Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pre-Code Double Feature: Picture Snatcher and Taxi!

When Danny of Pre-Code.com and Karen of Shadows and Satin announced their Pre-Code Blogathon, I saw it as a challenge.  Although I absolutely love films of the 1930's, I'm not terribly familiar with "pre-code" as a genre.  To be perfectly honest, I'm actually a fan of the Hayes' Code.  (Please don't ban me from pre-code.com!)  A completely unpopular opinion I know!  And one that deserves a rather detailed explanation in another post.  Still, I've lately seen a bit more pre-code films and I can see the appeal.  Like film noir, they are very characteristic to their time period and provide a unique viewing experience.  Then I thought - what could I possibly write about since I don't know pre-code that well?  Well, why not turn to the star who introduced me to pre-code films... James Cagney.  If you've followed me at all you know I'm a major fan of this man's work.  And my discovery of him and my quest to watch his films led to a number of pre-codes, seeing as he started in Hollywood in 1930 and was most successful in that decade.  So for this year's Pre-Code Blogathon I bring you a rousing pre-code double feature starring James Cagney:  Picture Snatcher and Taxi!

Picture Snatcher (1933)

This film is so deliciously pre-code!  Cagney plays Danny Kean, a mobster newly released from prison and ready to start a new life as a newspaper journalist.  Mack (Ralph Bellamy), editor of the Daily News, offers him a chance as "picture snatcher".  Given Danny's reckless, tough-guy nature, he soon rises to the top of his game.  At least, as close to the top as you can get on a greasy tabloid paper.  All the while he's making a play for the police captain's daughter (Patricia Ellis) and sassy journalist (Alice White) is making a play for him.  Can you guess which one he ends up with?  Can Danny really go straight after all?  You can't tell when he loses his job and goes searching for his old partner in crime, Jerry the Mug (yes.  Jerry the Mug.)

In one of my favorite scenes, Danny gives some college kids a tour of the paper.  A romantic vision of the newpaper
industry featuring clouds of paper floating above and linotype machines typing out pickup lines.

The plot might sound like a perfect setup for a pre-code film, but it's the little things that cement its status in the genre.  A major turning point in the film is directly inspired by the true case of a newspaperman sneaking a photograph during the electric chair execution of murderess Ruth Snyder.  Then there's the climactic gun battle with Danny and Jerry the Mug holed up in a New York flat, machine gun fire tearing through the walls quicker than Cagney's lines and crumbling all around Jerry's wife and kids.  Ah... They don't make 'em like they used to...  And in between gun battles and car chases you've got Danny snatching pictures of scantily-dressed pre-code poster girl Alice White and seducing an old flame to find out Jerry's whereabouts.  And oh -- that language!  I love seeing the news flash in town of "Jerry the Mug wanted for murder"!  And Danny, when he exclaims, "What do I care if some moll fries?!"  It's the language of these old films that makes them so otherworldly.

Taxi! (1932)

In my opinion, this film isn't as stereotypically pre-code as the other.  Perhaps why I like it more?  It has more heart... and you see more growth from the characters by the end of it.  But the pre-code earmarks remain - social unrest, smooching in the movie theatre, murder, molls, and that close-up of the chorus girls' derrieres as they dance by.  Pre-code indeed!

Taxi! features two-fisted, loud-mouthed Matt Nola as the ring-leader of a group of independent cab drivers rallying against the larger company that's trying to muscle them out.  He falls for the company owner's daughter, Sue Riley (Loretta Young), but Matt's just not enough of a gentleman to win her over.  He eventually does, though, and things seems swell until the night of their wedding celebration, when Matt's kid brother gets knifed in the back by Buck Gerard, rival cab company henchman and all-around dirty rat.

I like this movie because it has heart right alongside the murder and sadness.  Here is a man (albeit unrelentingly) seeking revenge for his brother's murder, but also seeking solace in his new wife.  And Sue does her best to keep her family together.  With supporting parts played by Guy Kibbee, George E. Stone and Leila Bennett, this movie is a good time, sweet and heart-wrenching at moments, but fast-paced and packing a punch.

Please check out both of these movies, whether you're a pre-code fan, a James Cagney fan, or simply a fan of classic movies from the 1930's, for these are prime examples of all of that!  They are easily attainable from Warner Archive.

This post has been published as part of the 2015 Pre-Code Blogathan.  Please check out the other entries found on Pre-Code.com and Shadows and Satin.

*All photos found via Pinterest.  No copyright infringement intended.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day with Nick and Nora Charles

A couple years ago I went to a screening of the The Thin Man at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles.  The screening took place on the weekend before Valentine's Day as part of a series of "romances" for that month.  I mean, nothing says "Happy Valentine's Day" like a good murder, right?  Capone's boys proved that one.  Seriously though, it actually was a brilliant choice.  After all, why not celebrate Valentine's Day with the best couple ever imagined?  Honestly, everybody loves Nick and Nora.  In fact, everybody wants to be Nick and Nora.

