Tag Archives: Lew Ayres

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930, Lewis Milestone)

For the first act or so of All Quiet on the Western Front, director Milestone very gently puts the viewer amid the naïveté of the film’s protagonists, a group of students who drop out to enlist (in the first World War). He opens with this gorgeously complicated shot–brilliantly edited by Edgar Adams and shot by Arthur Edeson–coming into the classroom from a parade of soldiers on the street. There’s a fantastical grand element to Milestone’s composition in that first act, just like the new recruits think they are beginning a grand adventure.

All Quiet on the Western Front moves very quickly. It runs around 130 minutes, but Milestone fades between vignettes. Lew Ayres is the protagonist, but he’s the protagonist because the war removes other potential protagonists. It only really becomes his film in the last quarter of the picture. But it’s not Ayres’s character’s story. Milestone and the screenwriters–Maxwell Anderson, George Abbott, Del Andrews–do a brilliant job of positioning all the characters in relation to one another. They understand the story better than the viewer does. The viewer is simply watching.

This approach–and excellent direction from Milestone and fantastic acting all around (Louis Wolheim, William Bakewell and John Wray stand out)–leads to Quiet being able to be utterly devastating but never exhausting; never exciting but always riveting. Milestone matches his attention to the battle scenes, often singularly good, with his attention to the character scenes.

All Quiet is a particularly amazing motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Milestone; screenplay by Maxwell Anderson, George Abbott and Del Andrews, based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque; director of photography, Arthur Edeson; edited by Edgar Adams; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Louis Wolheim (Kat), Lew Ayres (Paul), John Wray (Himmelstoss), Arnold Lucy (Kantorek), Ben Alexander (Kemmerich), Scott Kolk (Leer), Owen Davis Jr. (Peter), Walter Rogers (Behn), William Bakewell (Albert), Russell Gleason (Mueller), Richard Alexander (Westhus), Harold Goodwin (Detering), Slim Summerville (Tjaden), G. Pat Collins (Bertinck), Beryl Mercer (Paul’s Mother) and Edmund Breese (Herr Meyer).


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Don’t Bet On Love (1933, Murray Roth)

Ayres is a degenerate gambler (who cleans up nice) and Rogers is the girl who loves him, despite herself, of course, in this breezy melodrama. In terms of particulars, it has almost nothing to recommend it. Ayres is a little bit too believable as the callous lead, who purposely eschews all advice as he lucks into horse win after horse win (at least if he’d had a system, it might seem purposeful, but apparently, he just guesses well). It makes for problems with making him sympathetic. He doesn’t deserve a happy ending, much less one where Rogers saves him from homelessness.

As for Rogers, she’s a little bit better than Ayres, but she’s uneven in this regular girl role. It’s unbelievable she’d wait ten minutes for Ayres, much less two or three years.

The best acting is from Charley Grapewin as Ayres’s father and Tom Dugan as his sidekick. Grapewin masterfully combines the knowing elder with the concerned parent, with a dash of the disapproving parent thrown in. His performance might be the film’s showiest in some ways, but it’s also the truest. Dugan’s just the faithful sidekick, who only has to be sturdy when Ayres’s acting like a gambling addict moron, which comes up a lot in the second half. And Dugan does have the film’s only funny sequence.

Roth’s direction isn’t flashy–he does move the camera for dramatic effect quite a bit, sometimes to good effect–but it’s solid.

Don’t Bet on Love‘s almost a decent hour.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Murray Roth; written by Howard Emmett Rogers, Roth and Ben Ryan; director of photography, Jackson Rose; edited by Robert Carlisle; music by David Klatzkin; produced by Carl Laemmle Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lew Ayres (Bill McCaffery), Ginger Rogers (Molly Gilbert), Charley Grapewin (Pop McCaffery), Shirley Grey (Goldie Williams), Tom Dugan (Scotty), Merna Kennedy (Ruby ‘Babe’ Norton), Lucile Gleason (Mrs. Gilbert) and Robert Emmett O’Connor (Edward Shelton).


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Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case (1940, Harold S. Bucquet)

I wonder, did Lew Ayres ever feel like Jimmy Kildare was a heel? I mean, he’s an unbelievably nice guy–he won’t propose to nurse Mary Lamont (Laraine Day sleepwalks through almost all of Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case, since there’s only one scene where she needs to do anything) because he doesn’t want to make her wait until his internship is over. If it means he loses her to wealthy neurosurgeon Shepperd Strudwick, well, so be it. In fact, he’s such a nice guy… he’s going to risk his career (and prison time) to make sure Strudwick doesn’t get a raw deal–and, presumably, can then marry Day.

Ayres is okay–he certainly doesn’t play the role with any self-awareness–he’s believable as the impossibly well-meaning Kildare. Maybe it isn’t those good intentions, maybe it’s a lack of consideration for himself. It’s selflessness as a certifiable condition. Every single one of these movies, Ayres ends up doing something illegal and he never worries about it. Usually his mom tells him it’s the right thing to do. In Strange Case–the urge to say “in the case of Strange Case” was unbearable–he’s got to force insulin shock treatment (for schizophrenia, they just call it insanity in the script) on a patient in order to save Strudwick. The obvious, putting the John Doe patient’s picture in the newspaper, doesn’t occur to Ayres or any of the hospital staff (they don’t even call the cops). I read up on insulin shock therapy, just because the film’s treatment of it is so goofy. The insulin causes patient John Eldredge’s brain to devolve to a primeval state, then the mind repairs itself. There are a couple of explanations of this phenomenon, first from Samuel S. Hinds (as Ayres’s father… who visits just in time for every movie) then from Ayres. It sounds absurd both times and I had to look it up. Couldn’t find anything about the primeval state… but it’s interesting a film from 1940 doesn’t question evolution. Of course, 1940 is before the G.I. Bill dumbed down American high schools.

