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Tag Archives: Amnesia

Slightly Dangerous (1943)

220px-SlightlyDangerousPosterStarring Lana Turner and Robert Young, what actually makes Slightly Dangerous a fun film is the supporting cast, which is impressive: Walter Brennan, Dame May Whitty, Eugene Pallette, Ward Bond, Alan Mowbray, Millard Mitchell, Ray Collins. My only complaint is that most of these people only show up for a scene or two. Not that Lana Turner and Robert Young are bad…I just haven’t yet seen Lana Turner in a film where she carried it on her own. She needs supporting cast.

Peggy Evans (Lana Turner) works at a soda fountain and is having a quarter life crisis. She has arrived at work on time one thousand consecutive days (earning a gift of $2.50 of merchandise from the management) and is afraid that she’s going to waste the best part of her life behind a counter. Her job is so mindless, she says, she could do it blindfolded. Her friend doesn’t believe her, but Peggy proceeds to demonstrate by making a banana split with a towel tied over her eyes, until the new manager, Bob Stuart (Robert Young) catches her at it.

At this point, Peggy’s crisis is causing her to become a bit hysterical and she talks wildly about doing away with Peggy Evans. Stuart assumes she is talking about suicide, while she is merely talking about running away and starting a new life (under a new name). When she leaves a note and skips out of town, everyone is convinced that Stuart drove her to suicide.

Meanwhile, Peggy starts her new life by buying a new wardrobe and having her hair down. While still trying to decide on the perfect name for herself, she unfortunately gets knocked on the head by a falling bucket of paint in front of the office of a prominent newspaper. The owner, Durstin (Eugene Pallette), is afraid she might sue (it was his company’s bucket of paint) and when she exhibits fuzziness about her name (because she hasn’t come up with one yet and doesn’t want to give her real one) he believes she has amnesia and promises to take care of her while he puts her picture in the paper so her family can identify her. She can hardly believe her luck.

But while Stuart sees her picture in the paper and is determined to save his job and his sanity by locating her (he’s having trouble sleeping at night because of the guilt over her “death” and the owner plans to fire him because the employees refuse to work for Stuart anymore), Peggy has the idea of masquerading as a missing heiress. She picks the case of the missing Carol Burden, kidnapped as a child, who would be just about the right age for Peggy. She goes to work, with Durstin unwittingly helping because he senses a good story for his paper. But she doesn’t just have to convince Cornelius Burden (Walter Brennan) that she’s his daughter, she has to convince Baba, the missing child’s nurse (Dame May Whitty). And they’ve seen a lot of impostors. Meanwhile, Stuart is following her everywhere, trying to get a chance to speak to her.

3452The title of the film is actually rather appropriate. She is, indeed, slightly dangerous. Not willfully so, but she has a knack for getting Robert Young into all sorts of trouble and upending people’s lives. Because of him, she just can’t quite leave her life behind. She keeps hearing someone say “Peggy Evans” everywhere she goes. In some ways, her role is that of a soft femme fatale. She cons people, then actually comes to like them. It’s a problem (most femme fatales don’t have these qualms). She adopts all her victims as family – or they adopt her.

The last third does sag a little, mostly because the supporting cast is absent and it mostly follows the romance between her and Robert Young, which is amusing enough, but I kept wishing some of the other characters would come back. Peggy is certainly an emotional girl. She cries more than anyone I’ve seen, but one suspects that Baba will soon cure her of that.

Walter Brennan actually gets a fairly interesting role as the irascible softy who tragically lost his daughter seventeen years before. I’m trying to think if I’ve seen Brennan play such a wealthy character before. Dame May Whitty is always good, this time as the nurse who clearly is the one who rules the roost in the house. Ward Bond is the muscle who protects Mr. Burden. He never says much and usually just points to communicate anything.

My favorite scene in the film is at the concert hall, where Stuart is trying to speak to Peggy, now officially recognized as Carol Burden. She keeps hearing her name spoken, as if from nowhere and various mishaps occur, including Stuart almost falling over the side of the balcony. After the incident, he meets Alan Mowbray, a bored society man (he says he hates music, prefers acrobats) who is determined to stick with Stuart all evening to see what he will do or say next. He’s especially curious to know what it felt like to hang over the side of the balcony. I particularly wished we saw more of him.

Not a classic, but very cute. It’s fun mostly because of the cast.

Supposedly, the idea for this scene came from Buster Keaton.

Walter Brennan reacts to negative references to his face.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2016 in Movies

 

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Hallelujah, I’m a Bum (1933) – A Rodgers and Hart Musical

hallelujah-im-a-bum-movie-poster-1933-1020681090Hallelujah, I’m a Bum is an idiosyncratic musical that manages to be both cynical and sweet. It stars Al Jolson, contains a number of extended rhythmic sections where characters speak in rhyming couplets, places Frank Morgan in a romantic role and celebrates careless irresponsibility in 1933, at the peak of the Depression. Although it’s not as well known as Jolson’s history-making The Jazz Singer, it is often mentioned as his best film, with his most understated and nuanced performance (though I’m not in a position to judge, having only seen him in the later The Rose of Washington Square). It is also possibly his most accessible film (apart from the film’s idiosyncrasies), because he does not perform in his trademark black face. 

