“Star Of The Month (June 2021)” Featuring Claudette Colbert in… The Sign Of The Cross (1932)

Well, we’re here to start celebrating actress Claudette Colbert as the Star Of The Month, and what better way than one of the films that helped to catapult her towards being a big star! Of course, I mean her 1932 film The Sign Of The Cross, also starring Fredric March, Elissa Landi and Charles Laughton.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Pink-A-Boo (1966)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 2 (1966-1968) from Kino Lorber)

(Length: 6 minutes, 14 seconds)

The Pink Panther has to deal with a mouse and his friends who have come to party. This is a fun one, with the Panther trying (and failing) to deal with the mouse. There are some fun moments here and there (and I know I get a good chuckle out of the mouse elevator). It’s not the Panther at his best, but it’s certainly enjoyable enough to not be one of his worst (and be worth repeat viewings).

And Now For The Main Feature…

It’s 64 A.D., and the city of Rome is burning! There are rumors that the Roman emperor Nero (Charles Laughton) is behind it, but, to deflect the blame, he accuses Christians of being behind it. The Prefect of Rome, Marcus Superbus (Fredric March), comes upon a mob that is threatening Titus (Arthur Hohl), Favius Fontellus (Harry Beresford) and Mercia (Elissa Landi), a trio accused of being Christians (which is true). Enchanted by Mercia’s beauty (and desiring her as a conquest), Marcus decides to let them go. Angry at losing their bounty (for capturing Christians), the would-be captors turn to Marcus’ rival, Tigellinus (Ian Keith). Laying in wait for Mercia (or anybody connected to her), Tigellinus’ men catch Stephan (Tommy Conlon), a young Christian boy living with Mercia and Favius. He is tortured by the Romans until he reveals the location of their next meeting. Marcus finds out too late to completely stop the Roman troops from killing many Christians, but he saves those that remain, opting to send them to prison (although he has Mercia sent to his home). Tigellinus hears about this, and tries to tell Nero (since Nero had ordered all Christians to be executed). Empress Poppaea (Claudette Colbert), who has been lusting after Marcus herself (and is less than thrilled with his interest in Mercia), convinces Nero to have Mercia taken away, claiming that Marcus is no traitor but just interested in Mercia sexually. During a party, Marcus tries to convince Mercia to have sex with him, but she refuses. Tigellinus arrives, and takes her to the prison to await her fate with the rest of the Christians. Will Marcus come around to the Christian faith, or will he convince Mercia to renounce it?

Director Cecil B. DeMille had, during the silent era, helped establish Paramount Studios, but went independent in the mid-1920s. With the coming of sound, he made several talkies for MGM, but they proved to be financially unsuccessful. He came back to Paramount, contracted for just one film: The Sign Of The Cross (which was based on the 1895 play of the same name by Wilson Barrett). However, with the Depression also hitting Paramount, he was held back from all the free-spending habits he had maintained with some of his earlier films. Still, he brought back some of his previous crew (although on lowered salaries), and he was able to use some costumes and sets from his earlier 1923 film The Ten Commandments to help lower the costs. It’s been said that, when his assistant director Roy Burns let him know they had used all the money from their allotted budget, he yelled “Cut!” and worked with what they had to finish putting the movie together. The movie proved to be a hit, and he remained at Paramount for the rest of his career.

Actress Claudette Colbert benefited greatly from being in this movie. Previously, she had mainly played the ingénue type of role, but Cecil B. DeMille offered her a chance to be, as he put it, “the wickedest woman in the world” (which she said yes to doing). And boy, does she! From the moment we meet her as she takes a milk bath (in one of the film’s many famous pre-Code moments), we learn of her character’s lust for Marcus. As we go through the movie, we see how she tries to manipulate events to get what she wants. And, near the end, Marcus accuses her of being a harlot, to which she shrugs as if to say “So what else is new?” It’s a different role than I had seen previously from her, but I think that she is very effective in it!

