Sunday, March 30, 2014

Silent Sundays: It's the Old Army Game (1926)

It’s The  Old Army Game is a kind of silent film where there is apparently a plot but it just seems like there are several short stories running throughout it. There are several comical situations and then thrown in there is a pieced together story.
            The film manly deals with the character of Elmer Prettywillie (W.C. Fields). Elmer is a druggist in a small Florida town. All day and all night people come to him for their ails and wants. One morning a woman incessantly rings the bell to the store. It takes Elmer a few minutes to get out of his deep sleep and get himself together to go downstairs. The pain in the rear woman just wanted a stamp and she does not even pay him the two cents. She gets all the way down the train station in a huff and misses the mail train. She goes downtown and thinks she is putting the letter in a mailbox when it is really the alarm for the fire department. The box alerts the fire department to Elmer’s store. All the firefighters show up and stay even though there is no fire. They stay because Elmer has a pretty young woman named Marilyn Sheridan (Louise Brooks) working for him. All the fire fighters stay around to have a float with her. Elmer manages to get everyone out by setting off another box but he should have kept them around because when he gets back a box of cigars has caught fire!
            In between the beginning and where the, probably, main part of the plot picks up is just some comedic moments. There is one where Elmer is given charge of watching a neighbor’s baby and he just hilarious fumbles with it. Another one has his nephew bugging the garbage out him.
            The big story comes in the form of a New Yorker named William Parker. On the train he gives a speech about how he is selling land in New York for a good price and if people buy the land they will become rich. The train he is on stops in the town Elmer is from. He gets off the train to send a letter but winds up missing it because he sees Marilyn sitting with her aunt in the station. Marilyn sees him staring at her and she leads him on a teasing chase around town. Parker sets up his business in Elmer’s shop at Marilyn’s insistence. Parker makes Elmer his vice president in the land selling.  
            Back in New York City, some detectives are sent to find Parker for being involved in some land scam. They find him and arrest him and the whole town is furious. Elmer drives up to New York City to find Parker to clear things up. Due to some silly circumstances, such as his whole catching fire, Elmer never finds Parker and he is forced to go home. He decides the best thing to do is turn himself to the police back home. He does go to the station but he finds out that Parker is innocent (he had to if he was going to marry the girl at the end) and was roped into the scam and also that all the land that was sold and bought made a lot of people rich.

            It’s The Old Army Game was alright. It got boring after a while. It felt like some of the scenes and jokes just dragged when they could have been much shorter. This was the first time I ever watched a W.C. Fields films. He was funny I liked his gags. The only complaint was that his character was inconsistent he started off as a push over and then just seemed to change with every scene. Louise Brooks is barely in it and I am sure she was just in it for her name and to some femininity to the story. I will suggest seeing It’s The Old Army Game if you are a fan of either W.C. Fields or Louise Brooks otherwise skip it.   

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Unfinished Business (1941)

