Sunday, July 28, 2013

Silent Sundays: Desert Nights (1929)

“Play the game with me - diamonds and youth. The world is ours.”

            I am fascinated with Ancient Egypt, I have been ever since I was little. As I grew up I always wondered how the Egyptians were able to live out in the desert with scorching temperatures. Even in films that take place in a desert I cannot understand why the characters would want to be somewhere in the desert or how they survive. I get thirsty just watching the characters trying to make it in through sand and heat. Desert Nights is a silent where three people get stuck in the desert after their guides abandon them and they have to try to get to water before they die of heat and thirst.  
            Hugh Rand (John Gilbert) is down in Africa mining diamonds with a large company. He receives a note that a named Lord Stonehill and his daughter Diana are coming to visit the mine from England. Hugh and the men think Diana will be hideous. Lord Stonehill and Diana arrive. She is wearing a veil. When Diana removes her veil Hugh sees she is a beautiful young woman. She is the first woman he has seen in three years. At dinner that night Lord Stonehill is talking but neither Diana nor Hugh are listening to him they are looking and talking to each other. When they are done with dinner Lord Stonehill plays the piano while Hugh and Diana are outside dancing.
            The next day Hugh takes Stonehill and Diana to see some diamonds in the rough. He puts the diamonds on his desk and he turns his back for a moment to look at a cable. For the moment his back is turned Stonehill and Diana pack the diamonds on their persons. The cable Hugh reads is to notifying him that Lord Stonehill and his daughter have been delayed. Hugh tries to get help but the man claiming to be Stonehill holds him up and tells him he will be coming with them so he cannot talk.
            The party is out in the desert. Some of the men cannot stand being in the desert and taking orders. They get their cut of the diamonds and leave. They also take the barrel of water. Hugh has been tied to the inside of a caravan by his hands and feet lying flat on his stomach. He sees and hears that Diana and Stonehill have given the men glass pieces while they have the real diamonds. Even the African men who were the guides through the desert have left them. Hugh manages to get out of his ropes. He is their only chance to make it out of the desert alive. Steve, the imposter thief’s real name, makes Diana get Hugh’s help. Hugh plays to Diana by telling her they can take the diamonds and runaway together.
            One of Steve’s men comes back. He says the watering hole has been poisoned and that two others have already died. Steve confesses he poisoned the watering hole so there would be no pursuit. Hugh and Steve make a truce that they will work together until the next watering hole. After hours of walking in the intense heat they come to a watering hole. Unfortunately the water is salt water. Vultures are flying over head. Diana panics. That night she begs Hugh for water but he tells her her charm and beauty that captivated him at first is now gone. The oxen pulling the caravan drank the salt water and die. Now they have to walk through the scorching desert by foot.
            Diana faints from the extreme heat and thirst. Hugh and Steve are about to give up when they see a group of trees meaning there is water. There is a water fall and small pool. Steve and Diana want to drink as much as they can but Hugh stops them because if they drink too much at once they will get sick and die. Feeling better, Diana suggest to Steve that whenever they make it back they should surrender themselves. Steve holds a gun to Diana and Hugh and walks away. Hugh shows Diana that he has the diamonds and that he also has one prisoner.
            Steve comes upon what he first thinks is a fort when two men bring him to the gate. He sees the sign on the gate is the sign of the diamond mine where everything began. Hugh is there waiting for him along with the real Stonehill and his daughter. The real Stonehill tells Hugh he can decide Diana’s fate. Hugh sets her free but wants her to marry him.
            I liked John Gilbert in this film. He did not play the outrageous romantic character he played in his previous films. He played a normal man. Gilbert looked amazing in the desert scenes. He had a beard, his hair was a mess, and he was all sweaty and dirty. I could not stop looking at him in those scenes!

