Tag Archives: Anne Shirley

The Purchase Price (1932, William A. Wellman)

For most of its seventy-ish minute run time, The Purchase Price does really well with the way it does summary. It does so well it never even seems possible the film’s just going to welch on everything in the third act… but rather unfortunately, it does.

The big problem is how the film–specifically Robert Lord’s script–is eager to slut shame star Barbara Stanwyck for exploitative purposes. The only scenes Lord can figure out scenes for Stanwyck and mortified husband George Brent involve him disapproving of her, first for being–apparently (but not exactly)–a cold fish (she refused his violent urges on their wedding night)–and then for being too warm of a fish. But, again, not exactly. Lord avoids resolving any of the issues, not just with Brent’s multiple hangups but also outstanding story issues like Stanwyck’s former beau, gangster Lyle Talbot, and Brent’s own farming foe, David Landau.

And Price can get away with a lot because director Wellman and star Stanwyck are on it. They make the too abbreviated summary work. Because the film’s not a fish out of water story, it’s what ought to be an unbelievable story about night club singer Stanwyck losing her chance at a dream marriage to jackass blue blood Hardie Albright because of her previous relationship with Talbot (who’s a lovable bootlegging adulterer–one wonders if Lord remembered Talbot’s supposed to have a wife somewhere when he’s going cross country to pursue Stanwyck) and how she ships herself out as a mail-order bride to escape Talbot. She thinks she’s going out to a standard North Dakota wheat farm, full of affable drunken neighbors and, eventually, babies. Instead, Brent’s this oddball agricultural college boy who cares more about the miracle wheat he’s spent eleven years cultivating, doesn’t get along with his neighbors, and has secret money troubles.

Brent wasn’t expecting beautiful, cultured, smart Stanwyck (she paid off her maid, Leila Bennett, to take over as mail-order bride–which worked out fine since Bennett had sent along Stanwyck’s photo in communications with Brent, who–for his part–lied about his farm and didn’t send a photo in return). After their whirlwind wedding ceremony–uncredited Clarence Wilson is a perfect creep as the justice of the peace–they’re off to the farm. But not before both Brent and the film itself have mocked the simple prairie folk. Though the film mocks them more than Brent does, which is unfinished subplot–though Brent’s character development and basic establishment isn’t really any of Price’s concern. It’s like they knew he wouldn’t be able to appropriately slut shame Stanwyck in the third act if they explored him being a dick. Sure, Landau’s a bad guy and a creep, but Brent’s a dick.

He also tries to rape Stanwyck on their wedding night, which she immediately forgets because, well, he’s a man, but apparently sets Brent on a self-loathing kick. But it’s all off-screen and Lord’s characterization of Brent in the script doesn’t do enough for it either. He’s a jerk, but for unclear reasons. And since the film’s already established him as a dick, a jerk isn’t a long walk.

In a string of barely connected vignettes–Stanwyck getting to be a better farm homemaker, though she basically throws herself into it right off and is awesome at it–time progresses, winter arrives, Stanwyck becomes the community member Brent never did, so on and so forth. Finally Brent and Stanwyck have it out and then, through a very strange euphemism device (given how far the film’s willing to go–pre-code and all–in the first act and third, it’s weird how uncomfortable it gets for an implied big romance development), get on the same page.

Only then Talbot finally tracks down Stanwyck, coming simultaneous to Landau making a big move on Brent’s property, and it’s high drama time.

And it’s all bad high drama with Stanwyck working against the script to retain character and Brent just… giving up? What’s strangest about Brent’s performance is he actually starts as a good old egg. He’s a little weird, sheltered, but cute. That character disappears once he attacks Stanwyck. Then Brent acts like he’s in this “It’s a Husband’s Right” movie while Stanwyck and Wellman are making a “It’s not a Husband’s Right but She’ll Give Him a Second Chance” movie, while Lord’s script is setting up the slut shaming third act.

It’s weird. Because what Stanwyck and Wellman are doing works. Stanwyck makes the role work. Even with so little help from Brent, who’s not terrible he just has a godawful role. Meanwhile Talbot’s great and runs with the character. The idea of the New York society gangster fitting in at North Dakota bar? It’s a hoot. For the five or ten seconds the film lets Talbot do anything with it.

There’s some great direction from Wellman (along with some very weird direction), all of it with Sidney Hickox’s amazing cinematography. Even when Wellman makes a bad composition choice, Hickox’s photography makes it a good shot. When Wellman’s on, however, they’re all phenomenal shots. The desolate exterior shots are amazing (and way too brief) but so are the desolate exterior sound stage shots. Wellman gives Purchase Price a scale the script doesn’t deserve.

