Classic Films on Review
Annie Oakley (1935)

“Toby Walker, you’re supposed to be a sharpshooter and you can’t even see a woman gal under your own nose.”
“I can see anything I’m aiming at.”

            A while back I watched Annie Get Your Gun with Betty Hutton and Howard Keel. From liking this film I found out that Barbara Stanwyck played the character in the 1935 version of Annie Oakley. I found Stanwyck’s version and watched it.

            Toby Walker (Preston Foster) has just been signed by Jeff Hogarth (Melvyn Douglas) to be the new sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s Rough Riders show. While in Cincinnati a challenge is set up to see if anyone can win a shooting match against Toby. MacIvor the owner of a hotel gets on the line to his friend in a small town who knows the person who shoots the quails for his kitchen. The hotel owner thinks the challenger is a man named Andy Oakley and is shocked that Andy is actually Annie (Stanwyck). He wants to call off the challenge but Jeff and Toby stick to it and have the challenge go on as planned. Annie is winning but she sees everyone is making fun of Toby for getting beat by a girl so she lets him win. But Jeff sees that Annie would be a great addition to Buffalo Bill’s show and signs her as well.

 Bill is not too sure about Annie at first. All she seems to be able to do is shoot she does not have any theatrics. Toby helps her out with some stunts and by the time the show is over Annie is a hit. Toby does not really like the idea of Annie being billed before him so Bill and Jeff come up with an idea that they can do a Battle of the Sexes act. Annie can see Toby does not like this but he says he does not care just as long as he can be with her.

            The two sharpshooters fall in love but keep it private and play up their “rivals” aspect of the show. Everyone even Bill and Jeff think Annie and Toby really are rivals. At a show in Annie’s home town, one of the locals goes to kill the Indian Sitting Bull by shooting him. Toby was in the chief’s teepee and got rid of the person before they got to Bull. Unfortunately the man’s gun went off right in front of Toby’s face temporarily blinding him in one eye.

            At the show that day Annie has the announcer say that Toby is going to shoot a quarter out of her hand. Toby is upset he says he will not do it since he has not told anyone he cannot see straight. All the men in the stands and in the show start to pester him about being a pansy so he shoots. He misses the quarter and hits Annie’s shooting hand. The whole company thinks Toby hit her on purpose because she was more popular than he was. Annie knows he did not mean it they love each other and she trusts him. Toby is fired from the show.

            Annie is heartbroken throughout the show’s trip through Europe. She wants to leave the show after it plays in New York. She misses Toby. Of course they get back together though and it is really cute how they get back together.

            Barbara Stanwyck was so perfect as Annie. To me she is always the tough cookie and perfect that way. I just cracked up that she was supposed to be from the back woods of Ohio and she had a Brooklyn accent. Never saw Preston Foster in a film before this. He kept driving me nuts he reminded me Brut Reynolds and I hate Burt Reynolds. Melvyn Douglas was not front and center and was not really a good character but I liked him I like him in any film he does.

            Annie Oakley is a good film and it is not very long at an hour and a half. Definitely suggest seeing it.

Third Finger, Left Hand (1940)

