Pre-Codes on DVD: Passion Flower (1930) and Hide-Out (1934)

When Warner Archive announced that it would no longer be releasing the Forbidden Hollywood box sets, I was concerned, despite the company’s claims that it would still offer a steady stream of pre-code releases. While I still miss the sense of discovery in wading through those sets, I have been satisfied with the films from the period that have been offered since, including an interesting pair of new-to-disc flicks. I’d never even heard of Passion Flower (1930) and Hide-Out (1934) before their recent DVD release, so I approached both cold, with varying results.

Passion Flower (1930) is a standard melodrama: all about the varying degrees of suffering its characters endure. It stars two Kays: Ms. Johnson as a wealthy girl who marries her chauffeur (Charles Bickford) and is disowned by her father, and Ms. Francis as her so-called friend who first offers financial help, but then decides she wants to help herself to her friend’s hubby. By then there are children in the mix, so her selfishness is especially cold-hearted.

This was one of the films where Kay Francis set the template for two key aspects of her persona: the dangerously sexy husband thief (see also A Notorious Affair [1930]) and the ever suffering glamour puss (Mandalay [1934]). Here she only imagines herself the victim though. Even among the pre-code stars, only Kay Francis could feel sorry for herself for stealing another woman’s husband.

Francis is essentially the reason to watch; Johnson and Bickford aren’t nearly as intriguing, at least partly because they don’t have much to work with. As the oldest son of the pair, pre-Rascals Dickie Moore is reliably adorable and keeps his parents in line with his tiny pout and seal eyes. Zasu Pitts is also a bright spot as a tender-hearted landlady. It isn’t a production of distinction, but everyone is playing reassuringly to type.

Hide-Out (1934) could have been a standard fish-out-of-water yarn, but its cast and the staging of the production give it life beyond its familiar plot. Robert Montgomery plays a womanizing New York gangster-lite party boy who gets himself in trouble with the law. He escapes to an isolated farmhouse, where he is quickly charmed by his hosts, the wholesome Miller family, and falls in love with their daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan).

Director W.S. Van Dyke keeps the action light and brisk, transitioning confidently from the busy nightclub scenes in the first part of the film to the homier farm scenes to follow. The juxtaposition of the two worlds is enjoyable, with lots of songs and dancing girls bringing life to the city milieu and young Mickey Rooney taking on the role of entertainer on the farm as the youngest of the Miller clan.

There’s a great cast at play here and they are all at the top of their game. Montgomery, O’Sullivan and Rooney are especially lively—as are Elizabeth Patterson as Mama Miller and Edward Arnold as a tough, but jovial police detective. They all seem to be enjoying themselves together, as if the feeling of a happy set is translating to the screen. The laughs are a little more genuine than in a similar production and the relationship between O’Sullivan and Montgomery feels especially real as it develops from affection to love.

As I wondered where this surplus of cast camaraderie came from, it occurred to me that Montgomery might have had something to do with it. I thought about the way he always brought a little extra fire out of Norma Shearer in the romantic comedies they did, and how even playing an utterly evil character as he did in Night Must Fall (1937), he remained completely charming and infused the rest of the cast with his electricity. It’s something worthy of more thought: The Montgomery Effect. I’ve always thought he was underrated; now I’m thinking his appeal was also influential for his costars.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Streaming Holiday Classics: Features and Shorts for Rent and Free, Other Recommendations

While I have many Christmas movies on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, I wanted to expand the offerings at my fingertips this year. I compiled a list of flicks available to stream so that I would have choices for any mood at my fingertips. 

Many of these picks aren't explicitly holiday movies, but have especially inspiring Christmas scenes and fit the overall spirit of the season. I've come to like these kind of films the best, because they lightly touch on the season instead of overloading me with holiday sentiment.

As a gift for you all, I'm sharing what I found! Free options are bolded (some require a library card).Enjoy:

A Christmas Past (silent short film collection)
I'll definitely be checking out this Kino Lorber release which has several silent shorts that are new to me. Check out the playlist for titles.

A Little Girl Who Did Not Believe in Santa Claus (1907)

I like having holiday shorts available to watch for the occasional down moment. This is a cute one.

Auntie Mame (1958)
YouTube/Google Play/VUDU/Amazon
This is a new addition to my holiday rotation. One of those movies that gets me in the spirit, though very little of it is about Christmas.

Beyond Tomorrow (1940)
I love that this tender film about lonely people finding each other during the holidays is starting to get more attention. 