I myself am coming off my first time seeing this movie, and I will admit that I enjoyed it. I am both shocked and amazed at all the film’s pre-Code moments that the director was able to get away with (even with censors objecting while he was making the movie). I will admit, some of the acting is weak here (especially for the two leads, Fredric March and Elissa Landi), but I blame that more on director Cecil B. DeMille, who focuses more on the spectacle. And, that he does! The film really strongly contrasts the debauchery of the Roman people with the lifestyle of the Christians, and the last half hour, with all the stuff going on in the Roman arenas is indeed a show in and of itself (with stuff shown that filmmakers today wouldn’t likely do). But, I would still say that Claudette Colbert makes this film worthwhile, as does her onscreen husband, as played by newcomer Charles Laughton. This has been mentioned as a major classic pre-Code, and I would concur. So, if you get the chance to see this one (and can stomach the pre-Code moments), be sure to give it a try!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… The Sign Of The Cross (1932)

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Due to the film’s pre-Code content, the movie suffered cuts throughout the years from censors. In 1944, when the film was reissued (with some of these cuts), a new prologue and epilogue were added (keeping the length about the same), with new footage of pilots flying over Rome during World War II. That version was the only version seen for many years, until the original footage was restored in the 1990s. This Blu-ray release makes use of the UCLA restoration of the original film. For the most part, this movie looks quite good! There is some print damage here and there, but this is likely to be the best this movie will look for a long time. I personally think the audio is a tad low (but there are subtitles, which helps that a bit). Overall, I would definitely recommend this release!

Film Length: 2 hours, 6 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Fredric March – The Eagle And The Hawk (1933)

Claudette ColbertIt Happened One Night (1934)

Charles Laughton – Mutiny On The Bounty (1935)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… The Eagle And The Hawk (1933)

Well, it’s almost the end of 2020, and I’ve got one last review to get through. This time, we’re here for the 1933 movie The Eagle And The Hawk, starring Fredric March, Cary Grant, Carole Lombard and Jack Oakie! Of course, we’ve got our theatrical short to get through first, and then it’s on to the movie!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Isle Of Caprice (1969)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Ant And The Aardvark from Kino Lorber)

(Length: 6 minutes, 14 seconds)

A marooned aardvark tries to get to another island where the ants are, but is stopped by a hungry shark. This one is actually quite a bit of fun. The basic story is certainly nothing new, but it allows for a bit of variety, with the aardvark being both predator and prey. Admittedly, with the ants barely shown, it doesn’t really feel as much like an “Ant And The Aardvark” cartoon so much as an “aardvark and the shark” (or something like that). Still, it’s fun (even with the shark constantly chasing the aardvark up the tree with the same reused animation every time), and I enjoy seeing it every now and then!

And Now For The Main Feature…

During World War I, a group of American pilots, which includes Jerry Young (Fredric March) and his buddy Mike Richards (Jack Oakie) are sent overseas. However, another member of the group, Henry Crocker (Cary Grant), is left behind at Jerry’s recommendation since Henry is not a good pilot. Upon their arrival in France, Jerry and Mike are almost immediately sent up to fly some reconnaissance missions. Enthusiastic at the prospect, they both go with their observers (tailgunners who also take photographs of the territory). Jerry makes it back alright, but his observer doesn’t survive, which really sobers him up. Over the next two months, Jerry loses four more observers, which really bothers him. In spite of that, he is considered a hero, and somebody his leaders encourage the new recruits to look up to. His new observer turns out to be Henry, who is still somewhat bitter towards Jerry. Despite their personal issues, they still manage to be successful together (although Henry earns the ire of the other pilots when he shoots down some men in parachutes, which is against their code). Jerry starts to show signs of cracking up, so Henry (his roommate) goes to Major Dunham (Sir Guy Standing) with this information, and Jerry is given a ten day leave. In London, he finds himself still struggling with his hero status, especially when a little kid enthusiastically asks him what it’s like. However, he is comforted by a Beautiful Lady (Carole Lombard), who listens and sympathizes with him. Upon his return, he finds his buddy Mike and Henry returning from a mission, but Mike expires shortly after landing. Furious with Henry because he had pushed to try and shoot down a German pilot, Jerry requests another observer. The question remains, though, whether Jerry can still get past his own demons to be the hero he is needed to be, or will he crack up again?

As you can tell from my plot description, this really is Fredric March’s movie. And that’s not a bad thing! He gives a great performance here as a man who comes into the war almost thinking of it as a game. He goes into his first mission with great enthusiasm, and is still feeling that way when he gets back. Then reality sets in when he realizes his observer is dead. From then on, we watch as his conscience slowly but surely eats away at him, while his kill count rises (and with it, his status as a “hero” to everyone around him). He makes it easy to sympathize with his disillusionment.