It has been a while since I have posted about a Myrna Loy film. I recently went on a Myrna Loy binge on Amazon I bought Third Finger, Left Hand and Wife vs. Secretary along with her incredible autobiography Being and Becoming which I finally found for under thirty dollars (actually with shipping and handling it came out to less than twenty). Ever since I saw a clip of Loy from Third Finger, Left Hand(which is posted in this review) I have had to see it. For a while the film was unavailable on DVD and Youtube only had the one part posted. But finally through the Warner Brothers Archive the film has become available on DVD and of course being such a huge Myrna Loy fan I had to have it.
            Loy plays magazine editor Margot Sherwood Merrick. To the world she is Mrs. Merrick who married her husband while in Rio and she rarely sees him because he is always traveling. To herself and her photographer Gus she is just Margot Sherwood an unmarried but very successful magazine editor. Margot pretends to be married in order to avoid advances from the men she works with. She justifies this that if she did not pretend to be married she would have been fired by the jealous wife of the publisher since he is always hitting on his female employees. Only Gus knows she is not married because he writes letters to her pretending to be her husband.
One day Margot is supposed to be picking up her friend from a ship that has docked in New York. She goes on the ship and finds her friend’s room but the friend is not there. Margot thinks her friend has taken up painting since there are paintings all over the room. An art dealer comes in and he is a little rude so Margot fires back at him and tells him to get out. She finds out the friend left the ship in Havana and the room was given to a painter named Jeff Thompson (Melvyn Douglas). Jeff unhappily meets Margot and tells her he was waiting for two years to get his pictures looked at by the dealer. She promises to fix the whole thing and she does. To thank her Jeff takes her out for dinner.
            Jeff never planned to fall in love with a girl from New York but he finds himself falling in love with Margot. She is even falling for him as well. He delays his train home so he can spend more time with Margot. At dinner one night Margot’s whole charade is blown. She never told Jeff about her scheme but when he finds out from one of her drunken friends who blabs about her “husband”. She does not even tell him the truth that she is not married she just continues with her lie. Margot blows the whole thing for herself when Jeff says a friend of his can find her “husband” and she describes a man in the restaurant and he notices.
            The next day Jeff has Margot’s “marriage” checked out. Of course we know as the viewer she is not really married. He decides to get back at Margot by going to her house pretending to be her long lost husband. They both drive each other crazy trying to one up the other in annoyance. Margot has enough and she lets her attorney friend Philip know about her situation. Philip is in love with Margot he wants the whole matter to go away so he can marry her. He comes up with the plan that Margot and Jeff should go to Niagara Falls to get married and wait a few days for a divorce. Neither one of them likes the idea but they do it.
This being a 1940s romantic comedy no matter how mad Margot and Jeff may be with each other they cannot get the other off their mind and you can guess the ending.
            Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas were great together. In the films I have seen with Melvyn Douglas he was very good at meshing with his female stars. To me it seems that he was able to go back and forth with his leading ladies with the same amount of wit and energy they were giving him (I do not know how to put Douglas’s pairings any better so I apologize for any confusion). Loy was so good as always. I liked how Margot did not really back down to Jeff which Loy was great at portraying because she always had that attitude or brought it to her characters. Neither one of the lead characters really backed down with each other even Douglas played that aspect well too. It is great to see that Loy got top billing since she was either second or third billed most of the time. With MGM I sometimes find their supporting cast members/characters to be too much but here I felt they were just right and not too over the top.
            MGM added a nice little touch with a bit of the music: since they had a huge success with The Wizard of Oz the previous year and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was a big song in one scene you can hear the composer for the score added the music for the song in. They even have Loy humming it in another part.
            So here is the clip of Myrna Loy from the film that made me really want to see it. 
If you are a Loy fan and know her other roles pretty well I dare you not to laugh at that clip. In her autobiography Loy said her inspiration for this scene was her good friend Jean Harlow. After Margot pulls this whole scene before the fade out she plays with her gun pulling out into a string.
            Third Finger, Left Hand is a cute film. The story is predictable but it is fun to watch Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas kind of battle each other wit for wit and annoyance for annoyance. Loy and Douglas became good friends in real life on this set and you can see they were friends by the way they acted in their scenes together. I think Loy and Douglas’s chemistry add a lot to the film and without that chemistry (even if it was other actors playing the parts) it would have been boring.

The Vampire Bat (1933)

“Goodnight gentlemen. Don’t let the vampire get you.”

            Before you judge and laugh just looking at the title and think that it is a really bad 1930s “horror” let me assure you The Vampire Bat is not what you may be thinking. The story is actually pretty good.

            The town of Klineschloss has been turned upside down. Many of the villagers have been found dead from blood loss and two puncture wounds on the side of their necks making it look as if a vampire has killed them. Detective Karl Brettschneider (Melvyn Douglas) sits in on a meeting at the burgermeister’s. Three of the men at the meeting believe the work to be of a vampire bat especially now that there have been an influx of bats hanging around as well as old town records indicate a case of vampirism. Karl will not hear of it he knows there is some logical explanation for the killings.

