Friday, January 4, 2013

Seven at the Stanford

I saw seven films at the Stanford Theater from August to October.

The Violent Men starring Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck & Edward G. Robinson; directed by Rudolph Mat√©; (1955)
Rainbow Over Texas starring Roy Roger, Dale Evans & Gabby Hayes; directed by Frank McDonald; (1946)
Way Down East starring Lillian Gish; directed by D.W. Griffith; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Dennis James; (1920)
Waterloo Bridge starring Mae Clarke & Douglass Montgomery; with Bette Davis; directed by James Whale; (1931)
The Impatient Maiden starring Mae Clarke & Lew Eyres; with Andy Devine; directed by James Whale; (1932)
The Bad Sister starring Conrad Nagel, Sidney Fox, Bette Davis & Humphrey Bogart; directed by Hobart Henley; (1931)
Seed starring John Boles, Genevieve Tobin & Bette Davis; directed by John M. Stahl; (1931)

I saw The Violent MenRainbow Over Texas as a double feature on August 2.  Way Down East was a single bill on August 3.  I saw Waterloo BridgeThe Impatient Maiden as a double feature on September 26.  I saw The Bad SisterSeed  as a double feature on October 16.

The Violent Men was a nice find.  Glenn Ford plays John Parrish, a rancher who wants to sell his land and move east with his fiancee.  Edward G. Robinson and Barbara Stanwyck play Lew & Martha Wilkison, a married couple who own the largest ranch in the area.  Wilkison lowballs Parrish for his ranch.  Unwilling to sell at such a low price and looking for revenge when Wilkison's hired gun (Richard Jaeckel) kills one of his ranch hands, Parrish digs in his heels.  Parrish is the wrong man to mess with since he has experience as a Confederate marauder.

The Violent Men is elevated by the presence of Robinson & Stanwyck.  Wilkinson is left wheelchair bound as a result of an Indian attack years before.  Unable to perform his husbandly duties, Wilkinson can only wonder about the relationship between his younger brother (Brian Keith) and his wife.  The audience and Wilkinson's daughter (Diane Foster) have no doubts regarding their illicit relationship.  This melodramatic love triangle among the hard-nosed and bitter Wilkinson, his Lady MacBeth wife and his brother is unique in that the villains rarely get such treatment.  Indeed, Wilkinson almost comes off as the most sympathetic of the bunch.  Even Ford's Parrish is less than admirable as his ruthlessness comes to the forefront.

Rainbow Over Texas is the first Roy Rogers film I can recall seeing.  Even as a kid, I don't recall seeing his films on television.  The most memorable scenes involved Dale Evans in a swimsuit.  I didn't realize what an attractive woman she was.  She plays an rich Eastern socialite hiding out from her father at their ranch in Texas.  I can't recall the plot too well.  There is a horse race over open country.  Roy & Trigger enter the race but some gangster has fixed the race so they try to cheat to win.  There was a murder in there somewhere too.  It involved a guy wearing the same shirt as the murderer and being falsely accused.  I can't remember the songs.  There was a scene in a saloon where Dale is jealous of a woman paying attention to Roy.  Dale dresses as man while stowing away on a train.  At 65 minutes, the film is like a tasty appetizer than you enjoyed at the time but cannot recall later.  Did I mention Dale Evans looked awfully good in the film?

I don't recall much about Way Down East.  Lillian Gish plays a country bumpkin who goes to the city to visit her wealthy cousins.  She falls in with the wrong man and her reputation is ruined.  Later, living in a small town, the rich guy arrives and the town gossip exposes Gish's secret.  She is cast out of town and dies on an icy river bank.  Heavy handed and predictable, I just couldn't enjoy the film.  Two scenes stayed in my memory.  There is a party scene where Gish's stands out (for appearance and conduct) and the aforementioned climax on the icy river.

Waterloo Bridge involves an American streetwalker (Mae Clarke)  and an American GI (Douglass Montgomery) in London during WWI.  Unaware of her profession, Cronin (Montgomery) invites Myra (Clarke) to his family's country estate.  Why an American in the Canadian army (as an enlisted man) would have a family estate in Britain was not explained.  Bette Davis shows up as Cronin's younger sister.  Keeping her secret despite Cronin's declarations of love and proposals for marriage, Myra goes to great lengths to avoid Cronin.  Finally, Myra's landlady reveals her true profession.  Undeterred, Cronin returns to Waterloo Bridge (her stroll and where they originally met) and finds Myra.  Desperate to marry before being shipped to the front, Cronin secures Myra's acceptance of his marriage proposal just before being hauled off by MPs to report to the front.  As his truck departs, a bomb detonates and Myra is killed.  It's quite a tearjerker.  The English accents and sound quality of films from the era made it difficult to understand all the dialog.

Not as well known as the Vivian Leigh/Robert Taylor version, this Waterloo Bridge was quite good.

The Impatient Maiden casts Clarke as a legal secretary for a divorce lawyer.  This makes her cynical about marriage.  Clarke lives on the Angels Flight street in LA which is always nice to see.  A suicide attempt by a neighbor puts her in contact with Lew Ayres as an ambulance doctor.  A love triangle forms between Clarke, Ayres and John Halliday who plays the divorce lawyer.

I can't say I disliked The Impatient Maiden but three months later I don't recall much about it nor do I recall what I thought of it at the time.  Clarke's roommate in the film is Una Merkel & the ambulance driver is Andy Devine.  The become a couple in the film and their two voices grated against my ears like sandpaper.

The Bad Sister is Sidney Fox.  Her younger sister is Bette Davis.  Fox is the most popular girl in town.  She falls for Humphrey Bogart, a con man.  She convinces her father to back Bogie's scam who then convinces the rest of the townfolk.  Abandoned and pregnant, Fox comes slinking back home.  A very abrupt ending indicates all was forgiven and Davis got the doctor who was more interested in Fox.  The Bad Sister was underwhelming.  At 68 minutes, it was probably a B film.

Seed was more interesting.  Davis plays John Boles' dutiful wife.  Boles was a former aspiring novelist who had to take a job in a publishing company to support his wife and five kids.  Wealthy Mildred (Genevieve Tobin) re-enters his life.  A former friend and admirer of his literary work, Mildred offers to support him while he writes his great novel.  Mildred's largesse drives a wedge between the man and his family.  Eventually Boles divorces Davis & marries Mildred.  To add insult to injury, Boles asks Davis if the kids can live with him and Mildred.  Rather than dashing the childrens' excitement of living the high life and being reunited with their father, Davis selflessly agrees.

Davis (like Joan Crawford) is at her best when she is bitchy.  Here she play the saint and it's just not very interesting.  More interesting that The Bad Sister, Seed has a few scenes showing the evolving relationship among the three main character which is skillfully done.  Taken as a whole, the film is old fashioned in its views about the role of women in society and acceptable behavior.  I was very aware that the situation seemed artificial in 1931 (when the film came out) and even more so in 2012.

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