Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Passion Flower directed by William C. de Mille (starring Kay Francis, Kay Johnson, Charles Bickford)

Passion Flower (1930). Screenplay/adaptation by Martin Flavin from the novel Passion Flower by Kathleen Norris. Additional dialogue by Laurence E. Johnson and Edith Fitzgerald.

Cassy (Kay Johnson) and Dan (Charles Bickford), her father's chauffeur, get married against the objection of her father, which starts them off at the bottom. Kay Francis stars as Cassy's rich cousin Dulce who married for money. Five years and two kids later, Dan loses his job and has to accept Dulce's original wedding present of a farm.

It's obvious from the beginning that the constantly feuding Dan and Dulce are going to fall into each other's arms, but things move too quickly too soon. The whole thing is rather melodramatic, but the acting is good, the direction of William C. de Mille (brother of Cecil B.) is unobtrusive, and it doesn't go on for too long.

Zasu Pitts makes an impression as the landlady despite the awkward dialogue. Also, look for a young Ray Milland as a party guest.

Monday, March 24, 2008

An explanation of the original purpose of this weblog

On October 9, 2006, Turner Classic Movies devoted their entire pre–prime time day to broadcasting a series of films starring actress Kay Francis. I've been a fan of Miss Francis's since Trouble in Paradise became my favorite movie, whereupon I realized she had also been in the Marx Brothers' first film, The Cocoanuts.

Since most of her films are not on video or DVD, I recorded them onto two DVD-Rs and plan to watch and review them one by one. (The links below go to the reviews.)

6:00 a.m. Passion Flower (1930)
7:30 a.m. A Notorious Affair (1930)
8:45 a.m. Street of Women (1932)
10:00 a.m. The Keyhole (1933)
11:15 a.m. The House on 56th Street (1933)
12:30 p.m. Storm At Daybreak (1933)
2:00 p.m. Mandalay (1934)
3:15 p.m. British Agent (1934)
4:45 p.m. Stranded (1935)
6:00 p.m. The Feminine Touch (1941)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Trouble in Paradise directed by Ernst Lubitsch (starring Kay Francis, Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins)

Trouble in Paradise (1932). Screenplay/adaptation by Samson Raphaelson (who worked on several films for Lubitsch) and Grover Jones from the play The Honest Finder by Laszlo Aladar.

This wonderful confection from Ernst Lubitsch is a marvelous pre–Hays Code example of what can be done to imply sex. Trouble in Paradise simply drips with it, but nothing but the slightest hint of cleavage is shown. The script is literate and flows with banter, offering the most sophisticated of comic dialogue.

Herbert Marshall stars as the dapper Gaston Monescu, "the man who walked into the bank of Constantinople, and walked out with the bank of Constantinople." We first meet him in Venice, where he has completed a robbery of François Filiba (the inimitable Edward Everett Horton), just before having a romantic dinner with his love, Lily Vautier (Miriam Hopkins).

They are both career crooks (and she has another secret, unknown to him) and their light-hearted pickpocketing of each other is my image of the ideal romantic byplay. Ever so intimate (and quite racy, if you think about it), but with a sense of fun.

Gaston and Lily's relationship begins to suffer when he puts the moves on the exceptionally beautiful (and rich!) Mariette Colet (Kay Francis, whose difficulty pronouncing Rs had her nicknamed "the wavishing Kay Fwancis" on the Warner backlot) — widow of a cosmetics king — for the 850,000 franc insurance payout that is soon to come. Gaston sets himself up as her personal secretary by laying on the charm (and discipline!), and Mariette simply glows when he is around. Lily, inserting herself as Gaston's own secretary, is a perfect delight, fussing and fuming at their relationship while trying to keep her hands from lifting little trinkets around the house.

Trouble in Paradise is ideal in many ways. It barely treads near reality — or, at least, not a reality that most of us will ever see — but that is part of its charm. At a time when most movie characters seem to be underdeveloped juveniles, it's nice to see some confident adults involved in mature situations. As Roger Ebert put it, "Both Lily and Mariette know what they want, and Gaston knows that he has it." This is cinema at its very best. It is funny, sexy, and seems fresh even today, far surpassing the modern idea of "romantic comedy."

Fortunately, it is finally available to purchase on a spectacular Criterion Collection DVD (my original VHS copy was recorded from American Movie Classics back when they lived up to their name) with extras including an informative commentary from Lubitsch's biographer Scott Eyman and one of the director's early short films. One of the best motion pictures of all time can finally find a modern audience.
Related Posts with Thumbnails