And that brings us around to Carole Lombard. One would think, with her billing, that she is in this movie a lot. She really isn’t, only appearing for about ten minutes or so. One would think that almost makes her role unimportant, but I think her character (nameless though they may be) means a lot more. Apart from her, nobody else really stops to notice how Fredric March’s Jerry is feeling. Throughout the movie, everyone else just shrugs off Jerry’s worries and feelings, but not her. At the party where she meets him, she sees how everyone else is making him feel, and, when he leaves (and she comes with him), she actively listens to him, and tries to help him. And it works, if only temporarily, as he seems to be happy again when he returns from leave (although that happiness is short-lived when he loses his friend Mike and everyone else continues to ignore his growing doubts). This role was still early in Carole Lombard’s career, before she established herself as a great comedienne in screwball comedies, but she still makes her presence known in just the few minutes she is there.

And speaking of actors doing roles that seem out-of-line with what they did later, we also have Cary Grant here. We have him in a role that is quite different and against type, as he is not his usual, suave self. His character has a bit of an edge to him, and a sense of “kill or be killed” in terms of how he treats the enemy. Unlike Jerry, he wants to kill (which is what ends up getting Jack Oakie’s Mike shot). And one wonders how much he cares for Jerry, especially with the efforts he goes to in the end to still make Jerry look like a hero (even though he knew Jerry didn’t like the idea). It’s a rude awakening compared to what we know Cary Grant did later. It’s more of a supporting role than we’re used to with him, but he still gives a good performance.

If you can’t tell already, I did enjoy this movie. That being said, I do feel that one of the few weak spots in the movie (for me) is Jack Oakie. So far, with the handful of films that I’ve seen him in, I just don’t seem to care for him or his style of comedy. At least here, he is more of a supporting character as opposed to the lead, but I just still don’t care for him. But the rest of the movie is still quite good. The flying sequences are well done (even with some rear-screen projection here and there), and the movie certainly shows that not everyone is cut out for war. All in all, this was a well-done drama, and I would definitely recommend it!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. The movie seems to mainly have an HD scan, but not a full-fledged restoration or remaster. The transfer does look pretty solid, with a few scratches and other minor issues, but none that should ruin the film. It certainly worked quite well for me, and is the best way to see this movie.

With this being my last review of the year, I want to wish you all a Happy New Year (although I hope, of course, that you’ll check on my blog tomorrow for my 2020: Year In Review + Top 10 Movies Watched)!

And if you are interested in joining in on my month-long “Star Of The Month” blogathons for 2021, whether for next month (Doris Day), February (Clark Gable) or beyond, please be sure to check out my Coming Soon In 2021: “Star/Genre Of The Month” post to sign up!

Film Length: 1 hour, 13 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Sign Of The Cross (1932) – Fredric March – Design For Living (1933)

Blonde Venus (1932)Cary GrantAlice In Wonderland (1933)

No Man Of Her Own (1932) – Carole Lombard – We’re Not Dressing (1934)

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… Design For Living (1933)

“Immorality may be fun, but it isn’t fun enough to take the place of 100% virtue and three square meals a day.” – Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton)

Now we have a bit of pre-Code fun with the 1933 movie Design For Living, starring Fredric March, Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins.

On a train bound for Paris, playwright Tom Chambers (Fredric March) and his painter friend/roommate George Curtis (Gary Cooper) meet commercial artist Gilda Farrell (Miriam Hopkins). They both take a liking to her (and she to them). Her boss and friend, advertising executive Max Plunkett (Edward Everett Horton), objects to their relationships, but his words fall on deaf ears (well, except Tommy, who borrows a quote for a play he is writing). Tom and George start arguing over Gilda, and she proposes a new arrangement: the three of them live together, with her pushing them to do better in their respective arts, but no sex. In no time at all, she helps Tom get his play in front of a big London theatrical producer, and he has to leave to help with rehearsals. After he leaves, George and Gilda end up breaking the pact (and let Tom know about it). After almost a year of success with his play, Tom comes back, only to find George became enough of a success to have moved in to a more upscale apartment. He also finds Gilda still receptive to him, but George arrives back from a trip early, only to find them together. When the two men start arguing again, she leaves them both, unable to decide between them. She marries Max, who takes her to the U.S., but soon finds herself bored with him.

