#81 Nightmare Alley

Watched: January 29 2017

Director: Edmund Goulding

Starring: Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Ian Keith

Year: 1947

Runtime: 1h 50min

nightmare

Source

Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley brings us back to the carny world of Freaks, complete with a Geek (not the computer kind though; more the rip-the-heads-off-of-chickens-with-his-teeth kind). It’s a world we’ve missed and we were very happy to be back.

nightmare-1
The Geek is ever present though never shown on screen. Our filthy, sensationalist minds were only slightly miffed.

Source

Zeena, Mentalist Princess (Blondell), is mentoring Stan (Power), an ambitious young carnival performer. Stan learns of a secret code which Zeena and her now alcoholic husband Pete (Keith) used to “tell fortunes” back in their Vaudeville days, and he is set on learning it. However, Pete will have none of it and forbids his wife from teaching it to Stan or anyone else.

nightmare2
“If only something could befall this desperate alcoholic..!”

Source

One dark night, there is a fatal (if accidental?) mix-up of bottles, and Pete has drunk his last drop. Unable to perform alone, Zeena teaches Stan the code and the two of them resurrect her old clairvoyant act. That is, until Stan is caught fraternizing with fellow performer Molly (Gray) and the lovers are forced to marry, leave the carnival and set up on their own.

nightmare3
Sparks quite literally fly

Source

With his new wife, Stan starts performing in hotels – a step up from the traveling carnival circuit and with a slightly more powerful and respectable clientele. As his audience and his reputation grow, he strikes up a (probably platonic) relationship with a consulting psychologist, Lilith Ritter (Walker), who treats many of the city’s elite. When he learns that she records her sessions, he teams up with her to use her clients’ personal information to gain their trust and their money.

nightmare4
He underestimated how fatale this femme really was…

Source

Stan becomes the victim of his own hubris and ambition. No matter how many of the women (and Tarot cards) in his life try to warn him that he is crossing the line he keeps pushing, making himself out to be almost a Messiah figure, and in the end something’s got to give. The story comes full circle – we start and end in a traveling carnival where people make their own fate. Nightmare Alley is in many ways an Ikaros-tale, and it’s an intriguing and hypnotic watch. We absolutely loved it!

nightmare5
Also, Joan Blondell, who we loved in the Busby Berkeley musicals, got even better with age!

Source

What we learned: Never trust a professional conman. Or a consulting psychologist. Also, do not take the Lord’s name in vain.

Next time: Odd Man Out (1947)

Advertisements

#34 Dames

Watched: September 5 2016

Director: Busby Berkeley & Ray Enright

Starring: Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Guy Kibbee, Hugh Herbert

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 31min

dames-poster

Source

Ezra Ounce (Herbert) has got it going on. He’s rich, eccentric (but he can afford to be), and he has a purpose in life: to raise American morals and more specifically, get rid of Broadway shows. He decides to give his sister and brother-in-law $10 million on the condition that they live up to his standards of “clean living” and help him with his foundation.

dames-blondell
“We need to get rid of the filth that is cleaning ladies who actually enjoy their work!”

Source

Alas, Ounce’s niece Barbara (Keeler) and his more distant relative Jimmy (Powell) have already fallen to The Theatre (and for each other) and are busy putting on a production which Ounce decides to sabotage. However, star of the show Mabel (Blondell – who also steals the show in the film) has dirt on Barbara’s father Horace (Kibbee) and blackmails him into financing the show.

dames
Never has a man been more mortified at finding a half naked burlesque girl in his bed. His views do in no way represent the views of the studio or the producers.

Source

Eventually, the Ounce Foundation for the Elevation of American Morals attend the opening night of Jimmy’s musical and, unwittingly drunk on Dr. Silver’s Golden Elixir, enjoy every minute of it, causing them to change their views on both Jimmy and Broadway shows.

1480x1362dames_740_550_s_c1_c_c
Strange how scantily clad dames have that effect on sexually frustrated middle aged men

Source

In many ways, this seems like the most honest of the Berkeley musicals we’ve seen. “The Girl at the Ironing Board” is an unabashed male fantasy of the perfect woman whose happiest times are cleaning men’s clothes, and in the titular number “Dames” they’re not even trying to pretend that the selling point for all these films is anything other than the pretty dames. Still, we enjoyed it a lot although, in our opinion, Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1933 had slightly better musical numbers.

dames1934_678x380_05312013095838
But fewer beds on stage, so we’ll call this a win.

Source

What we learned: what do we go for? Beautiful dames!

