When time, inclination, and available titles permit, I love to wander through a group of films through whatever logic takes my fancy. Of late, that’s almost always centered in noir, but I never stay just there. This week, I followed several trails: the year 1931, the films of Kay Francis, and the fury of Walter Huston. Directors varied from Anthony Mann to George Cukor, other actors included Lionel Barrymore and Barbara Stanwyck, and the experience overall was rewarding and delightful. (Much better than seeing three duds last week!
So, on with this week’s round-up!
A House Divided (1931): Outspoken and Freckled’s review brought me to this William Wyler helmed picture, as did my appreciation of Walter Huston’s ability to play a villain. Along the way, I found a tale of a crude, violent fisherman (Huston as Seth Law) and his sensitive son (Kent Douglas/Douglass Montgomery as Matt Law) as they fight over a young mail-order bride (Helen Chandler). The intensity of the film is all about Huston’s ruthlessness; even after being paralyzed, he’s still a serious threat. The character of Seth Law is very much a creature of noir, and I loved hating him almost as I do Alfred Davidson in 1932’s Rain. RECOMMENDED.
Girls About Town (1931): I read a review of this early George Cukor film had to see it. The cast features Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman as gold-digging professional escorts, Louise Beavers as their protective servant, a young and sweet Joel McCrea as the generic love interest, and a raucous penny-pinching Eugene Pallette.While light fare, the film does a great job of showing a true friendship between women. It reminds me a lot of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Plus, I just love the queerness of this film, including the cosy homelife of the “girls” (see photo below), gay director Cukor, lesbian screenwriter Zoe Akins, lesbian lead Tashman (a lover of Garbo), and bisexual Kay Francis. RECOMMENDED.
Guilty Hands (1931): Delight in Kay Francis brought me next to a film I’d never heard of, starring Lionel Barrymore as a father who will do anything to keep his daughter (Madge Evans, who also plays his daughter in Dinner at Eight [Cukor 1933]) safe and happy. To do so, he must thwart the ambitions to marry said daughter by aging playboy Alan Mowbry (I know, right?). Thwart in this case means murder him and frame his lover, played by Francis. There’s a noirish plot, mood, and look to this film, which opens upon Barrymore and several other men on a train, all discussing whether they would be able to commit murder. Could easily have been an early Hitchcock except that it’s so stagebound. RECOMMENDED.
The Furies (1950): Back to Walter Huston again, I leapt from 1931 to 1950 and from noirish to Western (directed by sometime noir director Anthony Mann). Huston is TC Jeffords, and you hardly know whether to love or hate the wild old man. The film bounces from Huston’s to Stanwyck’s and back, with her playing his hellfire daughter Vance. She falls for family enemy Rip Darrow (played with serious lack of appeal by Wendell Corey), and after he betrays her it’s TC’s turn to fall, for Judith Anderson as gold-digging Flo Burnett. Along the way, there’s the squatter family the Herreras, including noble Juan (Gilbert Roland) who loves Vance so much he ultimately hangs for her and his wild mother who ultimately gets revenge against TC for her son’s death. The happy ending that ensues makes you shake your head because Vance has attacked Flo with a scissors and TC has disowned Vance. Still, as TC heads for that big ranch in the sky, Vance and Rip plan to marry and raise sons, the first of course to be named TC. RECOMMENDED, but less than the three from 1931.