Tag Archives: David O. Selznick

Dracula's Daughter (1936, Lambert Hillyer)

Dracula’s Daughter starts as a comedy. With Billy Bevan’s bumbling police constable, there’s nothing else to call it. Sure, the opening deals with the immediate aftermath of the original Dracula–returning Edward Van Sloan arrested for driving a stake through a man’s heart–but it’s all for smiles, if not laughs. Bevan’s terrified expressions carry the movie until it’s time for Gloria Holden to show up.

Holden plays the title role. She’s in England to dispose of her father’s remains and to paint (and to prey upon the living). She’s not happy about preying upon the living and Garrett Fort’s screenplay implies its all going to be about vampirism as a compulsion. Top-billed Otto Kruger ties everything together; he’s a society psychiatrist, trained by Van Sloan, who ends up defending his old teacher while taking an interest in Holden. She’s in society because her paintings? It’s unclear why anyone would invite her. Fort’s script isn’t good on narrative progression.

Holden thinks Kruger might be able to help her with the vampirism. She assumed her father’s death would help, but her man servant and familiar Irving Pichel convinces her otherwise. Pichel’s just around to encourage Holden’s bad habits. He definitely looks creepy, but he doesn’t treat her with any respect, much less fear. It creates a bit of a tonal imbalance–the vampire isn’t bad, the human encouraging her is bad–until Holden finally takes up the villain reins.

Once Holden and Pichel go after Nan Grey (who’s rather good in her small part), it’s clear the happy London society dalliances are soon to be over. See, Kruger’s her doctor too. And he’s going to get to the bottom of it. Can Holden convince him to join her–possibly replacing Pichel–in Transylvania before Kruger can dehypnotize Grey long enough to find out who attacked her?

It’d be a far more effective twist if Holden’s character were better developed (and established in the first place) and if director Hillyer didn’t direct Kruger like he’s always waiting to react to a punchline. Once the initial comedic stuff is over–though Scotland Yard man Gilbert Emery is mostly for laughs (including the film’s best ones)–Hillyer starts giving Kruger these close-ups where he’s just reacting to something or pensively smoking. I guess he needs to be doing something since he’s not figuring out Van Sloan’s not crazy and Holden’s got something weird going on.

Twenty-something Marguerite Churchill is quinquagenarian Kruger’s assistant. She’s an heiress or something so she gives him a lot of guff. She’s also, of course, enamored with him. Because why wouldn’t she be enamored with her fifty-year old boss. They don’t have any romantic chemistry, though occasionally Kruger does come off paternal. Too occasionally.

Churchill’s unprofessional jealousy of Holden eventually gets her in a lot of trouble, kicking off the final act, where Kruger’s got to fly to Transylvania to try to save the day. He doesn’t, as it turns out, because Fort’s script is goofy. I wonder if it had to contort itself through the Hays Code. Hopefully. At least contorting for the Code would provide an excuse.

The film’s got good sets and fine photography from George Robinson. Hillyer starts with some creepiness, but soon gives it up. Why the film should want to scare Bevan’s bumbling constable but not Churchill or Grey’s damsels is another of its mysteries. There are some excellent foggy London effects and some real mood with Holden, in her black wraps–though Holden’s costuming when she’s not a creature of the night is grey and drab.

Holden’s okay. The film’s failures aren’t her fault. They’re not Kruger’s fault either, but he’s so miscast after a while–and Hillyer’s direction of him is so awry–he gets tiring. Van Sloan’s fun for a while, but he too can’t survive. Churchill’s just annoying. Maybe it’s supposed to be the part.

Dracula’s Daughter is an almost solid production of a troubled script. It’s a bunch of ill-fitting pieces mashed together without success.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Garrett Fort, based on a suggestion by David O. Selznick and a story by Bram Stoker; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Milton Carruth; produced by E.M. Asher; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Otto Kruger (Jeffrey Garth), Gloria Holden (Countess Marya Zaleska), Irving Pichel (Sandor), Edward Van Sloan (Professor Von Helsing), Marguerite Churchill (Janet), Gilbert Emery (Sir Basil Humphrey), Nan Grey (Lili), and Billy Bevan (Albert).


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Nothing Sacred (1937, William A. Wellman)

Nothing Sacred is an idea in search of a script. It’s a little surprisingly they went forward with Ben Hecht’s script, which plays like he wrote it on a bunch of napkins and left director Wellman to piece together a narrative.

Fredric March–who has shockingly little to do in the film–is a newspaper reporter who may or may not have tried to defraud the wealthy of New York with a fake sultan and a donation project. Hecht’s script reveals so little about March, it doesn’t even make that determination. His editor, Walter Connolly, sends him off to investigate a dying girl, played by Carole Lombard.

Turns out Lombard’s not dying and deceives March for a trip to New York. She brings along Charles Winninger as her drunken doctor.

Hilarity does not ensue in New York City. Neither do big comic set pieces. A lot of Sacred feels like Wellman trying to justify the Technicolor expense and not knowing how to do so–he shoots the film almost entirely in medium long shot, with occasional closeups and then he blocks parts of shots for emphasis. It’s strange.

Lombard is wonderful in her role. The script doesn’t give her anything to do–the film runs less than eighty minutes, it might just be there isn’t enough time. March’s okay, but on the shallow end of it. Connolly is wonderful. Winninger is not.

The entire film feels truncated and too small for its concept. Instead of making it feel grandiose, the Technicolor instead makes it feel cramped.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Ben Hecht, based on a story by James H. Street; director of photography, W. Howard Greene; edited by James E. Newcom; music by Oscar Levant; produced by David O. Selznick; released by United Artists.

Starring Carole Lombard (Hazel Flagg), Fredric March (Wally Cook), Charles Winninger (Dr. Enoch Downer), Walter Connolly (Oliver Stone), Sig Ruman (Dr. Emil Eggelhoffer) and Troy Brown Sr. (Ernest Walker).


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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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