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The Young in Heart (1938)

220px-Poster_-_Young_in_Heart,_The_01The Young in Heart is a delightful, though not well known, comedy about a family of sophisticated, charming con artists who are trying to con a wealthy, elderly lady by pretending to be far better people than they really are. The trouble is that with all the effort to appear good, they begin to find themselves becoming just who they pretend to be and it’s very embarrassing to each member of the family; they don’t want the others to know they are becoming soft-hearted.

It seems like such a shame that this film is not better known today. Part of the reason could be that the cast does not contain actors we are as familiar with now. The movie is about the Carleton family, who are attempting to con their way into a wealthy position: Colonel Anthony Carleton (Roland Young), who is called Sahib by his family, Mrs. Carleton (Billie Burke), who everyone calls Marmy, and their two children George-Anne (Janet Gaynor’), the youngest and the real brains of the family, and Richard Carleton (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr,), suave, but who has never worked a day in his life.

Of course, the Sahib is not really a sahib from India or a colonel or a Bengal Lancer, though he is always saying that he is. He just played the role in a play, many years ago, with his wife.

While arranging for Richard to marry an heiress so they can all sponge off of her, the Sahib cheats at cards and they are unmasked and told to leave the Riviera. They are destitute in a train station, where Sahib and Marmy fondly reminisce about the old days while their two children despondently contemplate the wreck of their plans: Richard to marry the heiress and George-Anne to marry a Scotsman without any money (since she was going to sponge of Richard’s wife, she didn’t need a rich husband).

Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Roland Young, Minnie Dupree, Billie Burke

Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Roland Young, Minnie Dupree, Billie Burke

The Sahib and Marmy are a very affectionate couple and seem to be crooks out of sheer eccentricity. Their children, however, are quite serious about their crookedness; they mean to have money. Fortunately, they encounter Miss Fortune (Minnie Dupree), a lonely, rich and very sweet old lady who is only too delighted to meet such an agreeable family and is so touched by their kind attention that she invites them to stay with her. Then George-Anne conceives a plan: they’re going to be as good as Miss Fortune thinks they are so that she’ll make them her heirs.

George-Anne even talks her father and Richard into pretending to look for jobs, although they really just go out and tour the city. But then Duncan Macrea (Richard Carlson), her former fiancé, comes to see George-Anne. He’s extremely annoyed about her whole family con artistry, but says he finds he can’t live without her. She tells him that he will have to and he, rather mischievously, knowing that her father is supposedly looking for work, gets Sahib a job as a salesman for the Flying Wombat, which is a car that looks like the kind of thing Batman should have driven.  George-Anne is obliged to make Sahib take the job so that Miss Fortune won’t know he wasn’t serious about his job hunting. He does so with much trepidation and discovers that he has a real knack for the business.

Janet Gaynor with puppy for Miss Fortune

Janet Gaynor with puppy for Miss Fortune

Richard also ends up with a job, sorting mail at an engineering company. His boss, Leslie Saunders (Paulette Goddard) is not impressed by his smooth lines, but is intrigued that he has never had a job before and is curious how he will turn out. She also lets him take her out to dinner after he gets his first paycheck and soon he thinks he’d rather like to study engineering.

There are two themes in the film: faith and love. Miss Fortune says “one must have faith in the people you love,” even though her lawyer warns her about the Carletons. Duncan, in his own way, has faith in George-Anne. He is always showing up on some errand or other and they always argue and he is always leaving “once and for all.” He drives her nuts by insisting that though her family are all crooks, she’s a good girl, while she keeps telling him to stop making her out to be better than she is and that she’s just as crooked as her family. Ironically, she’s right, but Duncan keeps on insisting and is eventually proved right. Even Leslie Saunders demonstrates faith in Richard when she gives him the job.

Of course, the reason people live up to the faith is because they love the person with the faith. The difficulty is just to get over their bad habits and crooked ways. At one point Richard asks if George-Anne is in love with Duncan and she replies, “How could I be in love with him? He hasn’t any money!” They are all touched by Miss Fortune’s utter faith and love for them, but won’t admit it to each other. When Richard buys her a dog, he says it’s part of the act. When George-Anne catches her father with a moist eye, he denies it has anything to do with being moved by Miss Fortune’s kindness.

It’s all very sweet and charming and the humor is rather droll. It is a comedy of crooks becoming good, quite accidentally, because of the people around them and their own efforts of deception.

The movie is on DVD and can also be seen on youtube.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Gunga Din (1939)

gunga_dinI can definitely see why people like this movie, and why it has endured as one of the great classic adventure tales and I can also definitely see why some people find it annoying. It really depends on how much you like adventure and the chemistry of the leads and how much you can overlook the blatant romanticization of British Colonialism in India.