Design For Living was based on a play written by (and starring) Noel Coward. When Paramount bought the rights, it was given to director Ernst Lubitsch. He brought in writer Ben Hecht to do the screenplay, who ended up changing a lot of things around, and, at most, kept one line of dialogue from the play. Lubitsch wanted Miriam Hopkins for the role of Gilda Farrell right from the start, but had trouble casting the male leads. He wanted Ronald Colman and Leslie Howard, but they were either too expensive or uninterested. Then Fredric March was brought in, along with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (although Fairbanks pulled out when he came down with pneumonia). So Gary Cooper, then mainly known as an action star, was cast. Critics and audiences at the time weren’t kind to the movie, but it has gained in popularity over time.

This is a movie I hadn’t heard of before. I only discovered it when I was looking for movies with Edward Everett Horton in them after I stopped to realize he was one of those actors well represented within my own film collection that I hadn’t been actively trying to collect the films of. Of course, Gary Cooper also starring in it didn’t hurt either, not to mention being directed by Ernst Lubitsch, who has done a few movies I like. So, I finally got the chance to see it, and I really enjoyed it! I’ll admit, it’s the earliest Gary Cooper movie I’ve seen, so I’ve already seen some of his later comedies. So, it was no surprise to me that he handled the comedy well. And, of course, Edward Everett Horton didn’t disappoint, either! The movie is easily full of good comedy and many wonderful and memorable lines! The pre-Code elements certainly make this movie fun, giving us the reverse of the usual situation (just like the movie indicates) with one woman falling in love with two men and trying to figure out which she prefers. The pre-Code elements are relatively tame compared to what would be in most movies of this type today, but I would still be wary of showing this movie to young kids, if only because sex is still enough of a topic in it. Still, I very much enjoyed this comedy, and I would very much recommend it to anybody willing to give it a try!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 32 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Eagle And The Hawk (1933) – Fredric March – Nothing Sacred (1937)

Morocco (1930) – Gary Cooper – Alice In Wonderland (1933)

Fast And Loose (1930) – Miriam Hopkins

Holiday (1930) – Edward Everett Horton – Alice In Wonderland (1933)

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Fly’s Last Flight (1949)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 3 from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

Welcome to my new feature on various theatrical shorts! Sometimes my comments will be on shorts included as extras on a disc set I am reviewing, and other times, they will be completely unrelated to the movie being reviewed (and I will try to indicate which). Hope you enjoy!

(Length: 6 minutes, 41 seconds)

A tired Popeye tries to take a nap, but finds it interrupted by many things, particularly a fly. Well, at least this one broke completely with the formula! No Bluto in sight (o Olive, for that matter), and for once, the spinach was used AGAINST Popeye. Not the greatest short ever, but it was fun seeing one that tried to do something a little different!

And stay tuned for more of Coming Up Shorts! featuring more of Popeye (and the eventual post on the entire 1940s Volume 3 set), along with other shorts!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… Nothing Sacred (1937)

And here we are for the classic 1937 screwball comedy that proves indeed that there is Nothing Sacred, starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March.

Fredric March plays Wallace Cook, a reporter for the Morning Sun newspaper, who is trying a make a comeback after mistakenly reporting a shoe shiner as an African Sultan. He convinces his boss to let him report on Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), who is dying of radium poisoning. When he arrives in her hometown of Warsaw, Vermont, she has just found out from her doctor that she is NOT dying from radium poisoning, and that the doctor had made a mistake. This makes her sad, as she had hoped to travel out of Warsaw. She meets Wally as she leaves her doctor’s office, and before she can say anything, he offers to bring her and her doctor to New York, which she can’t bring herself to refuse. So, they make the trip, and she enjoys herself, all the while falling for Wally and trying to figure out how to break it to him that she isn’t dying (never mind get away from the public, now that she is a “dying celebrity”).

To get into my own opinion of this movie, it was one I thoroughly enjoyed! After watching both this movie and My Man Godfrey (1936), I certainly think that Carole Lombard was well-suited to screwball comedies! There are so many wonderful moments in this movie, it’s hard to choose which ones to mention! I know I enjoyed watching Hazel’s attempted fake suicide, where she planned to jump in the river, and have the doctor pull her out. Wally found out that she planned to commit suicide and got there before she could jump in, but he had to jump in and try to save her after he accidentally pushed her in (although she ended up saving him because he couldn’t swim)! And I certainly can’t help but wonder about the doctor, considering how much drinking he does while in New York! No wonder he originally made that mistake! Of course, I can’t avoid mentioning when Hazel tried to fight Wally (although I really can’t get into too many more details with spoiling the story more than what I have mentioned)! So this is a wonderful movie, and one I would recommend!

