Saturday, August 31, 2013

Office Wife (1930)

“Oh you poor kid. You're all worn out.”
“I don't care.”
“Anne, you're glorious.”
“Am I?”

            The Office Wife is a Pre-Code film through and through. “Office Wife” is not a term that is used today in the modern business world when a boss sees his secretary more than his own wife. The secretary does everything for the boss such as setting appointments and making sure the boss is kept in some sort of order. Sometimes a secretary falls in love with her boss without him knowing how she truly feels.
            Lawrence Fellowes is head of a major publishing firm. At the beginning of the film he tries to persuade an author named Kate (dressed in a vest, tie, jacket, and hat like a man) to write a book about office wives. That is not something Kate is very interested to write about it is not what her audience expects of her. Lawrence’s secretary Miss Andrews was in love with him. She is so upset about when she hears he is getting married that she resigns.
            Anne Murdock is hired as his new secretary. The man who hires Anne tells her not to forget she was hired because she was smart. Anne was picked from the stenographer pool at the publishing firm and since the job is significantly different and more challenging she is given a week off to adjust. Her sister Katherine (Joan Blondell) thinks she got fired since she did not get up to the alarm one morning.
            Lawrence comes back from his honeymoon. Anne meets him for the first time. She is a little nervous. After some time Anne becomes Lawrence’s “office wife.” She looks after what he eats and knows all his business that needs to be done. He goes down to Florida for a vacation. He calls for Anne to meet him down there he has some business to do. While down there Lawrence sees that his wife has dropped a hotel key and it is not for the place they are staying at.
            Anne goes back home earlier than she was expecting. Katherine asks why she came back so suddenly. Anne replies that she has fallen in love with her boss and that she wants to resign. Meanwhile in Florida, Lawrence and his wife talk. She tells him she no longer loves him. He is not angry with her. They both know he loves Anne.          
            To get over Lawrence, Anne decides to marry a guy named Ted that she had been seeing. He is a jerk but he is from her kind of hard working lower class people. Lawrence calls for Anne and takes her to sit on the beach at Coney Island. They confess their love for each other.

Office Wife was a typical Pre-Code romantic story. It is nothing shocking but it was scandalous and a bit gritty. Joan Blondell in her films I have seen her in has been fantastic even if her scenes are short like they were in this film. Dorothy MacKaill I had seen in a film before this and I thought she was terrible but she turned out to be very good here. Office Wife was not terrible but it was not the greatest. I can only suggest watching this film if you are a fan of Joan Blondell.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Story of Mankind (1957)

The theme of The Story of Mankind is every good has its bad and every bad has its good. The powers that be up in heaven have heard the news that men on earth have discovered the Super H-Bomb. The bomb, as calculated by the Devil was not supposed to be discovered until the year 2016. The powers that be of the High Tribunal hold a meeting to discuss whether the bomb should go off and if mankind is worth saving. Mr. Scratch (Vincent Price), the Devil, comes to the hearing. He of course wants the bomb to go off. News comes that Adam could not attend the hearing and has instead sent The Sprit of Man (Ronald Coleman). The judge sends Sprit through time since the dawn of man.
            Each defendant brings witnesses to the stand. Scratch brings forward Pharaoh Kufu who told him (Scratch) he would give him the souls of a million men to build his pyramid. Scratch makes this a demonstration of man’s stupidity to a follow a single crazy man. Sprit brings up Moses and what he did for the people of Israel. Then Scratch points out that soon after The Ten Commandments were made people broke them. Going through classical history they come across Cleopatra and her double cross of Antony, Nero killing several people. They tell the story of the founding of America and how the Europeans swindled the Indians out of their land all the way up to World War I.
            In his last defense Spirit says that despite civilization falling to pieces during the Dark Ages that may be a history more set in myth there are still stories of faith that come from it. King Arthur and the crusaders all believed in something. He mentions the heroic Joan of Arc (Hedy Lamaar) and her heroic bravery against the English. Scratch counterpoints that Joan’s story showed how God turned his back on his people and let Joan die senselessly.
            The High Tribunal rules that mankind is worth saving.
            The cast was very good. Ronald Coleman and Vincent Price were perfection in their parts. I could not imagine anyone else but Vincent Price as Mr. Scratch. He had the voice and he had the looks and mannerisms to pull off playing the Devil. Coleman was a gentleman and a brilliant actor he is what I can believe the Spirit of Man is like. Groucho Marx stole the whole film as Peter Minuit swindling land from the Indians. He was so funny, so many of the things he says he you have to listen carefully for and when you hear them you just laugh. Peter Lorre played Nero and nailed it. Hedy Lamaar was actually not that good. The way she played Joan of Arc was a little weird like she was on something or not in her right mind at the time.

