Tag Archives: Monty Woolley

Midnight (1939, Mitchell Leisen)

Midnight is a rather smart film. Screenwriters Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder are able to do a whole bunch of plot twists–always through comedic means–because of how they’ve got the film structured. The film opens with Claudette Colbert arriving in Paris, penniless. Taxi driver Don Ameche takes pity on her and falls for her. There’s the beginning of a great melodrama.

Only Ameche loses Colbert and his subplot is about finding her. He doesn’t have any other plots, just that subplot. He’s not in the movie a lot after the first third, though he does come back in time for the finish, which is good because it’s why his name is second-billed above the title.

John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Francis Lederer and Rex O’Malley all get billed under the title, which stands out. They seem like bigger names than under the title billing suggests. And Barrymore’s a big part of the film. He’s the one at the center of Midnight’s actual plot–Colbert helping Barrymore keep Lederer away from Astor. See, Barrymore’s Astor’s husband and Lederer is her indiscreet companion. Lots of amazing comedy stuff from Barrymore. He’s got great material, but his performance is phenomenal–with director Leisen doing a lot of it non-verbally. Sight gags with John Barrymore, it doesn’t get much better. He’d run away with the movie if it weren’t for everyone else racing him.

Astor, for example, is fabulous. Her part–mischievous adulterer–ought to get old fast, but never does. Brackett and Wilder give each scene’s leads wonderful dialogue, but Leisen makes sure the actors without lines are doing just as much acting listening to whatever disaster is occurring or being avoided in front of them. Midnight’s never madcap, it’s never rushed, it’s always thorough. The jokes, visual or aural, always get enough time. In the second half, the film even introduces one-line caps to each sequence. It’s great–and it’s deliberately done once the film has changed gears a bit. Midnight is always unpredictable (at least in how Brackett and Wilder are getting where they’re going).

Lederer’s solid. O’Malley’s fantastic as Astor’s sidekick. It’s with him she gets the most to do; the script’s very much constructed to emphasize the comedy, Leisen’s direction–of Ameche and Colbert, of Colbert and Lederer–is often overly melodramatic. There are some gorgeous shots of the fellows romancing Colbert–great photography from Charles Lang–and they could just as much be for drama or tragedy, but instead they’re for comedy.

The “leads” are both excellent. Quotation marks because Claudette Colbert’s so much more the lead than Ameche but then again, maybe not. It’s almost like Brackett and Wilder took three separate stories–Colbert’s, Ameche’s, Barrymore’s–and squished them all together, only keeping the best parts.

Once the film gets to the third act, however, it seems like the magic might run out. The film’s pacing slows down to a real time crawl and it’s very hard to anticipate what’s going to happen. Then it turns out Brackett and Wilder had something ready for just the occasion. Fine cameo from Monty Woolley in the third act as well.

Midnight is a wonderful picture. It’s exquisitely written, smartly acted, smartly directed. The comedic range of Barrymore and Ameche is something to behold.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mitchell Leisen; screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, based on a story by Edwin Justus Mayer and Franz Schulz; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Doane Harrison; music by Friedrich Hollaender; produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Claudette Colbert (Eve Peabody), Don Ameche (Tibor Czerny), John Barrymore (Georges Flammarion), Mary Astor (Helene Flammarion), Francis Lederer (Jacques Picot), Rex O’Malley (Marcel), Hedda Hopper (Stephanie) and Monty Woolley (The Judge).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND ANNUAL BARRYMORE TRILOGY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942, William Keighley)

The Man Who Came to Dinner is, a little too obviously, an adaptation of a play. There are occasional moments outside the main setting–the home of Grant Mitchell and Billie Burke–but director Keighley doesn’t do anything with them. All involve Richard Travis’s character, which suggests maybe his subplot (local reporter in the center of a media sensation) should have been expanded. Except Travis wouldn’t have really done anything with it so maybe not.

Instead, Travis is simply a cog in Dinner’s gear, much like everyone else.

The film concerns Monty Woolley getting injured while visiting Mitchell and Burke’s house (under duress) and having to stay. Woolley’s character is a famous radio personality who, in private, is a manipulative, abusive egomaniac. The screenplay, from Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, never quite works as various characters see Woolley being viciously mean to other characters, yet still warm to him. It makes everyone in the film a moron (except Woolley), even Bette Davis, who plays his suffering secretary.

