Misha Crews

Every story deserves a happily-ever-after.

THE 4TH ACADEMY AWARDS

Well, unfortunately this week we have another film that’s not available for home viewing in any way, shape or form.  The movie, East Lynne, is described below.

And the nominees are….

East Lynne
1931
Starring: Ann Hardy, Clive Brook and Conrad Nagel
Directed by: Frank Lloyd

What’s the story?  Based on the novel by Ellen Wood, it’s the story of Lady Carlisle (Ann Hardy) a society woman who leaves her family. When her son falls ill, she returns home.  Despite being nearly blind from a bomb explosion, she is able to see her son one last time before he dies.

What makes it special?  There is only one copy of the film that’s known to exist.  It’s at UCLA’s Instructional Media Lab, and it can be viewed by appointment.  (I’ll meet you there!)

The Front Page
1931
Starring: Adolphe Menjou, Pat O’Brien, Mary Brian
Directed by: Lewis Mileston

Where did I find it? I was supremely tickled to find this movie on Netflix Instant Watch! The sound and picture both leave something to be desired, but I’d give this one an extra point for convenience!

What’s the story? Hildy Johnson (Pat O’Brien) is a newspaper reporter: fast-talking but good at heart. Hildy is engaged to pretty Peggy Grant (Mary Brian) and planning to move to New York for a higher paying advertising job. While Hildy runs around tying up loose ends, his mirthful but callous colleagues are hanging out in the press pool, waiting to cover the execution of Earl Williams (George E. Stone). Rumors of Williams’ innocence abound, and when the incompetent sheriff lets Williams escape, a feeding frenzy erupts. Caught up in the excitement, Hildy gives an informant the $260 savings that he and Peggy have been hoarding.

Hildy is confident that the boss, Mr. Burns (Adolphe Menjou), will reimburse him when he gets the scoop, but he’s wrong – Burns gives him the runaround. Things look bleak: Peggy is waiting at the train station and the clock is ticking. Then Hildy’s luck turns around: Williams finds him and wants to surrender. Now Hildy is looking at a $10,000 reward. Burns gets wind of it, and convinces Hildy that this is the chance for him to make is big break as a reporter. Together with Molly Malloy (Mae Clark), the woman of ill repute who has been maintaining Williams’s innocence all along, they stash the escaped con in a roll-top desk. Hildy and Burns are trying to coordinate his surrender while at the same time writing the front-page article that they’re sure will put them on the map.

The story changes quickly, however, when they find out that the governor has granted Williams a last-minute pardon – and that the sheriff and mayor both knew about it, and were going to have him executed anyway! Why? Because there’s an election coming up. So Williams is set free, and while there’s no reward, there’s definitely a story. But Hildy has decided that his newspapering days are over. He and Burns have a sentimental farewell, Burns gives Hildy his pocket watch. When Hildy and Peggy have gone, however, he calls the police in the next town (one up on the train tracks), and ask them to have Hildy arrested. “That son of a bitch stole my watch!” he says.

What makes it special?  This movie was based on the popular stage play of the same name, and although it’s billed as a comedy, it has some very dark and cynical moments. There’s a scene where the press pool boys have decided that Molly Malloy knows where Williams is hiding, and she’s their ticket to fame and fortune. They advance on her like jackals, backing her up against the window. Desperate to get away from them, she climbs out onto the ledge and falls to the street below. Although she survives, we’re left with the powerful impression of the press as a pack of wild animals, preying on a frightened deer. In this day and age, it’s a widely-accepted concept that the media are opportunistic and that some even take a fiendish delight on exploiting the misery of others, but it was interesting to see this put forth in a film from the 1930s.

Skippy
1931
Starring: Jackie Cooper, Robert Coogan, Mitzi Green
Directed by: Norman Taurog

Where did I find it?  This one is not yet available on DVD, but it was recently broadcast on the Turner Classic Movie channel.

What’s the story?  Based on a popular comic strip, Skippy (Jackie Cooper) is a precocious little boy who puts most of his considerable smarts to getting out of the things his parents ask him to do.  He befriends Sooky (Robert Coogan), a young boy from Shantytown across the tracks.  When Sooky’s dog Penny is taken by the the local dogcatcher, the boys work like mad to earn the three dollars they need to get Penny back.  But by the time they’ve earned most of the money, the cruel dogcatcher has already disposed of poor Penny.  To make matters worse, Skippy’s father is the head of the local Health Department, and he’s the one who signed the order for all the strays to be rounded up.  Dad redeems himself, however, by saving Shantytown from demolition.  And by the end of the film, Sooky has not one, but two new dogs.

What makes it special? At nine years old, Jackie Cooper was the youngest person every nominated for Best Actor.  He went on to have a long and prosperous career, including playing Perry White in the four Superman films of the late 1970s/early 1980s.  At the 1931 ceremony, Cooper reportedly fell asleep on the shoulder of Best Actress nominee Marie Dressler. When Dressler was announced as the winner, Cooper had to be eased onto his mother’s lap. How adorable is that?

