It could be argued that Ronald Reagan's greatest performance was as the All American cowboy President, the right-leaning paragon of conservative politics saving the country from all manner of foreign and liberal evils. His achievements as Commander in Chief didn't really add up to much, but he sure convinced most people otherwise. But what about his career in Hollywood? Most film historians usually point to his supporting role in this glossy Warner Brothers melodrama. It's adapted from a trashy bestseller by Henry Bellaman, one of those multi character page turners that uncovers all the dark secrets behind the sunny facade of SmallTown, USA. Rife with taboos like murder, incest, sadomasochism, psychomania, adultery, and closeted homosexuality it was a given that it be totally scrubbed up and whitewashed for mainstream movie audiences. And for the most part, it works. All the bad stuff is merely hinted at, but what's left still guilty pleasure fun. We watch a group of turn-of-the-century friends grow from children into young adults navigating all sorts of personal tortures and achievements. Reagan is an brash athletic ladies' man, the town stud who's so destined for success you know that a tragic downfall is all but certain. And when it comes it's a doozy, probably his finest (and famous) moment on film. The real standout though is the criminally forgotten Ann Sheridan as the warm hearted girl from the (literally) wrong side of the tracks. There's a lovely genuineness to every scene she's in. Outstanding camerawork by lensman James Wong Howe and a beloved score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold make this a must-view for anybody who loves slick Old Hollywood fare.
Friday, October 16, 2020
You really can't go wrong with a cast like this. Put Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, and Rosalind Russell aboard a ship in the South China Sea and throw in a love triangle, some gun-running intrigue, a few action sequences, and some snappy dialogue and you come out a winner. This is basically the same set-up as the Gable/Harlow success "Red Dust" from a few years prior, he's the ship's captain, the mancatch torn between a prim socialite (Russell, in what she called her career's "Lady Mary" stage), and an earthier sexpot (guess who). Beery is the piece's villain, trying to pull off the weapons skullduggery under the eyes of Gable. There are no real surprises but it leaves you feeling like you got your entertainment's worth.