            An old lady known for selling apples has apparently been attacked by the vampire bat. She is frightened beyond measure. Dr. Otto von Niemann (Lionel Atwill) has been called in to try to calm her. A young man named Hermann comes in the room. He has the mind of a child; he walks around the town at night and plays with the bats. Hermann does this innocently since he knows no better.   The villagers think he is working with the devil and killing all the people. The apple lady latter that night is killed. Another local is convinced that Hermann is going to kill him because he told the police about him. The next day the man is found dead and now the whole town is after Hermann.

            Karl is seeing Dr. Niemann’s assistant Ruth (Fay Wray). She lives with the doctor, her aunt, and a maid. The morning when the man’s body is found Hermann sneaks into the doctor’s garden to get some food set up on a table. The aunt comes back from somewhere and sees Hermann. The aunt has no idea who Hermann is. Ruth, Karl, and the doctor sit in his office when news comes that the town is up in arms over Hermann.

 The men from the town in fear chase after Hermann. They chase him into a cave where he falls into a cavern and dies.

That night Dr. von Niemann’s maid is found dead in her bed. If Hermann is dead who has killed the maid? The conclusion (not the very ending) is really good and you can definitely tell it is a pre-code film.

            I really liked the story. It is a very good mix of old folklore and science fiction. The acting was not bad either. Fay Wray was great (and can I add very pretty). She had some over the top facial expressions but she was able to say so much more than needed. Melvyn Douglas at the end of the film was awesome. Lionel Atwill is just the man he is so good at being creepy and mysterious and just had the mannerisms for this kind (and the many others like this he made) of film. The Vampire Bat was made to take advantage of Atwill and Wray being in a film together since their film Dr. X had been a hit and Mystery at the Wax Museum was being promoted (I really like both of these films check them out). The only character that got on my nerves and was totally unnecessary in many of the scenes was the aunt she was such a pain.

            Although the title may sound corny trust me when I say The Vampire Bat is a good film. This film is one of the reasons why I find Golden Era films and their stories to be so much better than today. As I said the story is a very good as well as interesting mix of science fiction. The Vampire Bat could never be pulled off today because the story is a bit dated but for 1933 it worked perfectly.

            Definitely see The Vampire Bat for the story and the cast. Youtube has the film in full just type in the title and the date.

Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

“That adorable young thing is an unholy terror on wheels. There’s nothing in the world more deadly than innocence on the manhunt!”

            Theodora Goes Wild is one of the reasons why I love 1930s Screwball Comedy and one of the millions of reasons why Irene Dunne is one of the best actresses to have ever graced Hollywood.

            The small town of Lynnfield is shocked to read sections of a scandalous new book called “The Sinner” by a woman named Caroline Adams in their local newspaper. The literary club, full of old gossipy women with nothing better to do, protest the paper from printing the story. The town’s scions are Theodora Lynn (Dunne) and her aunts Mary and Elsie are three of the women protesting the book. But there is a bit of hesitation and disbelief in what she is saying on Theodora’s face. The paper eventually puts a stop to the printing of the book.

Jed Waterbury, the publisher of “The Sinner”, sits in his office all happy over the success of the book. His secretary calls him to let him know Ms. Adams has arrived. When he opens the door we get our first glimpse of the notorious Caroline Adams…. Ms. Adams is Theodora Lynn!!! Theodora was the one who wrote the book under the penname. No one besides her publisher and her Uncle John who left his life in Lynnfield and went to live in New York City know that she is Caroline Adams. Theodora is so paranoid about being found out to be the author that she refuses to go on book signings or really promote her book. Jed’s wife Ethel is just dying to meet Caroline Adams so he has her come by the office. Theodora is livid but it is too late for her to be really mad because when Ethel comes to the office the woman does not let her get out of going out to dinner with them.

