Archive for the ‘1930s films’ Tag

5 Desert Island Movies #NationalClassicMovieDay   12 comments

Some questions are hard.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me what my favorite films are.  My favorite films?  Do you mean my favorite films with large, radioactive insects?  My favorite films about the mob?  My favorite westerns?  War movies?  Heist films?  Films where the main character paints with his girlfriend’s blood?  That’s the thing.  I like a lot of films and quite honestly, my favorites change from day to day.  Anyway, I saw Jay from posting his top 5 and I thought I’d give it a shot.  The author of the Classic Film and TV Café, a blog about classic film and TV (no kidding), came up with the idea for this blogathon, but I found out about it too late so I’m posting my favorites anyway and attempting to give him credit.  Here goes!


THE WOMEN (1939)

I’m not sure why, but I love fashion shows in movies.  HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE has a fun one too.  Great stuff.  I’m not even a clothes person.  I am not the woman with 200 pairs of shoes or an outfit for every occasion…at all.  It doesn’t matter.  The wacky over-the-top couture fits the ‘I can get my nails done daily because the hardest work I do all week is hail a cab’ lifestyle.

So practical.

The clever and often overlapping dialogue written by Clare Booth Luce, Anita Loos, Jane Murfin, David Ogden Stewart, and even F. Scott Fitzgerald makes fun of the wealthy consumers in this film while still allowing us to like them.  I’m not sure if it would pass the Bechdel test because these women talk about men a lot.  They also talk about themselves and their hopes for family and love.  Not all ambition hangs out in the boardroom, after all.  The women in THE WOMEN talk about things that still come up today.  I’m your wife and the mother of your children, but I still have to look like a model and greet you every day with a negligee on and a soufflé in the oven.  I also have to be a good sport about it and look the other way when you pinch the cigarette girl.  Welcome to 2016, 1939.  THE WOMEN is a smart film that holds up.



My teenager adores this film and the two of us sit on the couch and laugh like fools throughout the entire movie.  If it’s on in the morning, she will get up.  Let me repeat that.  SHE WILL GET UP.  Remember, she’s 18.  I love this film.  This is another movie with a ton of stuff going on.  The asides and in jokes become clearer after each viewing and the physical humor is some of the best in film.  The Marx brothers work so well together.  The choreography and timing in the scenes in the ship’s stateroom and the hotel in New York are as complex as any dance number Fred Astaire dreamed up and the sarcastic put downs still crack me up.  It’s worth seeing just for “Take Me out to the Ballgame” in the orchestra pit.  Major smiles.




I’ve read that Welles didn’t care for this one, but he was wrong.  There, I said it. First of all, it looks fabulous.

A gym has never looked so good.

Those shadows and chiaroscuro get me all hot and bothered.  Also, Nazis.  I love Nazis in films of the 1940s.  It’s all black and white.  There’s none of this police action/Vietnam/should we really be there crap.  They’re Nazis.  They’re bad.  End of story.  I also love films about the seedy underbellies of otherwise lovely places.  SHADOW OF A DOUBT, BLUE VELVET, even THE ASPHALT JUNGLE and ROPE have that ‘Come over for a cup of tea, Aunt Clara.  I’ll move the body out of the spare room.’ feel to them.  Edward G. Robinson has a lot of fun with this one.  Robinson takes his time ruminating over Welles and his possible ties to the death camps and insinuates himself into his life until it all goes pear-shaped for the murderer.  Just terrific.  Orson Welles makes a great bad guy too.  I think Loretta Young is a bit shrill in THE STRANGER, but she unravels nicely.


