Freewheelin' Pilgrim

The Ramblings and Misadventures of a Wayward Gentleman

Dishonored (1931)

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The second film I watched on my blissful relaxation day was…

 

Dishonored 1931

 

Poster for 'The Informer'.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dishonored tells the story of Austrian agent ‘X-27’ (how quaint) played by (guess who…) Marlene Dietrich during World War One. ‘X-27’ uses her looks to ‘get the goods’ on high ranking enemy officers, as well as traitors within her own army. But a narrow escape from a failed mission in capturing top Russian spy Colonel Kranau (played by Victor McLaglen), ‘X-27’ begins to question whether she can keep romance and spying separate…

 

This was the first (and so far only) Marlene Dietrich film I’ve seen, and I think it did well in capturing the essence of her ‘character’. She plays an exotic femme fatale, exuding European sex appeal. So I wasn’t really surprised in her characterisation of ‘X-27’. After watching The Informer I had expected great things from Victor McLaglen…

Sadly, I was disappointed. Dishonored is pretty much a carbon-copy of MGM’s Mata Hari which was released the same year. It’s pretty clear, having seen Mata Hari a few years back, that Dishonored was probably released to cash in on the former’s success at the box office. ‘X-27’ is pretty much Mata Hari by another name. The one difference being that Marlene Dietrich, in my opinion, is a much better actress than Greta Garbo (who starred in the titular role in Mata Hari). She slinks her way through the balls and boudoirs of enemy officers, seducing them and betraying them whilst remaining coldly indifferent to the men she condemns to death. Dietrich does well in the role, but it’s just a bad character. I think if Dietrich had played Mata Hari in a possible remake a few years later, she would have been much better, but her character is, as I mentioned, just a less-complex (and ultimately less satisfying) Mata Hari.

Victor McLaglen also does his best as Colonel Kranau, but he seems miscast. The character is a romantic ‘officer and gentleman’ type, much suited to the Gary Cooper or Douglas Fairbanks Jr. mold. McLaglen strikes me as being a rough ‘n’ ready type of actor, not one who’d waste time with romantic trifling as he does in this film. Tough, stoic men-at-arms like Sergeant Flagg in What Price Glory? or Sergeant MacChesney in Gunga Din are the only types of soldier McLaglen should have played, not officers mincing about as he does in this film. Don’t get me wrong, McLaglen is my favourite actor, and I think he’s fantastic. It’s just a case of poor casting on the studio’s part.

As mentioned, the story of Dishonored is essentially Mata Hari by another name. Female spy blah blah blah meets male spy blah blah blah falls in love blah blah blah close encounters blah blah blah will she let him escape or won’t she blah blah blah. I don’t mean to sound cynical or harsh, because I did enjoy this film. I just felt a bit, well, cheated. Josef von Sternberg (the director) and Dietrich had already made two classic movies by this time (Blue Angel and Morocco) and so I guess I expected so much better from this ‘dynamic duo’ than a rip-off of an earlier film. It just seems so…unconvincing. McLaglen and Dietrich had absolutely no chemistry and so their ‘forbidden love’ seems forced and false. Even what is supposed to be a stirring moment of pacifistic anti-war sentiment in the final scene, wherein a young lieutenant decides he’s had enough of killing and war seems tacked on to give the audience a ‘message’. It’s just not a convincing film, performance wise.

'X-27' (Marlene Dietrich) pulls a gun on Colonel Kranau (Victor McLaglen)

Dishonored is, though, a very stylish film. The locales are very well done, and the production values are really very good. There is an excellent scene which takes place at a sort of masked ball, complete with cascading rivers of champagne and a tonne of confetti (I would have thought that such a party in war-torn Europe would have been highly unlikely, but it’s Hollywood, not history) and it looks just fantastic. When one thinks of what was going on in Europe at the time, one almost gets the impression of a nihilistic society living by the old ‘is it not right to dance and sing/while the bells of death do ring?’ adage. It’s a very well-shot scene and has perhaps the only instance in cinema wherein flirting takes place over the blowing of party-whistles… The atmosphere is tense in one of the film’s suspense scenes, and there’s a lot of risque (for the time) humour about a hotel manager needing to continually employ new maids because “all the officers stay here…”. And the final scene is still shocking, even by today’s standards.

