and twenty-some minutes, which evens things out.

Some of the problem might stem from Town’s plot–mild-mannered office clerk Edward G. Robinson just happens to look like a famous gangster and is falsely arrested. The actual gangster shows up and Robinson gets to act off Robinson. The second half of the picture is often just Robinson. He can carry it–and cinematographer Joseph H. August excels at the process photography (though not the projection shots)–it’s just odd.

Also, the gangster doesn’t come into the film until the second act; he’s not a predicted permanent fixture. Not like Jean Arthur, the omnipresent love interest whose vanishes signals the awkward finish. She and Robinson are great together; director Ford introduces most of the main cast quickly and then uses repetition to establish them. No one has a deep back story but they’re all fully drawn.

As for Ford’s directing of a gangster spoof–he does really well with the actors. Robinson, Arthur, Arthur Byron, Donald Meek–Edward Brophy is good in a small part. Ford does okay with the backlot shooting, but he’s a little unsure with the mellow scenes. Lots of people standing.

Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin’s script is strong, though they do forget a joke.

The finale also redeems itself with Ford letting Robinson eschew the comedy for moral complexity.

Town’s unique and good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Jo Swerling and Robert Riskin, based on a story by W.R. Burnett; director of photography, Joseph H. August; edited by Viola Lawrence; produced by Ford and Lester Cowan; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Edward G. Robinson (Arthur Ferguson Jones), Jean Arthur (Miss Clark), Arthur Hohl (Detective Sergeant Boyle), James Donlan (Detective Sergeant Howe), Arthur Byron (Spencer), Wallace Ford (Healy), Donald Meek (Hoyt), Etienne Girardot (Seaver), Edward Brophy (‘Slugs’ Martin) and Paul Harvey (‘J.G.’ Carpenter).



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THIS POST IS PART OF THE THE JOHN FORD BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CHRISTIANNE OF KRELL LABORATORIES and ANNA OF BEMUSED AND NONPLUSSED.


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Steamboat Round the Bend (1935, John Ford)

The best scene in Steambout Round the Bend is the wedding between Anne Shirley and John McGuire. Neither Shirley nor McGuire is particularly good in the film, but McGuire’s about to be hung and so they’re getting married. Steambout is often a comedy and Eugene Pallette–as the officiating sheriff–tells some really bad jokes at the beginning of the scene. Ford creates this devastating scene between Shirley, McGuire and Will Rogers (Rogers plays McGuire’s uncle). Pallette has ninety percent of the dialogue in the scene, Shirley and McGuire are almost entirely silent, but Ford captures their despondence beautifully. It’s an amazing scene.

Steamboat is often fun–that wedding scene doesn’t even come at the finish (there’s still got to be time for Rogers to try to save McGuire)–but it has a strange sense of humor. Stepin Fetchit plays one of Rogers’s crew members, so there’s some cheap racial humor… but the film also mocks white Southerners. Except Rogers is playing a Confederate veteran. Only white trash Southerners are acceptable targets.

So while that humor doesn’t work, the stuff with Pallette often does. Irvin S. Cobb is outstanding as Rogers’s nemesis.

The third act is too rushed, like screenwriters Dudley Nichols and Lamar Trotti needed more time to close gracefully. Oddly, the pacing’s weak throughout–their dialogue’s often outstanding, but the plotting is off. Steamboat doesn’t have room for subplots and it needs a couple.

Still, Rogers is appealing and Ford does a fine job. It’s problematic, but decent.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Ford; screenplay by Dudley Nichols and Lamar Trotti, based on the novel by Ben Lucien Burman; director of photography, George Schneiderman; edited by Alfred DeGaetano; music by Samuel Kaylin; produced by Sol M. Wurtzel; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Will Rogers (Doctor John Pearly), Anne Shirley (Fleety Belle), Irvin S. Cobb (Captain Eli), Eugene Pallette (Sheriff Rufe Jeffers), John McGuire (Duke), Berton Churchill (New Moses), Francis Ford (Efe), Roger Imhof (Breck’s Pappy), Raymond Hatton (Matt Abel), Hobart Bosworth (Chaplain) and Stepin Fetchit (Jonah).


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