Unfortunately, there’s also a much less adorable story about this film: when Cooper was unable to conjure up tears for an emotional scene, the director threatened to have Jackie’s dog shot if he couldn’t cry.  Well, cry he did, and the scene where Skippy’s father tries to comfort his son after Penny has been killed will tear your heart out.

In this film you can see seeds of many other kids movies to come, from A Christmas Story to Goonies and beyond.

Trader Horn
1931
Starring: Harry Carrey, Edwina Booth, Duncan Renaldo
Directed by: W.S. Van Dyke

Where did I find it? This one is not yet available on DVD, but I was able to find the VHS tape on eBay.  The sound quality was unfortunately quite distorted, but the picture was fine.

What’s the story? While on safari in an uncharged realm of Africa, Aloysius “Trader” Horn (Harry Carey) and his protegee Peru (Duncan Renaldo) find the body of a missionary, Edna Trent, who had been killed by natives. Trent was searching for her daughter, who had been lost as a baby and was rumored to have been seen alive, raised by the indigenous peoples.

After much searching, they find the girl, who is living in a small village and has been raised almost as a goddess on account of her fair skin and blond hair. She is shocked and confused by the appearance of these people whose skin is the same color as hers. The tribesmen are set to kill Horn, Peru, and their faithful native guide Ranchero, but the girl, who has become enthralled by Peru’s good looks and courage, orders the natives to release the men. They’re not happy about it, but they do it. It looks like they’re about to walk right out of camp, but then the natives decide they can’t let the men take their goddess. Our intrepid heroes barely escape with their lives, and now they’re left to make their way across the African plains.

What makes it special? The filmmakers (including cast and crew) spent a year in uncharted Africa filming this movie.  It was the first film about that continent that was not a documentary.

and the winner is….

Cimarron
1931
Starring: Richard Dix, Irene Dunn, Edna May Oliver
Directed by:  Wesley Ruggles

Where did I find it? I got the DVD from Netflix.  The picture and sound are in great shape.

What’s the story? This is a tale that spans four decades – from 1889 to 1929. It’s the story of a changing country, as well as that of a troubled family. Yancey Cravat is a Renaissance man: attorney, newspaperman, adventurer, outspoken supporter of the rights of Native Americans. In 1889, in wake of the the frenzied Oklahoma land grab, Yancey brings his wife Sabra and their young son Cimarron to the frontier town of Osage, Oklahoma. They brave the perils of the savage land (which comes mostly from the savage white folks who live there!) and help to build the town into a thriving community.

In five years, they have a successful newspaper and a new baby girl. But Yancey is restless, and takes off for more adventure. Left on her own, Sabra runs the newspaper (the Oklahoma Wigwam) and brings up the children. After five years, Yancey returns to his wife and family. He stays for as long as he can, his wanderlust is incurable. He drifts away again, into the wildcatting life of the oil-man, leaving Sabra to carry on alone once more. In his absence, the children marry: Cim to a Native American girl (much to his mother’s dismay), and the newspaper grows ever bigger. In 1929, the Wigwam is celebrating forty years in business. Sabra hasn’t heard her husband in many years, but she holds out a hope that he is still alive. And she has never taken his name off the header of the newspaper: Yancey Cravat, Owner and Editor.

Sabra is a woman of stature in her own right, having been elected to the Oklahoma State Congress. As she’s returning home from her celebratory banquet, she hears that an oil rig has nearly exploded, and that if weren’t for the actions of one old man, many people would have been killed. “He’s in bad shape, chest crushed,” the messenger says. “Don’t know his name…some of the fellas call him ‘Old Yance.'” Realizing that the man must be her husband, Sabra rushes to her the scene of the accident. She finds Yancey near death, and she gathers him into her arms. “Sleep, my boy,” she whispers softly, as he slips away from her for the last time.

What makes it special? From an ethical perspective, the film is a paradox.  Yancey is a hardworking man who fights for the rights of Native Americans and welcomes Jews into the town’s religious services. And although he remains faithful to his wife (or so we’re led to believe), he abandons his family for the wild call of adventure.  And Sabra, although she is the true iron backbone of the family, making her way in the world of men with her head held high, is blatantly bigoted against the Native Americans.

If that weren’t enough, the stereotypical portrayal of the family’s young African American servant, Isaiah (Eugene Jackson), is enough to make the modern viewer cringe.  I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say that Isaiah shines shoes, eats watermelon, and his happy antics cause the family much racist merriment.  He proves his own nobility, however, when lays down his life to protect two young children.

Cimarron derives its name from the Cimarron Territory, an unsettled area of the West and Midwest.  The film was the first western ever to win Best Picture, and it held that record until 1990, when Dances with Wolves won.
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NEXT WEEK: Arrowsmith and a Bad Girl! It must’ve been one heck of an awards ceremony!

See more of Misha’s Movie Blogs.

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