If Dishonored had been released a couple of years earlier or later than Mata Hari then it would’ve been a MUCH better film. I don’t know which studio copied which studio in this regard, but I’m sad to say that Mata Hari is the superior film, if only because of the strengths of it’s players. Dishonored doesn’t deliver in the character department and it is a crippling flaw. Other than that, Dishonored is well worth watching, just don’t let your expectations soar because of the von Sternberg/Dietrich partnership…

6.5/10.

 

Written by Gypo Nolan

October 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Posted in Movies

The Informer (1935)

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Hiya folks!

Last Friday was a rare day for me. I had no assignments due, I was up to date with all my readings and feeling generally swell. So I decided to give myself a reward and watched four new DVDs I purchased- all classics, of course. I loved them so much, I thought I’d share them with you!

MOVE #1

The Informer – 1935.

 
The first movie I watched was The Informer. To be honest, I don’t know why I bought it. I think I might have had a brief idolatry phase with Victor McLaglen…
Anyhow, the film is set in Dublin, during the ‘Troubles’ of the early 1920s. For the sake of those who don’t know about this period in Irish history, it involved the Irish Republican Army’s struggle against the British-backed ‘Irish Free State’ and the continued presence of British troops within Ireland.
 ‘Gypo’ (love the name) Nolan is a penniless ex-IRA member (he was court-martialled for refusing to shoot a man in cold blood) who dreams of taking himself and his girlfriend Katie to America. But, of course, they cannot afford the £20 fare. ‘Gypo’ then sees a wanted poster for a fugitive IRA member named Frankie McPhillip who is also one of ‘Gypo’s’ friends. Conveniently, the reward for Frankie is… £20. Even more conveniently, whilst lounging around at a bar, Frankie returns from (a presumably long-term) exile and chats to ‘Gypo’. ‘Gypo’ is haunted by the image of the £20 reward and goes to the H.Q. of the ‘Black and Tans’ (so named for their uniforms. They were thuggish British soldiers.) and informs on Frankie. What ensues for the next 90-odd minutes is a moral decay for ‘Gypo’ as he struggles with guilt, booze, women and the curse of money as the IRA try to discover who ‘the informer’ is…

‘The Informer’ is such a wonderful film. It’s so moody and expressionistic, like Fritz Lang’s ‘M’ only much more watchable. I kept being surprised that the director was John Ford. I honestly lapsed throughout the film and thought that a German ex-pat may have directed it. But it just proves that Ford was a durable, versatile director and not just the “Western guy” that most people think him today. The Informer is every bit a German expressionist film as it is a product of the Hollywood system.

On paper, story-wise, the film is pretty standard. The plot is typical to the gangster movies which were popular around this time. Change Chicago or Noo Yawk to Dublin; gangsters to IRA members; the cops to the Black and Tans. It’s not really anything to write home about. BUT there is so much going on beneath the surface. ‘Gypo’s’ descent into drunken boorishness and the psychological consequences on his informing on Frankie is just wonderful. It takes a sort of ‘stock’ story and turns it into a pre-cursor of the psychological thriller genre. 
There are a few good ‘Pre-Code’ moments in The Informer which I always love trying to spot. There’s a brilliant shootout, LOTS of drunkeness (hey, it’s IRELAND. And I can say that, coming from good Irish-Australian stock.) and even (SHOCK HORROR!) implications of the biggest taboo in Production-Code cinema: PROSTITUTION.
 
The best thing about this film though, is the acting. I hated Victor McLaglen for ‘stealing’ the Oscar away from Gabe in Mutiny on the Bounty ages before I saw this film (or, even before I even saw Victor McLaglen act…). But having now seen him in this film, I can honestly say that his performance in this film is better than almost any other performance given by an actor in 1930s cinema. I cannot sing his praises enough. ‘Gypo’ Nolan is just a fantastic character, and McLaglen is…I can’t even think of a word to describe just how brilliant his portrayal was. Just thinking about the final shot in the film brings me close to tears, it’s so utterly brilliant.
I read on IMDb that John Ford kept McLaglen on his toes and dishevelled to make ‘Gypo’ realistic, and it paid off big-time. Watching him, you get the feeling, the sensation, of seeing a man deteriorate, racing closer to the inevitable consequences of his action. ‘Gypo’ is one of the greatest flawed heroes or tragic villains in the history of cinema. I know that’s a HUGE call to make, but if you see this film (and I pray earnestly that you will!) I’m sure you’ll agree.