Also tagging along and very unwelcome is Michael Grant (Melvyn Douglas) the book’s illustrator. At dinner Theodora loosens up and has a few drinks. Ethel can no longer keep up so Jed takes her home and writer and illustrator are left alone for the night. Michael takes Theodora back to his place but when he goes to get close to her and kiss her she flees the apartment in horror.

Theodora is now back in Lynnfield and back to her quiet, pure life living with her aunts. Standing outside leaning against their fence is a strange man whistling. The man is Michael; he found her papers with her real name and address on it and followed her to her home. Of course the aunts do not know who Michael is and they immediately do not like him. He pretends to be a gardener looking for work. Theodora takes him in along with a dog he just happened to pick up. The more Theodora gets to know Michael the more she likes him and the more he brings her out of her sheltered life. Finally one night Theodora tells her aunts and their literary club that she is Caroline Adams and that she loves Michael. She tells Michael that she loves him but the next day he is gone.

            Now Theodora goes back to New York and does the same thing to Michael that he did to her because as it turns out Michael is in a stuck situation almost like she is. By the end of the film Theodora’s reputation in her town and in the City is all but gone but without her reputation she was able to do something nice for her friend.

            I can do nothing but praise Irene Dunne. I do not know how the woman had the gas to keep going comically like she did. As soon as Theodora comes out of her shell Dunne just goes a mile a minute and does not let up. The more Theodora comes out of her shell and the crazier her life becomes the funnier the film becomes. Dunne was nominated for an Academy Award for this role and should have won without a problem but she was beaten out by the God-awful Luise Rainier for The Great Ziegfeld. Melvyn Douglas was just as silly as Dunne. I have never seen Douglas in a film before but right from the moment he comes on screen I just liked him a lot. The two of them were a great pair they worked so well together. The scene I liked them in is when Michael is driving Theodora and her aunts nuts by continuously whistling late into the night. She decides to get back at him by playing the piano as loud as she can so he can hear it from the guest house. She starts to sing a nice song while playing the piano and he stops whistling. But as soon as her song is done he turns right around and starts whistling the song. Another really good scene with them is when Theodora newly wild and uninhibited is talking to Michael in his apartment and she is playing his piano. Michael is really mad at her he is yelling at her and she is just all bubbly and happy. She gets up and Michael yells at her to stay at the piano and keep her hands on the keys (just trust me the scene is really funny).

            Theodora Goes Wild is one of the greatest Screwball Comedy films to have ever been made. Everything about it was just perfect. The laughs do not let up for one moment and the acting by Dunne and Douglas is just incredible. The script is witty and hilarious and the direction is flawless. The story about a girl who wrote her book out of rebellion of what her town would not let her enjoy and let loose is great. How many times have you ever felt stuck where you are in your life and just wanted to rebel somehow? Theodora Lynn rebelled in an awesome way (or what I think is).

            Suggested: ABSOLUTELY!!!! Watch Theodora Goes Wild any way you can. It is not available for individual sale but it is in a pack called Icons of Screwball Comedy Vol. 2.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

My mom constantly has HGTV on whenever she gets a chance to have the living room TV and five minutes to sit down. To me the channel runs the same kinds of programs over and over again just with a slight different twist. The one type of show I feel I am constantly seeing are the ones where a couple want a room of their house redone but do not know how to go about doing so. A crew of designers, carpenters plumbers and whoever else have you comes in and completely remodels the whole room. Sometimes the room comes out to be like over $18,000 which to me is nuts. Then there are the other shows that have a couple looking for a new house with a certain budget and these designers give them ideas about how to remodel the house with whatever little money is left over. I seriously cannot tell you enough how I hate these shows and the people who host them and the couples shown.

            Had I never watched the shows aired on HGTV I may have liked the film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. The film is about the Blandings- Jim and Muriel and their two daughters- and how they live in a small cramped New York City apartment with barely enough room to breathe for the four of them. The film is obviously told from the point of view of Jim, he is the grumpiest out of the family about their living situation.