Next time: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

#30 Gold Diggers of 1933

Watched: September 4 2016

Director:  Mervyn LeRoy & Busby Berkeley (choreography)

Starring: Warren William, Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Aline MacMahon

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 37min

gold-diggers-of-1933

Source

“We’re in the Money,” a big Broadway number, is in rehearsal when creditors come and repossess the props, costumes and pretty much everything but the girls themselves. This is the ironic opening of yet another fabulous Busby Berkeley musical.

gold-diggers-of-1933-2
As well as another excuse to feature semi-naked ladies

Source

Yet again, the plot revolves around Broadway productions and in this one, the producer has everything he needs to put on a great show, except money. He visits the apartment of three showgirls (the titular “gold diggers”) to discuss the prospects with them and hears a composer playing the piano through an open window. The composer, Brad (Powell), is the sweetheart of one of the showgirls, Polly (Keeler), and he offers to put up $15 000 for the production on the condition that Polly gets a leading role. He himself is hired as a composer but refuses to be a stage performer.

golddiggers1933
“This face would never do on stage!”

Source

Complications arise, and as Brad is forced to perform on opening night his real identity as a member of a prominent Boston family is revealed. As his older brother J. Lawrence Bradford (William) learns of his activities and his intentions to marry a showgirl, he interferes and threatens to cut him off from his inheritance if he does not leave her. However, when the brother goes to Polly’s apartment to buy her off, he meets fellow dancer Carol (Blondell) instead and mistakes her for Polly. After he thoroughly insults her and third flatmate Trixie (MacMahon), as well as their careers, they decide to take him and his lawyer for a ride.

macmahon-blondell-keeler-1a
“Sisters before misters, bitches!”

Source

The two girls take the men out, tricking them into paying for all sorts of extravagant things along the way. Naturally, they do a Pride and Prejudice (1813), and Bradford falls for Carol despite her “low breeding” and unseemly profession.

Blondell, Joan (Gold Diggers of 1933)_02
Them dancin’ legs will take you far, however cheap and vulgar your future husband finds you

Source

After the happy ending is resolved (with no less than three weddings, in proper Shakespearean fashion) the big musical numbers hit the stage. And my god, what numbers! “The Shadow Waltz” features glow-in-the-dark violins and some truly remarkable skirts and is amazing to watch.

Gold-Diggers-1933-06
How convenient that all showgirls are also masterful violinists

Source

However, the true showstopper is the spectacular “Remember my Forgotten Man” which completely blew us away. If you have no interest in musicals and no intention of watching this film, then at least do yourself a favour and check out this number. You won’t be sorry.

GoldDiggersOf19331-750x410
This picture does not even begin to do it justice

Source

Another new favourite which solidifies our newfound love of Busby Berkeley.

What we learned: always bring a can opener to a date.

Next time: King Kong (1933)

#29 Footlight Parade

Watched: September 3 2016

Director: Lloyd Bacon & Busby Berkeley (choreography)

Starring: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell

Year: 1933

Runtime: 1h 43min

footlight-25a

Source

We reiterate: we cannot put into words our newfound love of Busby Berkeley, and we cannot believe it took us this long to find out about him. Thank you, Mr Wright!

Chester Kent (Cagney) is a musical director who is quickly becoming obsolete with the rising popularity of talkies. In addition, his wife wants a divorce, but this doesn’t seem to faze him significantly.

Footlight+Parade+1933+5
Who needs a wife when you can have all this?

Source

He changes his business venture into producing musical “prologues” for movies, dealing with creative exhaustion, corrupt business partners, rival spies and romantic complication along the way. When secretary Nan’s (Blondell) old frenemy Vivian decides to crash at her place, Kent is duped by her perceived worldliness into giving her a job and a marriage proposal, much to the chagrin of Nan who is deeply in love with her boss.

Blondell, Joan (Footlight Parade)_01
Luckily, Nan is a saucy minx who knows how to divert his attention away from Vivian

Source

In order to save the business, Kent and his company need to wow cinema mogul Apolinaris with three spectacular shows to play in all his cinemas, but a rival company has infiltrated the chorus and all their ideas are being stolen. It’s pretty much Bring It On (2000) with better costumes and more sensational routines.

footlight-parade-ruby-keeler-1933
There’s also a production of Cats before it was cool

Source

In addition to the main story, there’s a sub-plot romance between secretary-cum-leading lady Bea (Keeler) and juvenile lead Scotty (Powell) which is very sweet, but not that important to the overall plot.

In the end, we are treated to three fantastic Berkeley numbers: “Honeymoon Hotel,” with lots of innuendo; “By a Waterfall,” which features some amazing water scenes; and our personal favourite (mainly for the music) “Shanghai Lil,” in which Cagney himself stars.

Footlight-Parade
We are beginning to suspect that these films were all a flimsy, high-budget excuse to feature scantily clad ladies, though

Source

footlight6
Despite some casual racism, “Shanghai Lil” amazing!

Source

Like 42nd Street, you can watch this for the story and performances (which we personally thought were slightly better in Footlight Parade), the banter and jokes, or just for the truly spectacular dance numbers. Either way, they should both definitely go on your to-do list. We’re off to watch Gold Diggers of 1933, and we can’t wait!

What we learned: As long as there are sidewalks, we have a job.

Next time: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933, surprisingly enough)