            I have no idea why this film is called Desert Nights when only one scene of the film takes place at night but it does not take away from the plot. The story was a bit different and it was not overly dramatic and romantic. The scenes in the desert are tense. You feel so worried for the characters even though Diana and Steve are the bad guys. You want them to make it out alive. I have to admit I was getting thirsty watching them walking around in the heat and sand! Desert Nights is not available to view on Youtube but it is available on DVD through the Warner Archives collection. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Young Man With Ideas (1952)

Young Man With Ideas has Glenn Ford playing a young attorney named Maxwell Webster who is not very aggressive. Max’ firm has just won a big case that he helped with. All the other lawyers’ names are in the paper except for his. He does not see the big deal in his name not being mentioned but his wife Julie (Ruth Roman) does. He worked hard to help win the case and even though he is not a partner he should get some mention. Max takes Julie out to dinner with the firm to celebrate. All the other lawyers are wealthy and older than Max. Julie cannot handle all the lawyers and their rich snobbish wives and keeps drinking champagne. After dinner, Julie drunkenly gets up and talks about Max about how he did not get any recognition. When they get home Julie is upset with herself. Max is not upset. She wants him to be so to show some kind of “anger” he throws a coffee cup on the floor.
            Max believes that Julie thinks he is a failure. Julie tells him she does not think he is a failure she just thinks he is not appreciated she just wants him to get what he wants. Max got a little tough at work asking for a partnership and a raise and he lost his job. The family takes advantage of this setback and moves away from their small town Montana home out to California. They move into a bungalow that is a mess. Max signs himself up for law classes to learn about California law to pass the state’s bar. At the first class he meets Joyce Laramie (Nina Foch). Joyce tells Max that she has failed the bar twice and this makes him a little nervous. She comes up with the idea to share books and study together since Max cannot really afford the books. Max agrees to study with her but he is worried about studying with another woman. He tells Julie and she has no problem with his choice of study partner since, she trusts Max they have been married for ten years.
            Since Max does not have a job, Joyce offers him one as a bill collector working part time. When he tells Julie about his new job she laughs because he is not tough enough. To prove he can be tough Max takes the job. One of the people he goes to to collect money is a woman. The woman talks him into paying the twelve dollars she owes.
            Julie gets them into a bit of trouble. The previous owner of their house used to run a gambling ring. They keep getting phone calls for bets. One night Julie picks up the phone and says she will place a bet. Now the guy who placed the bet is looking for their address to look for them. When Max comes home that night Julie tells him she wants to move back to Montana she has written a letter to his former boss at the law firm to ask for his job back. Max is furious with his wife. The man who placed the bet comes by the house to collect his winnings. Max gets his frustration out over Julie and the phone calls by punching the guy.
            Julie goes to see Joyce late one night. She tells Joyce about the twelve dollars that has been taken out of Max’s pay. Julie wanted to see if Joyce was the woman Max was paying for.
            In the meantime, Max gets into a fight with the man who he punched all his henchmen. They think Max is a gangster. They all get into a huge fight outside his house and all of them are arrested. He decides to defend himself in court. Julie does not think this is a good idea because he is not aggressive. Max winds up winning the case and passing the bar the same day. After the trial he gets an offer to work in a law firm.
            Glenn Ford was fantastic. Before this I was used to seeing him as Johnny Farrell from Gilda where he was young, tough, and unflappable that I was dying watching him as this bumbling mess of a man. He was so awkward and at time uncomfortably so but he was hysterical. Ford was adorable. After seeing Ford in this I can he see he had a great range as an actor. Ruth Roman I do not believe I have seen in a film before. She was very good as Julia. I like how she was the tough assertive, aggressive one. Nina Foch was also excellent. She was funny. I am used to seeing her in serious roles.     
            Young Man With Ideas was a cute film. I think if this film had been made in the thirties it would have come off better. While the actors were all great I think some actors from comedies from the thirties would have done a better job. Also I think one of the famous comedy directors from the thirties such as Howard Hawks or Leo McCarey would have done a better job and gotten more from the actors. Young Man With Ideas has its moments where it was really funny and some moments that did not need to be in it whatsoever but other than the occasional hiccup the story is good and the acting enjoyable.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ship Ahoy (1942)

“I feel like Mata Hari. I hope I don’t end up like her.”