 One day Jim sees an advertisement in the paper about a house in Connecticut which is really cheap. He and Muriel take a ride and really like the house the only problem is the house is falling apart. They buy the house and the land for what seems like a steal but as they soon find out among many other things they paid too much for the house and the land because the seller knew they were from out of town and did not know anything about buying property.

            Building inspectors begin coming to the house and they all say the same thing that the house just needs to be torn down it is so structurally unsound. And so begins the chaos and what feels like I am watching the 1947 version of an HGTV program.

            Jim and Muriel agree to tear down the house and build a new one. At first they make a really nice big house but then they have to cut down because of the cost. Problems arise during the construction like a well bursting and flooding the basement section of the house. The cost of building begins to pile up and Jim seriously considers selling the house and the land to cut his losses.

            Before the house is fully complete the family moves in because the owner of their apartment wants them out. The house still has no windows and the door to Jim’s closet keeps getting stuck and he cannot get out. Jim finds he is still cramped in the bathroom while trying to get ready for bed the same time Muriel is. Muriel goes to town decorating the new house telling the painters the colors of paint she wants on the walls in each room in great detail and all they pretty much hear is blah blah blah white blah blah blah blue blah blah blah.

            Once everything is settled and they adjust to their new routines and lifestyles the Blandings find their new home satisfactory.

Cary Grant and Myrna Loy were very good as Jim and Muriel but I just could not get into their characters. Both actors had such good chemistry… but on the other hand when did they ever not have good chemistry with other actors especially Grant? I really could not get into the whole film most likely because I have not been in their situation yet in my life. Grant played Jim with a touch of his old screwball-ness coming through. You can clearly see the frustration on his face and even though you want to feel bad for him you just have to laugh. Myrna Loy… I do not even know what to say. At this point in her career she was getting older and started to play mother characters. This was the first time I had ever watched her in anything but The Thin Man series or her roles in the 1930s when she was the independent and feisty female lead. She was as always fabulous she did a very good job but there was just something about her here… I cannot even exactly say what it was. I think it felt like she was held back and mostly she was the Myrna Loy I am not used to seeing. Yes she was older but she was still gorgeous and still a very good actress but at this point she started to play the obedient housewife who did nothing but think of decorating the house and letting the men do all the talking. Damn the late forties/early fifties ideal of the housewife and what a woman should be!!! (ok my modern semi-feminist views are coming through I apologize but I feel this put a great limit on Loy’s and many other actresses’ talents). I will say I had to laugh and love the angry looks she gave Grant in one scene her facial expressions were so good. I was so happy to hear Loy make what to me was a witty line; she, Grant, and their characters’ friend Bill get stuck in a closet. Jim breaks the window and the door opens to which she replies in an almost Nora Charles wise crack “In case of emergency break glass.”

  When Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House was released critics felt that Cary Grant and Myrna Loy were too old to be the naïve new homeowners… if they could only see couples buying homes today not much has changed in sixty-four years everyone can relate to Jim and Muriel Blandings. These people were city dwellers most likely their whole lives I know people who are older than the Blandings buying their first home away from a large city and they have or had no clue what is/was going on. This is a film that even today people can relate to. The prices of housing have gone way up (the Blandings had an $18,000 mortgage which today is the lowest cost of possibly getting a bathroom remodeled) but the situation has definitely not.

            While I was not too crazy about the film it is not one I would tell people not to watch. It is worth at least one viewing for Cary Grant and Myrna loy.

            Side note: A while ago I told my great-grandmother I watched this film and she just raved about it. She is 94 years old and nothing gets her hormones going like talking about Cary Grant! (She has professed that she is “94 years old and if he told me to do a handstand right now I would!”) We had a bit of a battle going on because she cannot stand Myrna Loy which I think it is because she got to work with Cary Grant and my great-grandma pretty much does not like any of the actresses who worked with him (do not even get her started on Ingrid Bergman working with Cary Grant she thinks Bergman slept with him!! to which I properly tell her Bergman probably wanted to but did not).  Great- Grandma said that Mr. Blandings is one of her favorite movies she remembers going to see this in theaters.