JAWS (1975)

While JAWS started the whole summer blockbuster thing, it wasn’t the first creature feature.  Universal had THE WOLF MAN and DRACULA and the 1950s showed us what radiation could do to desert ants and crickets.  In Japan, Godzilla and his cohorts/enemies (depending on which film you’re watching) destroyed and saved Tokyo countless times.  Sometimes, the scientists found a creature in the ice.  THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and THE DEADLY MANTIS defrosted the terrible beings and hurled them at an unsuspecting public.  THEM! gave us the prototype for the modern creature movies and it’s wonderfully done.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Spielberg was a big THEM! fan.  I digress.  I love JAWS.  There’s something about it that makes me so happy.  The soulless leviathan threatens the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Amity Island and Quint, Hooper, and Brody band together to kill the beast and save the day.  Here’s another black and white film.  The shark eats kids and dogs.  He’s bad.  He’s the Nazi of the sea and our heroes are the allied troops tasked with taking him out.  What separates JAWS from many of the other nature vs. man films are the characters and the writing.  We get to know these guys and we’re worried about them.  We want Brody to get home to his wife and kids.  We want Quint to get his Napolean Brandy.  We also want Quint to run him into the shallows so Hooper doesn’t have to get into that damned shark cage.

I got no spit either.

Writers, Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb, and the uncredited John Milius fleshed out these men so we’d give a damn about them.  They even wrote in the island as a character.  There’s so much going on in this film that I see new things each time I watch it.  That newness would come in handy on an island.



For the last film, I had a hard time deciding between HIS GIRL FRIDAY and HARVEY.  They’re both funny and full of terrific performances, but HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) edged HARVEY out by a whisker.  I love the frenetic, overlapping Hawksian dialogue and the amazing cast of character actors elevate this film above madcap comedy status.  I would argue that HIS GIRL FRIDAY and CASABLANCA use character actors better than any films ever did.  Roscoe Karns, Regis Toomey, John Qualen, Billy Gilbert, Porter Hall and Gene Lockhart make this film.

“Hi, babe.”

Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant are the stars, but without the reporters and the pols vying for a byline or political brownie points, it wouldn’t be the same.  The comments delivered from the sides of mouths in this film keep the viewer on his toes too.  You can’t sneeze while watching this for fear of missing 14 punchlines.  It’s whip smart and prescient and I’m out of breath at the end of each viewing.   This film is coming with me if I have to smuggle it in my sock.


These are my 5 favorites…this week.  Come back next week, and I’ll probably have a different list.


Freaks (1932)   11 comments

freaks poster

Hot off his success directing DRACULA for Universal Studios, Tod Browning had carte blanche to decide what he’d like to do next. Browning chose to film Tod Robbins’ story Spurs. The dark tale of life in a traveling carnival appealed to Browning who had left home at sixteen to join the circus. Browning liked Robbins’ macabre stories. He directed the 1925 version of Robbins’ THE UNHOLY THREE starring Lon Chaney.


FREAKS takes place in a traveling sideshow filled with trapeze artists, animal acts, clowns, and human anomalies. The performers live together in a cluster of caravans not unlike a small town. The little community, made up of outcasts and people on the fringes of society is a tight knit group. Their fear of ridicule and distrust of the outside world bands them together. Just how much only comes out when a so-called normal person threatens one of their number and they act as one to retaliate.

Director Tod Browning and some of his cast

Hans and Frieda (Harry & Daisy Earles) play little people engaged to marry. In real life, the two were brother and sister, performing all over the United States with two other sisters as The Doll Family. Hans loves Frieda, but has a crush on Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), the glamorous, and tall acrobat. Cleopatra considers Hans’ infatuation a joke, but puts up with it because of the gifts he gives her. When Cleopatra discovers Hans has inherited a great deal of money, she and her lover Hercules (Henry Victor) decide she will marry him to get her hands on it. She says to Hercules, “Midgets are not strong. He could get sick.” Thus they hatch a plot to kill Hans.

Hans and Frieda in happier times

Unfortunately for the evil couple, they’re not too bright and their plan is pretty obvious from the get go. Here we see the famous wedding feast scene. Hans, Cleopatra, and the entire company including the jilted Frieda, sit at a long table drinking champagne to celebrate the nuptials. As Angeleno (Angelo Rossitto) passes a loving cup full of champagne from one performer to the next, he calls out, “Gooble gobble one of us! We accept her! We accept her!”

“Slimy freaks!”