The film’s at its most honest when Woolley, (an annoying) Jimmy Durante and (an utterly misused) Ann Sheridan get together and bask in the fruits of their manipulations. It’s a cruel, mean-spirited film and utterly tone-deaf about it. Seeing as how it’s a studio picture about celebrities secretly being atrocious, I guess the tone-deafness shouldn’t be a surprise. But Keighley’s direction is pretty lame anyway.

The best performance is easily Davis, though Sheridan eventually gets some good material (when she’s not just there to be Woolley’s stooge). Mitchell and Burke are both good. Travis is likable if weak. Mary Wickes is great as Woolley’s nurse; she manages to weather the film, which plays his cruel treatment of her entirely for laughs, with dignity.

As for Woolley… is he good as an utterly reprehensible jerk? Sure. Is there any point to watching almost two hours of it?

No.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by William Keighley; screenplay by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart; director of photography, Tony Gaudio; edited by Jack Killifer; music by Friedrich Hollaender; produced by Jack L. Warner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bette Davis (Maggie Cutler), Ann Sheridan (Lorraine Sheldon), Monty Woolley (Sheridan Whiteside), Richard Travis (Bert Jefferson), Jimmy Durante (Banjo), Billie Burke (Mrs. Ernest Stanley), Reginald Gardiner (Beverly Carlton), Elisabeth Fraser (June Stanley), Grant Mitchell (Mr. Ernest Stanley), George Barbier (Dr. Bradley), Mary Wickes (Miss Preen), Russell Arms (Richard Stanley), Ruth Vivian (Harriet), Edwin Stanley (John), Betty Roadman (Sarah), Charles Drake (Sandy), Nanette Vallon (Cosette) and John Ridgely (Radio Man).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE 2015 SUMMER UNDER THE STARS BLOGATHON HOSTED BY KRISTEN OF JOURNEYS IN CLASSIC FILM.


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Young Dr. Kildare (1938, Harold S. Bucquet)

Young Dr. Kildare is very hard to watch. Not because it’s bad or because it’s insanely rare, but because Elmo Veron is one of the worst editors I’ve ever seen on a Hollywood film. Some of the fault–for shooting too many medium-long shots–belongs to director Bucquet, Veron’s incompetent eyes and ears for film cutting makes Kildare a constant intrusion. It’s like someone clanks a hammer repeatedly against a pan whenever the film cuts to a one-shot. It’s like Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music.” It’s unacceptable. There’s no reason a film should have such bad editing.

Otherwise, Kildare’s a not quite genial (the case gets solved because hospital intern Lew Ayres lets paramedic Nat Pendleton convince him they need to beat men with a wrench) medical drama. Well, not exactly… there’s a case, a few of them even, but it’s mostly a setup for the subsequent series. MGM must have had some idea there’d be more, since the movie stops instead of concludes. But back to the lack of geniality… Ayres goes so far as to cover for Pendleton’s incompetence, an incompetence directly responsible for a patient’s death. And then they’re friends. So, while Ayres is defending patient confidentiality, he’s also just covered up a case of manslaughter. The movie never discusses it in those terms and wipes the whole thing under the carpet, but it does have a particular subversive air about it… the big secret can’t be spoken because of the Code and such.

Ayres is okay as Kildare… his performance is, not joking, severely hampered by lots of his lines coming in those terrible one-shots. Lionel Barrymore is awesome (playing a wheelchair bound “House M.D.”) and Pendleton is good. Jo Ann Sayers is pretty good as the case, but Ayres’s romantic interest, Lynne Carver, has no chemistry with him. Their scenes together come off so bland–partially the script’s fault, but still–it’s like he’d just gotten done cutting the underwear off her doll collection.

The movie works pretty well, utilizing Pendleton perfectly for the needed humor (as it becomes clear, both to Ayres and the audience, Barrymore isn’t being funny when he’s being funny).

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Harold S. Bucquet; screenplay by Harry Ruskin and Willis Goldbeck, based on a story by Max Brand; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Elmo Veron; music by David Snell; produced by Lou L. Ostrow; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lionel Barrymore (Dr. Gillespie), Lew Ayres (Dr. James Kildare), Lynne Carver (Alice Raymond), Nat Pendleton (Joe Wayman), Jo Ann Sayers (Barbara Chanler), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Stephen Kildare), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Martha Kildare), Walter Kingsford (Dr. P. Walter Carew), Truman Bradley (Jack Hamilton), Monty Woolley (Dr. Lane-Porteus), Pierre Watkin (Mr. Robert Chanler) and Nella Walker (Mrs. Chanler).


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