So it’s a ninety percent great role for Stanwyck, who’s fantastic and implies all the character development Lord skips over. It’s a ten percent great role for Brent, who’s tiresome by the time he’s pissed off about Talbot, which is way too early for him to be tiresome. Also, given he’s supposed to be sympathetic he should never get too tiresome. Brent’s character is the problem with Purchase Price. It’s not on him, not where Lord takes things.

Talbot’s great one hundred percent of the time.

Landau’s good as the lecherous farming rival, Murray Kinnell’s the effectively slimy henchman. He’s not in it much, then he gets important fast in the third act. Purchase Price needed another fifteen minutes. And a good script doctor.

Anyway. The rest of the supporting cast is fine. Anne Shirley almost stands out as a scared teenager Stanwyck bonds with. Victor Potel unfortunately does stand out as an in-bred yokal who gets way too much plotting relevance. The film’s take on the community changes, but then calls back Potel after it has. It’s really weird and bad choice. Though Lord makes so many of them, they blur.

The third act spills are a big disappointment, because the film was all set to pull it off. Then deus ex machina is practically a non sequitur and the film collapses. It’s a bummer. Stanwyck and Wellman did much better work than Price deserves.

And Talbot. And even Brent, who never got a chance.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Robert Lord, based on a story by Arthur Stringer; director of photography, Sidney Hickox; edited by William Holmes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Barbara Stanwyck (Joan Gordon), George Brent (Jim Gilson), Lyle Talbot (Eddie Fields), David Landau (Bull McDowell), Murray Kinnell (Forgan), Hardie Albright (Don Leslie), Victor Potel (Clyde), Leila Bennett (Emily), Anne Shirley (Sarah Tipton – the Daughter), Adele Watson (Mrs. Sarah Tipton), Clarence Wilson and (Elmer, the Justice of the Peace).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND REMEMBERING BARBARA STANWYCK BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD AND MADDY OF MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILMS.


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Vigil in the Night (1940, George Stevens)

Vigil in the Night is supreme melodrama. I mean, in its first ten minutes, the film manages to establish a small English town’s hospital, introduce stoic nurse Carole Lombard and her flighty sister Anne Shirley, throw them into tragedy and crisis, and kick Lombard into an entirely new setting. Vigil in the Night is an interesting melodrama in how Lombard’s not a suffering martyr, she’s a rejoicing one. It’s kind of iffy as far as character development goes, but Lombard plays saint perfectly.

She has a lot of help from director Stevens, who starts the film showing off a combination of miniature and ornate set. The camera just moves too. Robert De Grasse’s photography is effortlessly smooth. The camera moves around that small town hospital so much and so fluidly, it’s impossible to believe the film’s ever going to leave. When it does, it creates a fine jarring effect to accompany Lombard’s new position.

Steven’s style changes a little. He’s much gentler. He and De Grasse concentrate on holding shots, making Henry Berman’s editing do some of the work. Alfred Newman’s music gets more annoying–he has this one theme he uses over and over again and it sounds like a theme from Franz Waxman’s Bride of Frankenstein, which made it disconcerting for me, but also overbearing for the film. Stevens pushes on the melodrama boundaries and nearly breaks through in the second half, but he always relieves the genre pressure–read: retreats into genre–and he relies on Newman’s music to pull things back. Newman’s music blows the potential of some great shots, some great moments in performances.

Because, in melodrama, Stevens and his screenwriters and the film in general can get away with making Lombard the martyr. She doesn’t need to have a character as much as reject having one. She can become holy without too much trouble. Making her an actual character–she has less personality than everyone in the film–in a film about nurses suffering through terrible conditions for their patients, horny rich men after them, mercenary wealthy women exploiting them, the concepts of sibling responsibility and accountability, guilt, regret, loneliness, sacrifice. Well, it’d be a lot to do in ninety-six minutes and you’re not going to get the right tears or comeuppance. Stevens isn’t reinventing the wheel, he’s delivering an excellent melodrama.

Lombard’s good in the lead. She doesn’t actually have to do much. Anytime some earthly tragedy befalls her, just before she has to actually react, the film turns her into an angel. Stevens and De Grasse’s evolution of Lombard’s close-ups in Vigil probably warrant some better attention, just in terms of how subtly and gradually Stevens changes the viewer’s understanding of the character. Somewhere in the third act, I realized Lombard wasn’t the protagonist anymore–she was the film’s grounded center, while things ran wild around her.