Now, my comments are coming off my first viewing of the movie from the recent 2018 Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. Apparently, this movie has had a rough life. The movie was originally produced by David O. Selznick (the producer of Gone With The Wind), in Technicolor. It was re-released in the mid-40s, but printed in Cinecolor, which was cheaper to produce, but not quite as colorful, with some colors more muted. It was only seen this way until the Technicolor version was restored in the 1980s. In the meantime, the movie itself had fallen into the public domain. When Disney acquired a number of Selznick’s movies, they received the film elements and restored this movie in 1999. Apparently, this restoration hadn’t made it to home video until this recent release, which was part of a package of movies that Kino licensed from Disney for Blu-ray and DVD. The age of the transfer does show, but it does have its moments where it looks wonderful. I’m not an expert on how exactly it should look, especially since this was my first viewing, but I think it looks good enough to recommend trying the Blu-ray!

Film Length: 1 hour, 13 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

My Man Godfrey (1936) – Carole Lombard – To Be Or Not To Be (1942)

Design For Living (1933) – Fredric March – I Married A Witch (1942)

Libeled Lady (1936) – Walter Connolly – Fifth Avenue Girl (1939)

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2018) on… I Married A Witch (1942)

Since I Married A Witch has been requested, I shall indeed delve into this movie. It is a movie I had not previously heard of. Sometimes I am prone to looking up movies on Amazon for various actors and actresses I have heard of, and seeing what is available (particularly on Blu-ray). This movie I came across when I was looking up actress Veronica Lake. Upon looking it up, I found it was described as being a screwball comedy (a genre I have come to REALLY enjoy the last few years, at least from that era of movies, anyways). I also found it was listed as being one of several movies that originally inspired the creator of the classic sitcom Bewitched, so I definitely thought it would be worth trying. The movie stars Fredric March, Veronica Lake, Cecil Kellaway, Susan Hayward, and Robert Benchley.

Of course, we have to start off with the requisite description of the plot. We first start back in the time of the Puritans, after a girl, Jennifer (Veronica Lake) and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) have been burned at the stake, being accused by Jonathan Wooley (Fredric March), and then their ashes were buried beneath a tree to trap their spirits. Before they were burned, Jennifer cursed Jonathan and his future descendants with being “unlucky in love” (translation: marrying the wrong person). We see a few snippets of Jonathan’s descendants through time (all played by March), up until the present day (well, for when this movie was made). We find the current Wooley, Wallace, running for governor, and engaged to be married the day before the election, to the spoiled Estelle, (Susan Hayward) the daughter of his chief political backer. There is a lightning storm, which hits the tree, letting Jennifer and Daniel loose as puffs of smoke, who decide to wreak havoc on Wallace. They are limited to being those puffs of smoke, except by creating a body through a fire, so Jennifer starts a fire on a hotel, which Wallace is passing by. He hears her, and goes in to save her. From then on, she starts being a problem to him, and falls for him, which her father does not like (Any further details should be supplied by watching the movie).

So, now we get to my assessment of the movie. After one viewing, all I can say is that I heartily recommend the movie! Is it my favorite screwball comedy? No, that honor would probably go to the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical Carefree (if anybody can read that entire statement and still ask me why, you don’t know me very well, do you). But this movie is still very enjoyable (and still clear proof of why I enjoy screwball comedies of this era), with a lot of the humor stemming from her popping up everywhere and causing him havoc. In particular, I most enjoyed the attempted wedding between Wallace and Estelle, which just gets funnier the longer it goes on! The special effects are about what I would expect to find in either of the sixties sitcoms Bewitched or I Dream Of Jeannie, which still works well here. Obviously, we can easily see Jennifer and Wallace getting together by the end of the movie, but the journey of the movie is the fun, and this movie is not short of that, so I would heartily recommend it to anybody (especially for some Halloween fun)!

The movie is available on either Blu-ray or DVD from the Criterion Collection (and therefore a little more expensive, but worth it to me), and I think Amazon may have it to either rent or download for those who don’t want/ need the disc.

Film Length: 1 hour, 16 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Nothing Sacred (1937) – Fredric March

Sullivan’s Travels (1941) – Veronica Lake – The Blue Dahlia (1946)

The Major And The Minor (1942) – Robert Benchley – The Sky’s The Limit (1943)