Everyone wishes they could get away from their life and live one they always dreamed about and have a great romance with the person of their heart’s desire. What girl has never wished to live a Carrie Bradshaw life in New York City among fabulous people and fall in love with their Mr. Big? Well, I know this girl has. I would not be a girl if I were to deny I did not I dream about one day finding a good job in the city and finding my great romance.  I live close to New York City but that is not the same as actually living there. Anyway, Irene Dunne’s character in her 1941 film Unfinished Business had the same romantic notion as we all do today.
            Nancy Andrews (Dunne) has been taking care of her younger sister Katy for a long time in their small town of Messina, Ohio. Katy has just gotten married and she and her husband want Nancy to come live with them so they can take care of her. Nancy has other plans. All her life she has heard the train speed through town and it has become her hopes and desires of leaving the small town and having the great romance of her life. She decides to finally leave and live her own life.
            On the train is a man named Steve Duncan (Preston Foster). He and his friend are bored and make a bet they can find a woman and bring her back to their compartment first. Steve finds Nancy walking on shaking legs as the train sways back and forth. She winds up hurting her ankle and he brings her back to his compartment. Steve flirts with Nancy but she sees right through him and becomes uncomfortable being alone with him. As the train speeds passed small towns and their lights Nancy talks about how romantic she finds trains. Steve comes over to her and kisses her. When they come to New York Steve tells Nancy he will call her but he never does. Weeks and months go by without Nancy hearing a word from Steve.
            Nancy goes on an audition for an opera but does not get the part. She gets a job as a singing telegram girl. One day she is given a birthday call to a man named Billy Ross who runs a night club. Billy likes what he hears and tells Nancy to come to his office. He gives her a job as a telephone operator who sings the name of the club when someone calls.
            A frequent patron at the club Billy runs is Tommy Duncan (Robert Montgomery). Tommy is the younger brother of Steve. Steve shows up at the club much to Tommy’s dismay. Billy asks Nancy to go sing Happy Birthday to Steve’s table. She is surprised to see Steve after so long. Steve does not seem to remember her which breaks her heart. Tommy thinks his brother did something to her and goes to check on her. He wants to take her out for some air away from the club and Billy allows her to go since she works so hard. They go out for a carriage ride where Tommy tells Nancy that Steve was with his fiancé whom he has known since they were little.
            Instead of going to Steve’s wedding, Tommy takes Nancy out for some drinks. She talks about how she wants to marry someone she loves. Tommy asks her to marry him to which she answers that she does not love him. A few drinks later and the next morning Tommy wakes up to his butler Elmer telling him that he (Tommy) got married the night before. Tommy does not believe his old friend until they knock on the door to a spare room and Nancy comes out. The newlyweds are very uncomfortable and nervous around each other. They both confess they do not really love each other.
            Over time Nancy becomes someone she is not. She constantly wants to go out and according to Tommy is a nuisance wherever they go and she does not remember a thing the next day. One night Tommy asks Nancy if they can just stay home he is tired of going out. They sit down at a piano and she plays a song. After this she decides to stay home for the night.
            Since they are now staying home more Tommy wants to have some of their friends and family over including Steve. Steve is still a sensitive subject for Nancy she still hears the train whistle whenever she thinks of him. The night of the party Steven walks in and sees Nancy and remembers who she is. They go out onto the terrace and talk. Nancy gives Steve a kiss goodbye since she did not get to the last time they saw each other at the train station. Unfortunately Tommy’s old girlfriend sees them and immediately spreads the word about what she saw. Everyone leaves the party. Tommy threatens to beat up his brother but never gets to it. Instead he gets drunk and wakes up the following morning to find Nancy has left him.
            A year later, Tommy and Nancy are not together but not divorced. He has joined the army and comes home to New York City on a two week leave. His aunt takes him to the opera. He finds Nancy is one of the singers in the chorus of the show. Tommy waits for Nancy and goes home with her. They talk and somehow they manage to both make each other angry. Nancy says that there is someone else in her heart that will make her not love him as much as she can. Tommy thinks Nancy is still in love with his brother and it hurts him because he loves her very much.
            The ending to me was predictable and one I was actually waiting for. I will not give it away though.
            Irene Dunne, as always, was wonderful. The woman was such an incredible actress. She was not once over dramatic. I liked seeing Dunne as this dreamer who wanted so much a life that was romantic and perfect but never really got it. I liked seeing her play this nervous, unworldly character. Her pairing with both Robert Montgomery and Preston Foster was great. She gave both men a bit more class than they already had. Montgomery I was not too crazy about. He does a great job playing drunk characters but I was not a fan of his character too much. Foster played his character very well. I kind of wish he was not a jerk and wound up with Dunne.

            Unfinished Business is not that good. The story is predictable and a bit boring. Had it not been for the cast I am sure the film would have gone unnoticed and not be known today. The only reason to watch Unfinished Business is because of Irene Dunne, Robert Montgomery, and Preston Foster. I can only hope my New York City dream will not end up as badly as Nancy’s. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Silent Sundays: A Clouded Name (1923)

“Why ain’t you nice to the pretty lady? She likes you.”