Al Jolson is Bumper, a hobo who is called the Mayor of Central Park in New York City, where many hobos hang out. The real mayor of New York City is John Hastings (Frank Morgan), a worldly and dapper man who owes his life to Bumper. Hasting and Bumper are old friends and since Bumper won’t let Hasting get him a job, Hastings frequently passes cash to him.

Among Bumper’s friends are Acorn (Edgar Connor), who travels with him everywhere, Egghead (Harry Langdon), who is actually not a hobo but a socialist who believes in work and has a job picking up papers in the park, and Sunday (Chester Conklin), who drives people in his horse and carriage.

Egghead (Harry Langdon), Bumper (Al Jolson), and Acorn (Edgar Connor)

Egghead (Harry Langdon), Bumper (Al Jolson), and Acorn (Edgar Connor)

Although many films of 1933 dealt with the Depression, Hallelujah, I’m a Bum addresses it in a somewhat unique way: it romanticizes it. Bumper is a carefree and happy guy without strings, worries or fears who lives in good comradeship with all his friends. Of course, the cynic might point out that it’s because he is, as Egghead accuses him, a plutocrat at heart. He’s got a good thing going; deference from his peers and money from Hastings.

In contrast to Bumper is Mayor Hastings, a man of the world who must kiss babies and lay cornerstones to schools, even though he doesn’t care about it, thus satirizing the system that Bumper is successfully avoiding. What Hastings does care for is his mistress, June (Madge Evans). He’s crazy about her, but convinced that she’s having an affair with another man. His jealousy becomes so strong that she tries to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge.

June is rescued by Bumper, but unfortunately she can’t remember anything. Bumper is smitten, determined to take care of her, and she looks to him like a trusting child. But Bumper realizes that she can’t live in the park like he does. He needs to get her an apartment and in order to do that, he needs to get a job (which nearly causes a riot in Central Park when the work-averse hobos hear of it – non-work is a creed with them). But Bumper has fallen hard for her and begins to dream about working and making a home for June, who he calls Angel since he doesn’t know her name.

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Sunday, June and Bumper

He works diligently at a bank (stamping signatures on official letters; Acorn folds towels) and in the evening visits Angel at her apartment, bringing her small presents. She is delighted with him and everything and his only fear is that when she regains her memory, he’ll lose her.

But soon Bumper discovers that Angel is really June, the missing mistress of Hastings, who is grieving and contrite that June left him. When Bumper does discover it, he never hesitates, he simply brings Hastings to June, who recognizes him, regains her memory, but seems to forget all about Bumper and recoils when she sees him.

It is a great performance by Jolson, who simply sits quietly and lets you read the heartbreak on his face, though also gentle, selfless acceptance. Jolson evidently was much more hammy in his other films, though the two I’ve seen him in so far, he’s been relatively restrained, though still charismatic. The actor was apparently anything but gentle in his personal life, but in the film, he plays a really sweet guy underneath the carefree hobo cockiness.

Hallelujah, I’m a Bum surprised me by having more heart than I was expecting. I thought it was going to go pretty hard on the political satire, which it certainly is, but the gentle touch is what really stood out to me, as represented by Bumper. His world as a hobo, outside of civilization, represent a kind of state of nature, though the script is too wise to totally idealize the hobos, who promptly forget about how much they don’t need money to chase Bumper around the park when he discovers a $100 bill that he intends to return. Even Egghead, the socialist, gives chase and  wants a piece of it until Bumper reminds him that he needs to be ideologically consistent.

Frank Morgan and Al Jolson

Frank Morgan and Al Jolson

But when June loses her memory it is like she is reborn from worldly woman to trusting and childlike. Being a bum, not working, makes you outside of the system. Bumper, Acorn and his fellow hobos have an almost philosophical aversion to work, as if even to participate in sordid business taints one. But once Bumper begins to care for June, he can no longer afford to stay outside the system. His freedom comes from being unattached to anyone and when he loses June to Hastings, he regains his freedom.

Hallelujah, I’m a Bum also gives Frank Morgan a completely uncharacteristic role of sophisticated, casually corrupt and dapper romantic lead who wins the woman in the end. It’s the first time I’ve seen him play anything other than variations on his Wizard of Oz persona and he’s quite good at it, much less over-the-top than usual.

The songs were written by the songwriting team Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, whose success occurred primarily on the stage, but they did have a brief Hollywood fling in the early thirties. One musical was Love Me Tonight, with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, and another was Hallelujah, I’m a Bum. Ultimately, they preferred writing for the stage. Their score for Hallelujah, I’m a Bum isn’t quite as full of future standards as Love Me Tonight. It is a bit more cerebral, especially with all the talky/singing/rhyming sections. However, there are two songs that stand out.

One is the title song, “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum,” which Bumper sings celebrating the hobo lifestyle while June is contemplating suicide.

The other is the genuine, though lesser-known standard, “You Are Too Beautiful,” which Bumper sings to June in a very sweet scene.

If you want to hear the full song, Jolson recorded it later.

And here is an example of the rhyming couplets. Bumper has just returned from a trip down South and is being greeted by his fellow hobos, but before they discuss politics Egghead arrives.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2015 in Movies

 

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