 

Victor McLaglen as 'Gypo' Nolan: Breathtakingly Brilliant.

The supporting cast were also great. I especially loved seeing Una O’Connor in a ‘straight’ role (you may remember her screeching her way through The Invisible Man or Bride of Frankenstein). She’s actually really quite moving in this film as Frankie’s ‘mudder’ and she even gets in a screech. But make no mistakes, it’s McLaglen’s film.

I give this film a deserved 10/10 and would not hesitate in recommending it to anyone. It’s a truly under-appreciated classic.

Written by Gypo Nolan

October 11, 2011 at 12:59 am

Posted in Movies

MarkGable’s Golden Age Zoo

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Step right up folks, and welcome to MarkGable’s Golden Age Zoo! Here, all your favorite stars from the golden age have been transformed into their wildlife counterparts!
Thanks, as always, to the wonderful Carole Irene of Golden Age Dames for the inspiration!

The Lion- Clark Gable

The King of Hollywood has become, of course, the King of the Jungle! But that’s not all, the Lion, like Gabe, has a dominating presence, an aura of importance and a ferocity which not many could match.

The Elegant Cat- Carole Lombard

Ok, so I WAS tempted to make Carole a lioness, but that’s too easy. So I made her a cat. Cats, like Carole, instantly convey an elegant personality. But also, and perhaps more importantly, they have a playful, fun side to them.

The Squirrel- Jack Benny

The Squirrel hoards his food. Jack Benny (in his radio persona) hoarded away his money. Both also have a fondness for chattering away happily and being generally amusing.

The Koala Bear– W.C. Fields

Chubby, and kind of sweet-looking, the Koala Bear is naturally W.C. Fields. Koalas are also more or less permanently drunk from their diet of eucalyptus leaves.

The Badger– Spencer Tracy

The Badger. Kind of an approachable animal, hey? Keep to themselves, don’t cause much fuss, and generally a pleasant little creature. But when something bothers them or they’re provoked, they’re a different story and become fierce. Just like Spence.

The Bush-Baby- Myrna Loy

Cute with wonderful eyes. Pretty much describes both Myrna Loy and the Bush-Baby!

The Canary– Jean Harlow

Best known for two things, it’s distinctive sound and it’s bright yellow color. Jean had a very distinctive speaking voice and whilst she wasn’t yellow exactly, she was platinum blonde which is close enough! Both are also tiny and cute.

The Bloodhound– Humphrey Bogart

The Bloodhound is renowned in police circles as being the dog who always gets it’s man. Bogie in his films (or the majority at least) always got his man too. Both also look kind of sad.

The Pigeon– Cary Grant

Honestly, this was Carole’s idea. I have no idea how it clicks. I guess there’s a certain vague resemblance…

The Wolf– George Sanders

Ferocious, brooding, lurking and exuding an aura of menace. The Wolf is just like George Sanders’ screen persona.

The Boar- Wallace Beery

Large, gruff, fierce and very intimidating, the Boar not only has the same fiery personality as Beery. He also kind of looks like him haw haw haw!

The Anglerfish- Marie Dressler

*sniggers* Nuff said.

The Kangaroo– Errol Flynn

Distinctly Australian, muscular and pretty darn tall. How could Errol be anything BUT a kangaroo? Plus the one in the picture is boxing 😀 Like Errol!

The Lemur- Joan Crawford

Like the Lemur, Joan has very distinctive eyes and is quite lithe. But instead of being a Bush-Baby with a plain bushy tail, Joan is the Lemur with an elegant striped tail.

The Chimpanzees- Groucho, Harpo and Chico Marx

Does this really need explaining?!