            I have been dying to watch musicals lately. I have not been going through a hard time with anything in my life that I would need cheering up with a happy peppy musical. I do not know where this yearning to watch musicals is coming from! I think it may be coming from the fact that my one friend and I have said over and over again every time we see each other that we want to watch Singin in the Rain. We would have watched it together by now but our one friend is the bummer she hates musicals. I know we can always get together just the two of us but we love our other friend too much to keep her out of the loop (never let it be said I am a bad friend!). Luckily TCM aired the musical Ship Ahoy! with one of my absolute favorite dancers and actresses Eleanor Powell. I was in heaven the entire time.
            Tallulah Winters (Powell) is a dancer with The Tommy Dorsey Band. After a show she is taken down to a headquarter for some questioning. When she gets there a man asks her to do something for the country. He wants her to take a small magnetic land mine to Puerto Rico with her troupe, no one will suspect her of anything while she is traveling with a troupe. Tallulah proudly accepts the mission for her country. When Tallulah leaves two more men come out. They are all enemy agents working against the United States. One of them got the idea from a book by the author Merton Kibble (Red Skelton).
            Merton is in the middle of writing three stories at one time. He has three typists and a piano player to set the mood of his stories. Merton is a hypochondriac he thinks he has every disease known to man. He has his friend Skip (Bert Lahr) call the doctor. The doctor has enough of Merton and tells Skip that he will stop by in the morning and hangs up. Skip stays on the phone pretending the doctor is still talking to him. Skip says out that Merton needs a vacation somewhere. Merton fights against going at first but then gives in.
            Tallulah and her friend Fran (Virginia O’Brien) are on the same ship bound for Puerto Rico as Merton. Merton was sitting on Tallulah’s deck chair when they first meet. That night they run into each other again. Tallulah wants to go down to the dining room and dance. Merton does not want to dance he says he cannot breathe. He shows Tallulah a breathing technique where he stretches his arms out. She does the technique with him and stretches her arms out to him. Tallulah puts her arms around Merton and she starts to dance with him on the deck. From that moment on they are with each other until the early hours of the morning.   
            While Tallulah is having a good time with Merton, there are American operatives on the ship looking for the mine. They have searched the whole ship, every single room, and they cannot find the mine. Tallulah has it hidden in a radio she bought before she got on the ship.
            Skip is having a fabulous time on the ship. He is after Fran like there is no tomorrow. In the city he was at every single show the company played just to see her. Fran sees him as an annoyance. Luckily for her Skip has been living it up with all the single women on the ship. Tallulah, Merton, Fran and Skip go to a dance. Merton starts singing to Tallulah then Fran starts singing to Skip until she gives him a big brush off. After the dance Fran and Skip go to his room. She tries to play the radio that Tallulah has the mine in and obviously it does not work. Back in the room, Tallulah is frantic looking for the radio. Fran had enough of Skip especially after Merton came back to the room without knocking. Fran left the radio in Skip and Merton’s room. Skip tells Merton he got a message from their editor that he needs the rest of his book. Merton dictates the story and decides to end his famous female character. Tallulah is outside the room she thinks Merton is talking bad about her about how she is just a fling and nothing. She does not know he is talking about his character. Upset she has the porter get the radio.
            Merton comes to visit Tallulah before they leave the ship. She tells him everything between them is over. He tries to win her back and while is going to win her back he falls down the stairs. When he lands his case comes out of his hand. Tallulah winds up taking his case by accident and he takes hers. Merton cannot understand why every time he walks across metal his case gets stuck to it.
            The American operative never find the mine. They start to think the troupe has something to with the transportation of the device. They figure someone put up a lot of money just to send them to a small dive.