The Thin Man (1934) is the film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel of the same name.  It features the wise-cracking, cocktail-drinking super-sleuth couple Nick and Nora Charles as they solve the mystery of the "tall, thin man" who disappears just before the Christmas holiday.  The story is filled with a wild array of characters, each quirky and eccentric in their own right.  But central to the story is the relationship that Nick and Nora share. 

Nick, the hardboiled detective-turned-respectable gentleman and husband to an heiress, delivers his witty one-liners with the great comedic timing and suave elegance William Powell was known for.  And Nora, played by the lovely Myrna Loy, matches him wit for wit with just a little more glamour thrown in for good measure.

These two characters personify the perfect marriage:  a magical blend of life, laughter and love unmarred by the real-life squabbles that inevitably befall a relationship.  What lady doesn't fancy herself to be like Nora Charles, equal parts spunk and femininity?  And indeed, what gentleman doesn't wish he had the wit and charm of Nick?  These two share the screen for an hour and a half and in that time they convince us that the secret to a blissful relationship is being able to share a common interest (Nick AND Nora both love sleuthing!), to be able to poke fun at one another as well as themselves (see above how Nora not only endures, but takes an interest in Nick's "previous affairs"), and the bottom line, to truly love one another.
Nora:  Take care of yourself.
Nick:  Why, sure I will.
Nora:  Don't say it like that!  Say it as if you meant it!
Nick:  Why, I do believe the little woman cares.
Nora:  I don't care!  It's just that I'm used to you, that's all.
It seems silly to hold such a high appreciation for a Hollywood couple, for a fictional couple, in fact!  Still, Nick and Nora's relationship is strong inspiration for a good relationship.  Even for someone who's single, like myself, I take inspiration from their outlook on life and all its mayhem.  In fact, I'm inclined to embroider on a pillow:  WWNAND? 
Indeed, what would Nick and Nora do?
Why, down six martinis and share in the fun, of course!
*All photos were found via PinterestYouTube video found via TCM.  No copyright infringement intended.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Blogging Again!

Well, howdy!  How's 2015 treatin' ya?  I do hope all is well.  As for me, I thought I better saddle up and get back on ma' horse... That is to say, back to bloggin', once again!  I won't go through the whole spiel of "Gosh... It's been a long time.  This time I'm here to stay.  Gee, I gotta keep working at this..." cause, I know, I sound like a broken record.  But here goes.  2015, this is the year.  So instead I'll just leave with a few samples of what you'll see on here in February:

Besame, Besame mucho!  A love letter from a girl who doesn't really wear makeup to the best vintage-style makeup brand out there.

Modernism Week in Palm Springs.  I'm going!  I'm finally going!  I'll only be there for a day, but I can't wait.  My first taste of Modernism Week on February 21st!

And look out for my entry in the Pre-Code Blogathon!  Hosted by Danny of Pre-Code.com and Karen of Shadows and Satin, this blogathon is sure to be real hotsy-totsy!

There might even be an inspiration post or maybe a recipe coming up too, so keep a lookout!  But first, meet me here on Friday, see?  'Cause I got the lowdown on the goings-on at this Noir Exhibit, see?

So until then, toodles!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Experiencing Autumn in Sonoma Part Two

Though we spent our nights in Guerneville, we spent our days exploring the towns of Sonoma and Healdsburg.  Saturday was spent in Sonoma.  Our first stop was the Jack London State Park (more about that later), our second stop was the Benziger Winery, and our third stop was downtown Sonoma.

The Benziger Winery is a family-run, fully biodynamic winery producing organic wines.  We were given a short tour of the place before getting to the "best part", the wine tasting.  Full Disclosure:  Though I am enchanted by the vineyard landscape and dream of possibly owning property here one day, I do not like wine and am not a wine drinker.  But as they say, "When in Rome..."

Sonoma has a quaint downtown, complete with a tree-lined square (something we do not have in Southern California), many shops (including two bookstores! happy day...), and an old movie theatre.  Many of the buildings around the square date back as early as the 19th century.

We had a delicious dinner at The Girl & the Fig and afterwards started the rather long drive back to Guerneville.  Sunday was our day to spend in Healdsburg.

Healdsburg, I was happy to find, is a lot like Sonoma, with its town square and shops.  It's a walking town and there is much to explore.  We had an appointment to join a food and wine tour of Healdsburg, courtesy of Wine Country Walking Tours, but since we arrived early I insisted we stop for coffee.  And SHED was a good place to do just that.