As the glass nears Cleopatra we see her face harden. She screams, “You filth make me want to puke!” Happy honeymoon!

Strike one.

Cleopatra and Hercules start dosing Hans with a slow-acting poison right after the wedding. He’s bedridden immediately and under the care of his doting new wife. Hans’ convenient illness arouses the suspicions of his friends and soon Cleopatra and Hercules fall under their watchful eyes.

Oh us? Just hanging out. *whistles*

Everywhere the conspirators go, freaks, as outsiders refer to the sideshow performers, watch their every move. When Cleopatra and Hercules are caught red-handed, they find themselves at the mercy of the freaks and their brutal code of justice.

freak attack
We’re coming to get you, Olga.

FREAKS does a lovely job of showing the beauty and ugliness in people. Cleopatra and Hercules look attractive, athletic, and healthy, but under their shiny appearance lurks ugliness, cruelty, and disdain for those they consider beneath them. The freaks, on the other hand may be physically abnormal, but they love, trust, and protect each other like a family. The beautiful Cleopatra and Hercules plot against Hans for money while the ‘ugly’ freaks celebrate the birth of a child. Over and over we see examples of the nastiness of Cleopatra and Hercules juxtaposed with the kindness of one of the freaks. Of course, when crossed, the sideshow denizens show their violent sides too. This works because it shows these people to be exactly what many normal people think they are not…human.

The Bearded Lady’s new baby

Not all supposedly normal people in FREAKS are heartless jerks. The marvelous character actor Wallace Ford plays Phroso, the Clown. He treats the sideshow performers as he would anyone. He’s affable and genuine. If you’re kind to him, he’s kind to you. Leila Hyams as Venus is also a friend to the freaks as is Madame Tetrallini (Rose Dione) who cares for her microcephalic ‘children’.

Wallace Ford and Elizabeth Green

Madame Tetrallini and her charges

Tod Browning cast FREAKS from sideshows all over the United States and Europe. He hired popular acts like Johnny Eck, the half boy, conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, and Harry Earles, who later gained fame as one of the Lollipop Guild in The Wizard of Oz. Angelo Rossitto, was a popular performer who worked on and off until the 1980s. Among many other roles, he played The Master in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The Armless Girl, Frances O’Connor worked under the name The Living Venus DeMilo in circuses and sideshows. Beautiful, gregarious, and dextrous, Frances was a sought after performer for years.

Frances havin’ some suds

Schlitze and the other microcephalic members of the company were often called pinheads and billed as Aztec Children in the sideshow circuit.


Then there’s Prince Randian. Often called The Living Torso, Randian has an incredible scene in FREAKS in which he lights a cigarette. He opens a matchbox, takes out a match, closes the matchbox, and lights the match and his cigarette. It’s fascinating to watch. What you should know is they cut an earlier part of the scene showing Randian rolling that cigarette. Randian lived to his 60s, worked in circuses, married, and had kids.

Prince Randian

I’ve always loved FREAKS because of its engaging story, compelling characters, and because it affords us a glimpse into a world we’d never see if not for the film. Since the 1960s when FREAKS started showing in art house theatres, it’s gained a cult following, but the controversial setting, plot, and especially the characters did not thrill audiences or critics in 1932. In fact, the reaction to FREAKS killed Tod Browning’s career. Even though he lived until the 1960s, Browning only made four films after FREAKS. Audiences did not want to know about these people. In my opinion, it’s one of the reasons freak shows and carnivals started closing. It was just too ugly for refined people to see. They called it exploitation and put many performers, who made a good living, out on the street. Unable to get other jobs, many had to rely on charity to survive. Even critics who didn’t hate the film said that though it was well made, the film had no chance of working because there was no way a normal man or woman could empathize with a midget. That’s sad because there’s so much to love about this film and the characters in it. Browning manages in sixty-four minutes to let us into this closed world. FREAKS pulls you in and lets you see things from another point of view which is one of the best things about film.


I wrote this piece for the Pre-Code Blogathon hosted by Karen @TheDarkPages and
Danny @PreCodeDotCom

Another fun idea, you two!


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