The Flamingo– Rudolph Valentino

This one’s for Carole: The Flamingo is the most effeminate looking animal in the world. Rudy was a pink powderpuff 😉

I had a whole HEAP more, but for the sake of keeping it short and sweet, I removed them. I hope you enjoyed the animals which made the final cut!

Written by Gypo Nolan

March 12, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Golden Age Stars, Humor

The Famous Cigarette

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Howdy!

Some of you may not know that I am a smoker. I love to smoke cigarettes, cigars and most of all my beloved pipe (I am the only 20 year old I know who smokes one!). However, much to my dismay, there is a stigma attached to smoking and smokers. Namely, when someone enters the room smelling slightly of tobacco (mmm-mmmm!), people run for the hills crying “UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!”.

Soooo in defense of smokers everywhere, I thought I’d post images of Golden Age stars enjoying a cigarette and try to bring some of the glamor back into our Diva Nicotina.

Apologies to D.D.C.I 😉

First on the list is Humphrey Bogart who is perhaps the patron Saint of cinematic smokers, consuming 3-4 packs of cigarettes a day. His female counterpart in cinematic smoking would have to be…

Joan Crawford, a picture of elegance with her cigarette. Joan starred in Today We Live in 1933 with

Gary Cooper. According to Elinor Glyn, Gary Cooper had “IT”. He also looks very dapper with his cigarette. Someone else who had “IT” was…

Clara Bow. Clara was in fact the “IT” Girl. If there had been an “IT” Boy, it surely would have been…

Rudolph Valentino! The original movie-star sex symbol! Another famous sex symbol smoker was…

Cary Grant! But Cary didn’t just stop at cigarettes, oh no. He also loved to smoke a pipe! Cary was hassled by the British Foreign Office for not immediately enlisting in the British Army at the start of W.W.II., as was…

Sir Laurence Olivier. Olly enjoyed a cigarette, as did his wife…

Vivien Leigh! Doesn’t she look stylish with her long cigarette holder? Vivien is best remembered for her role of Scarlett O’Hara in the classic Gone With The Wind. However, the author of the novel, Margaret Mitchell, really wanted…

Miriam Hopkins for the role. Miriam had a particularly bitter rivalry with…

Bette Davis. Another person to have a rivalry with Bette was…

Errol Flynn. As you can see, Errol is looking very suave with his pipe. Another person who enjoyed a pipe was…

Clark Gable, who also smoked cigars and cigarettes. You can just picture Ol’ Gabe lounging around in his ranch, lighting up a cigarette before leaning over and lighting…

…his lovely wife, Carole Lombard‘s. Carole got her start in Mack Sennett comedies, as did…

Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin was born in England, but came to America and made it BIG in comedy. Another person with a similar story was…

Bob Hope. Hope was one of the last Great American icons of the Golden Age, along with…

Jimmy Stewart. Jimmy starred in a remake of The Big Sleep. The star of the original was…

Humphrey Bogart! And so we come full circle! I hope you have enjoyed my little trip down a cigarette-butt littered Memory Lane 🙂

AND HAPPY 100TH BABY JEAN!

Written by Gypo Nolan

March 3, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Posted in Golden Age Stars, Humor

Why I Can Never Watch Another Carole Lombard Film.

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At the request of my Golden Age pal, the Dizzy Dame Carole Irene, I have been making a BIG effort to appreciate William Powell.

I don’t know what it is about him, but I just don’t like him much. Something about him really bugs me. Ok, so he was really good in the “Philo Vance” series and was…passable…in the “Thin Man” series (I wish they would have cast Cary Grant in the Nick Charles role), but I just cannot see his appeal! I mean, he was a great actor, but I just don’t like him!

Anyways, in an attempt to appease D.D.C.I, today I watched “My Man Godfrey”. One of my many sins is that I have had this DVD sitting on my shelf for 3 years now but have never watched it.


(Get a load of William Powell! Egghead Extraordinaire!)

I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly because Eugene Pallette was in it and he is always a treat. He’s such an old grump, with his pot belly and his gravelly voice. Kind of like my grandfather minus a foot in height.

I’m sorry Li’l C.I., I still haven’t been won over to William Powell.