Anyway, Strange Case is fine. There’s not much plot to it–Eldredge doesn’t even show up until the halfway point–and it just allows for the cast, now on their fourth picture in the series, to go crazy. Every performance in the film, from the supporting cast members who got saddled with perfunctory scenes before, is great. Walter Kingsford, Frank Orth, Alma Kruger and Horace McMahon (well, I’m not sure he was in any of the other ones, but it’s implied here) all have these fantastic scenes, just because there’s not enough story so they get more material and they’re wonderful. Emma Dunn and Nat Pendleton, who usually do get material, get even better material here. Dunn’s got her best scene in the four films in Strange Case.

And, of course, Lionel Barrymore is outstanding. He and Ayres have a good banter here, even if the movie–as usual–has him firing Ayres for a few minutes.

Bucquet’s direction is phoned in. He’s fine in his composition except for close-ups. It’s like he wasn’t going to do any, then came back and shot them. The close-ups don’t match. It must have driven editor Gene Ruggiero nuts trying to put the picture together.

Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case is a perfectly inoffensive (narratively, anyway) seventy minutes. It would have been a fine to sit through at an air conditioned movie house on a hot summer day… except it opened in April.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Harold S. Bucquet; screenplay by Harry Ruskin and Willis Goldbeck, story by Max Brand and Goldbeck; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Gene Ruggiero; music by David Snell; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lew Ayres (Dr. Jimmy Kildare), Lionel Barrymore (Dr. Leonard Gillespie), Laraine Day (Nurse Mary Lamont), Shepperd Strudwick (Dr. Greg Lane), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Stephen Kildare), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Martha Kildare), Nat Pendleton (Joe Wayman), Walter Kingsford (Dr. Walter Carew), Alma Kruger (Molly Byrd), John Eldredge (Henry Adams), Nell Craig (Nurse Parker) and Marie Blake (Sally).


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The Secret of Dr. Kildare (1939, Harold S. Bucquet)

Watching The Secret of Dr. Kildare is about two things–seeing Lionel Barrymore’s fantastic performance (even as he’s spouting expositional dialogue, it’s riveting) and finding out the deep dark secret of patient Helen Gilbert. It’s the third film in the series and the staples are already in place–Lew Ayres, under some false pretense, stops working for Barrymore. Ayres’s parents, Samuel S. Hinds and Emma Dunn, show up for some contrived reason. Laraine Day is heartbroken Ayres doesn’t know she loves him. Nat Pendleton flirts with Marie Blake before having one fantastic scene involving a fist fight. The script’s just loose melodramatic threads to get these set pieces into place, held together by the cast’s likability, Barrymore’s talent and the mystery to be solved.

What’s most distressing about the film is its length. It only runs eighty-four minutes but halfway through, it’s already at a near standstill. It’s excruciating at times because the titular Secret is one the audience knows and the film’s present action is a couple weeks. There’s no tension to it–it’s just a matter of how everything will be fixed by the end, not if. The script doesn’t take any chances, it’s all paint by numbers. The mediocrity makes every decent moment in the film seem fantastic, whether it’s Ayres picking up Day for a date or Barrymore fishing with assistant George Reed. The occasionally inventive developments–like Grant Mitchell’s crack “doctor” and Sara Haden’s wacko–get Secret‘s heart rate up, waking the viewer.

While the script gives Barrymore a complex, textured character, Ayres’s Dr. Kildare–especially considering the film’s title bares his name–gets a lukewarm treatment. Ayres gives a fine performance–though Bucquet and editor Frank E. Hull hold reaction shots too long–but there’s no enthusasim… not just from Ayres, but from the film itself. He’s the least interesting character in the film, when he’s not around Barrymore, Dunn or Pendleton, it’s hard to believe Ayres could stay awake to deliver his lines. The scene with his fellow interns offers three other characters who give the impression of being far more interesting. Ayres’s romance with Day is boring–she’s far more lively in her scenes with Barrymore. When it’s just Ayres and Gilbert, only the change in setting, from the hospital to a skyscraper observatory for instance, keep the film moving. If it weren’t for Haden’s loon, the second half (when Barrymore and Ayres are bickering) would be static.

Bucquet, besides that annoying editing laziness I mentioned before, does a decent job. He keeps the scenes with Barrymore, those long expository scenes, interesting. But he doesn’t do anything to overcome the script’s shortcomings.

Besides Barrymore, there’s some fine acting from Pendleton (who has almost nothing to do, but approaches it with relish) and Lionel Atwill. Atwill’s a fine character actor, it’s a shame he’s mostly known for his work in horror films. Gilbert’s okay… as the film progresses, she gets more histrionic. Day has nothing to do.

It’s hard to get involved with the film or invested in it, because there’s little sign the filmmakers had any interest either.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Harold S. Bucquet; screenplay by Willis Goldbeck and Harry Ruskin, based on a story by Max Brand; director of photography, Alfred Gilks; edited by Frank E. Hull; music by David Snell; produced by Lou L. Ostrow; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lew Ayres (Dr. Jimmy Kildare), Lionel Barrymore (Dr. Leonard Gillespie), Lionel Atwill (Paul Messenger), Helen Gilbert (Nancy Messenger), Nat Pendleton (Joe Wayman), Laraine Day (Nurse Mary Lamont), Sara Haden (Nora), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Stephen Kildare), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Martha Kildare), Walter Kingsford (Dr. S.J. Carew), Grant Mitchell (John Xerxes Archley), Alma Kruger (Head Nurse Molly Byrd), Robert Kent (Charles Herron), Marie Blake (Sally), Martha O’Driscoll (Mrs. Roberts) and Nell Craig (Nurse Parker).


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