            That night after the show Tallulah is to meet the person to exchange the mine. When she gets back to her room and looks in her case she realizes Merton has hers. Tallulah asks the front desk for the key to Merton’s room. The person at the front desk realizes they made a mistake. Tallulah gets into Merton’s room and not too long after the house detective comes in. He tells her that Merton was only registered to the room with Skip. Tallulah thinks quickly on her feet and says she is Merton’s wife. Merton comes back to the room. He has no idea what is going on because he is so happy to see Tallulah again. They manage to convince the house detective that they are married and he leaves. Tallulah goes into Merton’s room and takes the mine. She manages to sneak out the back door. Poor Merton thinks she jumped out the window for a minute and then follows her out the hotel.
            Tallulah gets the mine to the bad guys. She tells them of her mix up and now the bad guys think that Merton knows about the mine and is the enemy spy. Tallulah is taken away just before Merton and Skip come into the room. Now the two men are taken prisoner. Well, Merton and Skip manage to cleverly get away from the bad guys and then fall down a service opening in a ship. They eventually make it out of that jam too and quite hysterically.
            One of the operative named Bennett finds Tallulah with the bad guys. He figured out that she has been used and goes to save her. Unfortunately he is taken prisoner too. The bad guy tells Tallulah that she is to perform her number and then come back to them without talking to anyone. In the middle of her routine Tallulah sees Merton. When they were on the ship they were sitting by a wireless station office and she knew what the operators were tapping out because she had to learn Morse Code for a routine. Now on stage she taps out a message. Merton does not know what she is trying to say. Another one of the American operatives is sitting at the table that Merton is standing near when he mentions the code. The operative manages to get her attention and ask her to tape out her message (watch clip here). The agent, Merton, and Skip get the mine and get away. Merton and Skip were trying to get away from the bad guys on a life boat. Two henchmen lift the ropes of the boat. Tallulah comes just in time and holds the two henchmen up. Merton and Skip row the boat to the middle of the ocean. They are lifted up on a submarine. The submarine is American.
            I loved the cast of this film so much. I cannot get enough of Eleanor Powell. Her dancing is so amazing. She was awesome with her tapping. She hit the floor so hard and was incredible with making and keeping the rhythm of the songs. All her dance numbers were fantastic. There was one where she danced to a song that had a bit of Spanish flare. Her costume looked so good on her in that number. Powell’s acting was much better than her earlier films she looked a more comfortable outside her dancing numbers and she did not seem like she was just reading her lines like she sometimes did in her earlier films. I went nuts in the scene where Powell holds the gun on the two henchmen. It was just cool seeing her with a gun. She seriously looked like she could have played a femme fatale in a Noir. I can see Powell in a Noir film. It would have been interesting to see her in one with her husband Glenn Ford. Red Skelton I had seen in a film or two before this and he was pretty funny. When I first saw that Skelton was one of the stars I thought he was going to go over the top. He was not too much he just right for the character. Skelton and Powell were odd paired together but they worked so well they were so cute as a couple. Bert Lahr I was so excited to see because I have only ever seen in The Wizard of Oz. He was hysterical chasing after Virginia O’Brien. Virginia O’Brien no matter what I see her in always makes me laugh. Her dry sense of humor and the way she says her lines cracks me up. I was dying when she was singing to Bert Lahr. Frank Sinatra makes his film debut here. He does not act he is just the band singer. Dear goodness he was adorable.

            Ship Ahoy! was so much fun to watch. The musical/dance numbers were fantastic. The acting was great. When I think of musicals I think of MGM. When other studios made musicals they were never the same as MGM’s. Although Ship Ahoy! is not a well known MGM musical today it is one of their best and most fun I have watched. Maybe whenever I buy this my one friend and I can sit through it some time together. Maybe by that time we can get our other friend into musicals.