What I DID find was that I found Carole Lombard INCREDIBLY attractive. I mean, I’d seen her before in No Man Of Her Own, Mr & Mrs Smith and To Be Or Not To Be, but I’d never really been struck by her beauty.
Boy, how that changed!

But then I thought “hold on, she was the love of Gabe’s life! Gabe is my idol!”. I fell into deep contemplation. How could I be attracted to Gabe’s true love?! Gabe, who has bought me hours of entertainment and inspired me in pretty much everything!
I realize how ridiculous this sounds, both Gabe and Carole are no longer with us, but I couldn’t shake this feeling of betrayal of coveting the love of my idol!

So Gabe, the (FAR) better man has won! I will bow out gracefully and never ever watch another Carole Lombard film for as long as I live!

Written by Gypo Nolan

March 2, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Posted in Golden Age Stars, Rants

Jean Harlow, or The Boy Who Loved The Bombshell

with 174 comments

In celebration of Jean Harlow’s centenary in two days time, people are organizing a large-scale “blog-a-thon”. So your Freewheelin’ Pilgrim hereby offers his humble contribution to this auspicious occasion.

Jean Harlow is my celebrity crush. Sounds a bit strange doesn’t it? I mean, I’m 20 years old and she’s been dead for nearly 74 years. But it’s true. Whenever my friends sit around discussing who is “the hottest actress”, I always say “Jean Harlow”. This, naturally, gets a chorus of “huh?”s and “who’s she?”s. I simply tell them to look her up.

My love for “Baby Jean” (my nickname for her) began at the tender age of 16. I was in Big W (a department store like K-Mart) for their quarterly DVD sale. I had my eyes set on the “Warner Brothers Gangster” DVDs I’d seen in the catalogue and, thankfully, I managed to get all 6.
So I went home and put The Public Enemy on. As is my habit, I watched the documentary feature (and while I’m at it, can I just shout out a big thanks to Warner Brothers for their Golden Age film releases? The special features are FANTASTIC).
In the documentary, the various interviewees were raving about this little actress called “Jean Harlow”.


(“The Public Enemy” 1931)

“Jean Harlow?”, I thought, “I’ve never heard of her…”. But I didn’t give it much of a second thought, and then watched the film.

Harlow’s entrance made me realize what these people in the documentary were raving about.
Clad in an adorable little white outfit, this petite little platinum blonde swaggered onto the screen. Without sounding too pretentious, she looked just like an angel oughta look. She wasn’t “beautiful” in the classical sense, but she was glamorous, a real knock-out. Speaking from a male perspective,  if she walked by me today, I’d lower my sunglasses to get a better look. Then I’d probably follow her with my eyes for a piece.

Then she spoke. That voice. I dunno if that’s what angels oughta sound like, but there’s something special about that voice. So distinctly metropolitan, you really believe she is a “city dame”. In an era in which a lot of leading ladies were beginning to speak, Harlow’s voice was so distinct. Far from the sort of “standard” female accent of a Bette Davis, a Norma Shearer or a Katherine Hepburn.


(Here’s a not-so-good picture of her in her introduction in “The Public Enemy”. Still, you can see how she looks angelic. And get a look at those eyes!)

So “star-struck” was I, that I rewound the scene twice. I was encapsulated by this tiny little bombshell. In fact, I got jealous of James Cagney for having her on his arm.

Once the film was over, I grabbed my “Halliwell’s Who’s Who” from the shelf and frantically turned to “Harlow, Jean”. I was devastated to find out that she died at the age of 26, but also quite astounded that she had made so many pictures in 10 years)

The next day I took my trusty “Who’s Who” to my grandparents’ place. I was eager for more Jean, and my grandpa has an extensive collection of silents and early talkies on VHS. Maybe, just maybe, he would have one of her films. Imagine my joy, my sheer ecstasy, when I discovered he had four: Platinum Blonde (1931), The Beast of the City, Red-Headed Woman (both 1932) and Dinner at Eight (1933).

I don’t think I could have chosen four better films to introduce me to Baby Jean.