            I really liked The Story of Mankind. It reminded, in certain ways, of the excellent silent film Leaves From the Book of Satan which was about how in every major event in history the Devil was always there. Humanity has never been perfect. The Story of Mankind was released in 1957. This was when during The Cold War and the Red Scare. Mankind was falling apart more than it ever had before. I feel this was a perfect film to have been released at this time when the whole world was on the brink of destruction and faith in humanity was crumbling. The Story of Mankind is a very good film that I highly recommend seeing. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Silent Sundays: The Crowd (1928)

“You’ve gotta be good in that town if you want to beat the crowd.”
            We all dream of being someone great. We dream of being above all those we pass on the street. We have a secret ambition to be better than all the people around us and those who have put us down in the past. We dream of achieving things few people in the world achieve. We want notoriety, fame, power, and money. We want our voices to be heard. For many of us all we can do is dream. We may have the ambition to achieve greatness but life in the real world gets in the way. Money, love, jobs, unforeseen events come and go and change us for either better or worse and change our charted course. We have to be our best and believe in ourselves and push ourselves to rise above all those around us. To begin to believe in and push ourselves we have to work hard.
            In director King Vidor’s 1928 silent film The Crowd his main character John Sims was told by he was going to be somebody big. He gave his son every opportunity he could to help his son become someone. The first of many upsets in John life happens when his father dies suddenly.
            At twenty-one, John moves to New York City for his opportunity to become someone big. He gets a job in an office with hundreds of other men. After work one day his friend Bert asks John to come with him to Coney Island. Bet has two girls set up for a date. John says he needs to study but he winds up going. Both meet up with Jane and Mary (Eleanor Boardman). John is paired with Mary. They both have a great time together.
            Soon John and Mary are married. For Christmas Mary’s family comes over to their small apartment near the El. The family is not too nice to John. John knows where to get some liquor. He goes to see Bert and the two of them wind up getting drunk and staying out late.
            Sometime later John gets angry at Mary for stupid things like something in the bathroom not working or the milk bottle being too full. Mary has enough of her husband blaming her for things she cannot control and packs her things to leave. Johns walks out the door which makes Mary really upset. He comes back upstairs with his tail between his legs to say he is sorry. Mary tells John they are having a baby.
            Five years later they have a boy and a girl and John has gotten an eight dollar raise in his pay. Life could not be any happier for John and the family after he winds five hundred dollars in a slogan contest. Their children are out playing across the street. They call to their children to come to the house to see what John has brought home for them. The son runs across the street with his sister following. Unfortunately the sister is hit by a car and later dies.
            Months later John is having trouble concentrating at work. He cannot take the pressure anymore and quits. He does not tell Mary until they are on a day trip. She tells her husband she understands and tells him encouragingly he will find a new one. In one week John goes through four jobs. Mary takes in dress making. Her father and brother come by. The father offers John a job working for him. He does not take it. Mary gets so fed up with John she slaps him. He takes their son walking along a bridge. He plans to commit suicide but he cannot bring himself to jump. He suddenly becomes optimistic. As they are walking home John hears someone call out for a possible job opportunity. It is for a juggler to stand outside a store in a clown suit. John takes it.
            When he comes back home he finds Mary all packed and ready to leave with her father and brother. John pleads with Mary that he will work hard to win her back. She does not want to go, she knows how much John depends on her. John tells her to just come out with her and their son for the just the night to the circus that he bought tickets to. They go as a happy laughing family.
            The Crowd is one of a handful of films that we can all learn from. No matter what life throws at you, you can make it. One minute you are on top of the world and the next you feel like you can never get up and do not want to get up. It also teaches you that what you planned and hoped for all your life may never happen. It may just stay a dream, a hope, a desire. I like to think that the story teaches you that in order to become someone big and above the crowd you have to be very dedicated, ambitious, and work very hard. It felt to me like John just kind of gave up once he met and married Mary. I know it was a different time but I would never want something like what happened to John to happen to me. My life right now kind of mirror’s John’s: no matter what he does he gets kicked down. He thinks he is alright and then something happens to push him down. I went through some rough stuff last year and it is hard to be optimistic but when you do have that spark of optimism amidst your sorrow it feels great.
            King Vidor directed and wrote a great film. The Crowd is still significant today as it was eighty-six years ago. The visuals of the buildings and the actors that Vidor captures give the viewer a punch in the gut with reality. The Crowd has its moments where it is melodramatic but it is worth seeing. Maybe it will push you onto your journey to become that someone big you dream of being