            A Clouded Name is one of those silent films that give the genre its bad rep with people. The story is ridiculous and the characters are silly. The acting is something to be desired.
            As the title cards explain Jim Allen could have been rich, he could have been a doctor, and he could have married the girl of his dreams Marjorie Dare (Norma Shearer) had his father not lost all their money and died. Now instead of being rich and being a doctor and married to Marjorie Dare he is a lowly reporter. He is sent to interview Marjorie who after her father’s death now own a salt mine that is merging with another one. After he sees Marjorie, Jim feels the need to go out of town for a while because all his old memories come flooding back to him. On the day his father left was the day Marjorie’s mother died. For five years Jim has been trying to forget that day and seeing his former love has brought all those memories back.
            Jim goes out to the house of his father’s friend Leighton. While out by the river he comes across a little girl who goes by the name Smiles. She has hurt her foot so Jim takes her back to Leighton’s house to fix it for her. As he is carrying Smiles out the door to bring her home Marjorie shows up. Smiles needs to get home before the storm comes so Marjorie drives them all to where Smiles lives. The girl lives with her father, a man known as Ben Tangleface, in a small shack. He is not home he works all day. Smiles tells them that they must leave because her father does not like it when people are at the house with her alone. Marjorie left with her secretary while Jim stayed behind with the girl. On the way home Marjorie’s secretary is hit on the head with a falling branch from the storm. She goes back to the shack to bring Jim back to the mansion and Ben has returned.
            The next morning Jim goes back to Smiles’ home to play with her. She shows him a book that Ben gave to her. Inside the book is a photograph that Jim seems to recognize. Marjorie’s secretary is taken to a hospital in town so she decides to stay at Leighton’s mansion. Jim is not too happy that Marjorie is staying since he left to get away with her. What makes seeing each other difficult is that they still love each other. Leighton has other plans for Marjorie he wants to marry her for her money. Jim takes a tent and some supplies to stay by himself in the woods. Smiles come out to Jim and tells him that her father has lost his job and has spent their last amount of money on a new dress and shoes for her. Ben goes back to the house to get some more food for him and Smiles. He comes back to see that Ben has been knocked out and Leighton attacking Marjorie. Jim goes after Leighton knocking the man to the floor. Leighton shoots at Jim grazing him in the head. Leighton runs out of the house. Ben got up when he heard shot and got up and ran after Leighton. The two men come to a fight at the edge of a cliff and Leighton meets his demise.
            Turns out Ben is actually Jim’s father. Jim figured out that Ben was his father after he saw a photograph of his mother in the book Smiles show him. Five years ago Leighton was a bad guy who was taking money from Ben. Leighton is actually Smiles’ father and her mother is Marjorie’s mother. Ben had gone to speak to Leighton about the money when Leighton pulled out a gun. He shot Ben in the face and also Marjorie’s mother. Ben was able to get away from the house with the baby to an Indian reservation where he was taken care for three years. For all that time Ben did not really remember who he was from his head wound.
            Big shock, the film ends on Jim and Marjorie getting married.
            Now the only reason I sat through this film was to see Norma Shearer. I have seen quite a few of her silent films but I believe this is the earliest one I have seen so far. Shearer was twenty-years old when she made this. At the time she was at MGM but was being loaned out to other studios until MGM felt she learned something about being in films and became better. Shearer was out on loan to Universal at the time and was twenty-years old. Shearer was not the best actress ever she always over emoted or seemed phony on screen even from this early time you can see that. But as always there is something that Shearer had that just draws you to her when she comes on screen.
            One interesting thing with this film is Shearer’s mother Edith plays her secretary. Shearer, her mother and sister were all in films when they were living in New York City.

            A Clouded Name, as I mentioned, is a silent film that gives the whole genre a bad rep. For some time I was kept thinking what on earth is happening and then when the ending came along and the story was tied up I could not believe how bad it was. I mean, it was not completely horrific but it was bad enough. I only recommend watching A Clouded Name if you are a Norma Shearer fan.