She was so sultry and alluring in Platinum Blonde, so brilliantly dramatic in The Beast of the City, so wicked in Red-Headed Woman, and hilarious in Dinner At Eight.Every film on the list strengthened my love for Baby Jean, but out of the four of them Red-Headed Woman had the most lasting impression.

A film about a woman who uses her sexual wiles to move up in the world wouldn’t raise eyebrows in today’s world. BUT IN 1932?! As I watched the film I was like “My God! So much for the ‘good old days of clean, wholesome fun’ my grandparents talk about!”. I could hardly believe that such a deliciously wicked and sexual film had been made in the early ’30s!  And Jean is just fantastic in it. She practically embodies the idea of male lust.


(Harlow in Red-Headed Woman. Say no, I DARE you.)

Unfortunately Baby Jean’s private life was fraught with despair. Her mother was what we would now today call a “Showbiz Parent” and dominated Jean’s life in a manner which caused her great distress, professionally and personally.
Her first marriage ended in divorce, her second (to MGM Executive Paul Bern) left her a widow after Bern’s suicide, and a third marriage also ended in divorce. At the time of her death, she was engaged to actor William Powell, whom had been courting Baby Jean for some time. Her marriages were fodder for the gossip tabloids, drawing arrows particularly after Bern’s death where all sorts of accusations were hurled at her in regards to the relationship she had with her late husband.

Add to this the professional indignity she often had thrust upon her by reviewers. Early in her career, critics were unduly fierce on Baby Jean, doubting her acting ability and suggesting that her career was due to her “friendship” with producer Howard Hughes. It wasn’t until Red Dust in 1932 that the critics were turned around and began to treat Jean in a fairer light.
In my opinion, Jean’s performance in 1935’s Reckless, particularly in the scene in which she responds to hecklers, is one of the great unsung performances in Golden Age era Hollywood.
Perhaps Clark Gable, a close friend and frequent co-star, said it best when he said of Jean: She didn’t want to be famous. She wanted to be happy.

I don’t know what sort of star Jean Harlow would’ve become if she had lived to a ripe old age, I don’t even presume to make any judgements on it. With such a unique personality and talent, it could have literally been ANYTHING.
What I do know is this: that for the world to be robbed of such a talent is nothing less than tragic.
Actresses today can work for thirty years and not achieve the sex appeal, the charm, the immortality that Baby Jean achieved in 9 years, only being a star for 5 or 6 of them.

Harlean Harlow Carpenter (Jean Harlow)

March 3rd 1911 – June 7th 1937

Rest in Peace Baby Jean.

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness; but still will keep a bower quiet for us, and a sleep full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing”.
John Keats.

Written by Gypo Nolan

March 1, 2011 at 4:45 pm

The Ongoing Confusion of my Mind. Part One

with 99 comments

In an attempt to be like a lot of other bloggers, I thought I’d write a bit about my life in general.

Ok, so last year I took a break from University because I couldn’t get motivated. So I took a year off. Then in November, I thought “I’d like to be a teacher!” so I switched my degree from a Bachelor of Arts to a Bachelor of Education. So University is back again, and I read up on the units I’m studying. Turns out an Education Degree, without first completing  an Arts Degree, is 6 YEARS. So, your hero decided he’d switch back to an Arts Degree with a double major in English Literature and Journalism.

Now, this all seems straightforward.  Maybe SLIGHTLY confusing, but more or less straightforward. But here’s where it gets complicated. I saw an advertisement on TV last night advertising a ministry college. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with religion, and being a Minister/Reverend/Pastor/Preacher is REALLY appealing. But turns out they already began their semester three weeks ago. So I send them an email asking whether I could commence studying there in second semester. They get back to me and tell me it’s fine and that if I so desired, I could start this week (but not wanting to be behind the 8-ball, I think that I’d best start at the beginning of a semester).

So, what do I do?! Do I continue half-heartedly with an Arts Degree for the next two years with the intent of becoming a teacher after a further 2 or 3? Do I continue with my Arts Degree for this semester and fork out $1600 for a semester of learning which would be more or less useless, and then commence with the Ministry College? Or do I simply get a low-wage job and quit higher education completely?!

Written by Gypo Nolan

February 28, 2011 at 5:40 am

Posted in Rants