A combination eatery and gourmet market, SHED offers the best the county has to offer.  And at a gourmet price, I must add.  But the store is so inviting and there are so many goodies to be had, whether off the shelf or from one of the fresh food stations in the market.

We then took the four hour tour to a few of the boutique wineries around Healdsburg.  As I said, I'm not a fan of wine at all, so wine tasting really isn't my cuppa tea.  But this particular walking tour does do a good job of introducing the newcomer to wine as well as taking the pretentiousness out of wine tasting.  Our guide made a point of showing us how certain foods pair well with certain wines, by means of including foods from a couple local eateries.  He also insisted throughout the tour, that at the end of the day, it's really what you like that matters.  Coming from one who is not enthusiastic about wine tours, I actually highly recommend this one.  If you like wine, that is.  And if not, well... you might still be surprised.  After the tour we made a point of satisfying our chronic sweet tooth at Noble Folk, a pie and ice cream shoppe.  Now that's my kinda food tour!

They had so many delectable flavors to choose from, but on this lovely autumn day, I opted for the classic:  apple pie and vanilla ice cream.  And it was well worth it!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Frank McHugh: "What a Character!"

As part of the "What a Character!" Blogathon, I chose to write my post on the great character actor, Frank McHugh.  Now you've heard me speak of Frank McHugh before, but he is my favorite character actor! (Alongside Thomas Mitchell, to whom I have already dedicated a post.)  Smiling and wide-eyed, his lovable nature shone through in every role.  He was usually delegated to playing comic relief alongside Hollywood's most notable actors.  In fact, McHugh played opposite many of the greatest stars of the time.  Yet, his performance never goes unnoticed.  He steals the show with his good-natured laughter and wonderful comedic timing.

Francis Curray McHugh was born in Pennsylvania in 1898 and grew up in a family of actors and entertainers.  From an early age, he was honing his craft in vaudeville, as many of his contemporaries did, and he eventually found work on the Broadway stage.  He migrated to Hollywood in 1930 and settled into a career as one of Warner Bros.' most notable character actors.  At this studio, he worked alongside such great actors as Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.  McHugh and Cagney were best friends, along with fellow Irishmen Pat O'Brien and Spencer Tracy, all of whom were the four principle members of the "Boy's Club", or "Irish Mafia", as the papers dubbed the group of gentlemen that would meet weekly for dinner and discussion.

"There is in his acting a very warm and methodical determination that is really a reflection of the man he is in real life."
               ~James Cagney

Frank McHugh was the comic relief of the group (though Pat O'Brien was comparably boisterous), just as he was on the screen.  Yet, this loveable Irishman was equally sincere.  He and his wife, Dorothy, raised three children and remained married until Frank's death.  And throughout his decades-long career, Mr. McHugh not only perfected his skill in the entertainment industry and brought a lot of laughs to the people who watched his films, but he took time away from all of this to entertain the troops during World War II. 
When the famous Victory Caravan started its cross-country tour in 1942, Frank McHugh was on it.  Many stars who were on that trip considered it one of the most memorable times of their careers.  I'll bet McHugh and his friends had a grand time as well, and I'm sure Frank had plenty of stories to keep them in stitches.  I sure wish I could have seen one of those shows!  Apart from the Victory Caravan, Mr. McHugh formed his own USO troupe, "McHugh's Review", and travelled extensively doing shows for soldiers overseas.

What little is known about Frank McHugh is vastly interesting.  I only wish he had written his memoirs because I'm sure he had much to tell.  Yet, even without this personal information, you can get to know Frank through his films.  That's how I came to know him.  And believe me, he's a swell guy.  His talent and warmth shines through every one of his roles, but some of my favorites are I Love You Again, The Irish in Us, Here Comes the Navy, and Going My Way
Frank McHugh, Myrna Loy, and William Powell costar in the delightful comedy I Love You Again.

Frank McHugh coaches his brother (James Cagney) in The Irish in Us.

Frank McHugh costarred with his best friends James Cagney and Pat O'Brien many times.  The trio
made a total of five films together including Here Comes the Navy.
Most of the information I've provided here, I garnered from reading an interesting article from the New York Public Library.  When McHugh retired, he and his wife settled down in New York and after his death, what few papers of his remained were left to the New York Library.  They are open to public viewing and believe me, when I make my trip to New York, I would love to take a little time to check out these documents.  As an avid fan, it would be one way for me to pay my respects.  Still, the best way is by watching his films and if you are not familiar with Mr. McHugh, I recommend you settle down to watch one real soon.  You'll soon be wanting more.

The What a Character! Blogathon is currently being hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula of Paula's Cinema Club.  I am happy to be a part of this blogathon and I recommend checking out the many other entries.
*All photos found via Pinterest.  No copyright infringement intended.