The movie was inspired by the poem by Rudyard Kipling, also called “Gunga Din,” which recounts a soldier’s memories of a water carrier, Gunga Din, who is abused by all the army, but who faithfully brings them water, no matter the danger to himself. In the end, he dies saving the life of the solider who utters the line “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

However, the movie is really less about Gunga Din and more about what we now call a bromance between the three main characters: Sergeant MacChesney (Victor McLaglen), Sergeant Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr,) and Sergeant Cutter (Cary Grant). They are like the Three Musketeers, only in India, with the same high-spirits, mischief and utter loyalty to each other. They bicker and fight and always have each other’s backs.

MacChesney is the senior soldier and loves his elephant, Annie, and nurses her like he would a baby; Cutter is the class clown who has a thing for treasure, maps, and gold and seems to be an Indiana Jones in the making (without wishing to put any of the treasure in a museum); and Ballantine is dashing and in love, which threatens the entire bromance. He is in love with Emaline Stebbins (Joan Fontaine) and as soon as his enlistment is up, he is going to get married and run a tea shop, much to the disgust of Cutter and MacChesney, who want him to enlist for another nine years.

Ballantine is helping Emmy to pick out curtains by wearing them while Cutter and MacChesney look on

Ballantine is helping Emmy to pick out curtains by wearing them while Cutter and MacChesney look on

Meanwhile, the Thuggee cult, which worships Kali and seems to believe rather generally in killing for killing’s sake, are on the move and are threatening to sweep through all of India. The three men are sent out, with Ballantine only having a few days left on his enlistment, to meet the Thuggee. Coming along with them is Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe), who carries water and dreams of being a soldier. He also knows where there is a temple filled with gold, which very much interests Cutter. However, when he takes Cutter there, they find the Thuggee, and MacChesney, Ballantine and Gunga Din have to go rescue him.

The cast is almost all uniformly excellent. Eduardo Ciannelli makes a suitably creepy, if massively politically incorrect, guru who leads the Thugs and comes across as rather educated, despite his death cult. The British commanding officer is played by Montagu Love, who, whenever he opens his mouth, reminds me of his other role as the Bishop of the Black Cannon in The Adventures of Robin. Joan Fontaine also does well in a tiny role as the female obstacle to all that joshing brotherly love. After all, women and a tea shop! Soft!

GungaDinJaffeThe one bit of casting I do not agree with is Sam Jaffe as Gunga Din. I am not really sure how old Gunga Din is supposed to be in the poem, but in the movie he is middle aged and plays him as such a simple guy that he comes across as mentally challenged, especially in the way he reacts in gratitude to the other men’s condescending attitude towards him and it feels very awkward. Perhaps it would have worked better if he had actually been a child instead of a grown man.

As I said, this movie is really just an adventurous romp and there is zero character development. The movie seems like three-fifths action sequences. It actually brings irresistibly to mind the Indiana Jones movies, especially the second one. There are elephants, a rickety rope bridge, treasure, a gold temple, snakes, native peoples chasing the heroes. It also has the kind of light-hearted adventure characteristic of Indiana Jones.

The movie was filmed on location in the Sierra Mountains, which stand in for the Khyber Pass, and really looks good. It took much longer to shoot than was originally intended, however, and they went so far over budget that even though the movie was a hit, it still lost money.

MacChesney and Cutter

MacChesney and Cutter

The role of Cutter was originally going to be played by Fairbanks, Jr. and Grant was going to play Ballantine, but Grant wanted to play the comic and so they switched roles. Cary Grant also has what is supposed to be a Cockney accent, though most people comment that it sounds half-hearted. However, since Cary Grant (when he was still Archibald Leach) really did have a Cockney accent from working in music halls before he brushed his accent up along with his image as the most suave man ever living, I would think he would know how to speak with a genuine accent. Perhaps he lost the knack, or perhaps I’m just used to a broader movie accent than most people actually have.

The big issue that most people have with the movie is the celebration of colonialism and how Gunga Din, in saving the British army, is essentially a traitor to his own people. I can definitely see their point. The condescending attitude the British adopt is pretty hard to take and if the rather juvenile MacChesney, Ballantine and Cutter are anything to go by, it’s hard not to sympathize a little with the impulse of the Thuggee to kill them. Also, pretty much every Indian role is played by people in body paint, which was standard practice during those years. However, I feel that this movie is really not essentially about Colonialism; it is more an excuse for adventure, male bonding, courage, and lots of fighting.

Gunga Din 1939The movie was directed by George Stevens, who was known for his comedies before he joined the army and saw, first hand, the affects of the Holocaust. He made movies like Woman of the Year, with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and Swing Time, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. However, after the war he was so affected by what he had seen that he never made another comedy or light-hearted film and instead made movies like Giant, Place in the Sun and Shane.

Gunga Din ultimately is a very well-done movie, despite my complaints. It’s just not quite my cup of tea.

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2014 in Comedy, Historical Drama

 

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