Anne Shirley’s the most significant wild running thing. She’s the troublesome, callow, well-meaning sister. She’s Lombard’s sacrifice, but she’s actually got the film’s most developed character. It’s melodrama. The more drama a character has, the more development they have too. She’s good. She gets better as the film goes along and she succeeds in the role. It’s an unlikable part and Vigil has a somewhat peculiar structure. Stevens doesn’t worry about narrative transition, so Shirley will drop out of the film then have to come back and play catch up.

Brian Aherne’s solid as Lombard’s love interest. Ethel Griffies is awesome as the matron. Julien Mitchell’s a suitable toad of a horny rich man. Brenda Forbes and Rita Page are fun as Lombard’s sidekicks. Peter Cushing’s kind of disappointing.

Vigil in the Night does a bunch in ninety-six minutes. Stevens’s pacing of the film is exceptional. Lombard’s an awesome lead. The Newman music does hurt it. A better score might’ve done wonders. It’s an ideal melodrama.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by George Stevens; screenplay by Fred Guiol, P.J. Wolfson, and Rowland Leigh, based on the novel by A.J. Cronin; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Henry Berman; music by Alfred Newman; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Carole Lombard (Anne Lee), Brian Aherne (Dr. Robert S. Prescott), Anne Shirley (Lucy Lee), Julien Mitchell (Matthew Bowley), Brenda Forbes (Nora Dunn), Rita Page (Glennie), Peter Cushing (Joe Shand), Doris Lloyd (Mrs. Martha Bowley), Emily Fitzroy (Sister Gilson), Helena Grant (Nurse Gregg), and Ethel Griffies (Matron East).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE CAROLE LOMBARD: THE PROFANE ANGEL BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD and PHYL OF PHYLLIS LOVES CLASSIC MOVIES.


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Murder, My Sweet (1944, Edward Dmytryk)

Murder, My Sweet takes a peculiar approach to the detective story. Lead Dick Powell graciously lets everyone overshadow him in scenes; he doesn’t exactly fumble his way through his investigation, but he does befuddle his way through it. He’s the audience’s point of entry into the mystery and he’s just as confused as anyone else. Or is he? The film runs just around ninety minutes, with a bookending device; director Dmytryk is all about precision with how the audience (and Powell) experience those ninety minutes.

The film opens with Powell being very jokey, which is nearly off-putting. He doesn’t seem to take anything seriously enough, not being questioned by the police, not having man mountain Mike Mazurki threaten him. Powell’s not exactly passive in his scenes, but he’s certainly not active. Dmytryk and screenwriter John Paxton set Powell’s id loose, but more in a way to get the audience situated. Once you buy into the vague unreality of Mazurki’s giant, somewhat lovable moron, you can accept Mazurki as serious. The same goes for the male supporting cast, Otto Kruger and Miles Mander. The film eases the viewer into accepting them beyond face value. It’s awesome because one might think Dmytryk would be too busy with the many technical aspects of Murder.

Dmytryk lets the film wander (carefully, of course) through Harry J. Wild’s photography. Dmytryk even shows it off at times, with characters turning on and off the lights, playing with the idea of what the light hides and the darkness reveals. During the first act, when Powell’s more amiable than anything else, it’s a very strange, then wonderful disconnect. Especially once Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley show up.

Trevor is the femme fatale, Shirley is the good girl. Neither dominate the plot, but Paxton does a great job implying their presence and their importance when they aren’t around. Powell has great chemistry with both, which should be another place the film fails from the disconnect but instead succeeds–they’re different types of characters, Powell’s chemistry with each actor is different. Powell doesn’t get a character arc, not an internal one, but watching Murder, My Sweet is about figuring him out.

Great music from Roy Webb. Great editing from Joseph Noriega.

All of the acting is outstanding. Trevor, Shirley, Mazurki and Mander all get multiple amazing scenes. Kruger is good too, but he’s the closest to a Powell analogue in terms of style. They get to be playful, no one else does.

Paxton’s script is awesome and Dmytryk’s direction manages to be consistently surprising. He always finds a new way angle, whether it’s for a mood shot or just some dialogue. The film’s style is constantly building on itself. It’s fantastic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edward Dmytryk; screenplay by John Paxton, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler; director of photography, Harry J. Wild; edited by Joseph Noriega; music by Roy Webb; produced by Adrian Scott; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Dick Powell (Philip Marlowe), Claire Trevor (Helen Grayle), Anne Shirley (Ann Grayle), Miles Mander (Leuwen Grayle), Mike Mazurki (Moose Malloy), Otto Kruger (Jules Amthor), Donald Douglas (Police Lieutenant Randall), Paul Phillips (Detective Nulty), Ralf Harolde (Dr. Sonderborg), Douglas Walton (Lindsay Marriott) and Esther Howard (Jessie Florian).


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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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