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
YouTube/Google Play/VUDU
Cary Grant is an angel. Of course.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
YouTube/Google Play/VUDU/Amazon
So much to love, but I especially adore that Sydney Greenstreet is a good guy here.

The Great Rupert/A Christmas Wish (1950)
My only complaint about this film: not enough squirrel.

Holiday Affair (1949)
Internet Archive/YouTube/Google Play/VUDU
Another charming film that has slowly expanded its audience over the years.

Holiday Affair (Lux Video Theater, 1955)
Internet Archive
I can't vouch for this television version as I haven't watched it yet, but I am curious.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Internet Archive
Always amuses me that a film with such dark themes is embraced as a cozy Christmas classic.

It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)
So many films with holiday themes are about loneliness. This is one of the most tender.

Lady in the Lake (1947)
YouTube/Google Play/VUDU/Amazon
I always need a little noir for the holiday season.

Little Women (1933)
YouTube/Google Play/VUDU/Amazon
It's only a moment in the film, but the generosity of spirit in the Christmas scene always moves me.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
YouTube/Google Play/VUDU
Judy Garland singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. That's enough to make it a holiday movie for me.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
YouTube/Google Play/VUDU/Amazon
There's a lot to love in this film, but I always watch because Natalie Wood is so darn charming.

Santa Claus (1898)
If not the first Santa Claus movie, it's definitely one of the first.

Santa Claus (1925)
Another early take on Kris Kringle.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
YouTube/Google Play/VUDU/Amazon
Any time of year, but especially this time of year.

Susan Slept Here (1954)
Another new addition to the holiday rotation. Watched it when Debbie Reynolds passed last year and realized how well it suited the season.

The Thin Man (1934)
YouTube/Google Play/VUDU/Amazon
That Christmas morning scene where Powell is shooting balloons off the tree. We should all keep that sense of play in our lives.

The Yule Log (1966) 

There have been many variations on the television Yule log over the years, but this one is the first (pictured above). It made its debut on the New York channel WPIX in 1966 and was aired every year until 1989 and was then revived in 2001.

My Streaming Wish List/Other Recommended Titles:

Bell, Book and Candle (1958), Because the scene where they unwrap their presents for each other is such witchy fun.

Blast of Silence (1961), Great vintage New York City locations during the Christmas season. It's not a cheerful story, but might be cathartic for those who feel grumpy this time of year.

I’ll Be Seeing You (1944), A wonderful depiction of the yearning for love and connection, and how that intensifies during the holidays.

Lady on a Train (1945), The scene where Deanna Durbin sings Silent Night on the phone to her father is one of my favorite film holiday moments.

Remember the Night (1940), I love the humble joy of the country house Christmas here.

Podcast Roundup: 6 Picks for Classic Film Fans

I’ve got another great batch of podcasts for classic film fans this month, but before I share my choices, I want to say congratulations to Brian Sauer and Elric Kane, because their lovely podcast Pure Cinema is now the official podcast of the New Beverly Theater, which is reopening after being closed a year for remodeling. This is one of my favorite podcasts because these two are so knowledgeable, but they’re never stuffy about it, always putting the focus on sharing their joy of cinema with anyone. I have shared installments of their podcast here before, but really any episode is worth a listen. Just be ready to add lots of titles to your to-watch list.

Now on to my latest choices. Podcast titles link to the episode:

NPR: Fresh Air
Karina Longworth

November 13, 2018

While I’ve enjoyed many episodes of Karina Longworth’s popular podcast You Must Remember This, I haven’t included them in my round-ups, because I figure this lady needs no introduction to film fans. It’s been great to see the media coverage she has gotten for her new book Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes's Hollywood. I especially like this interview with Terry Gross, where she talks about the women Hughes seduced, promoted, and stalked in Hollywood and her efforts to humanize them when they are so often written off as notches on the mogul’s bedpost.

Art Matters
How Alfred Hitchcock Created Artful Suspense with Joel Gunz

October 29, 2018
Episode 21

With host Ferren Gippin, guest Joel Gunz of the Alfred Hitchcock Geek blog discusses Hitchcock’s love of art and how he incorporated it into his films. I enjoyed this wide-ranging conversation about an aspect of the director’s work that doesn’t usually get such in-depth examination.

Cinema Shame
Hammer Horror Shamedown, Dan Day, Jr.

October 29, 2018

Guest Dan Day, Jr. discusses six recommended Hammer horror films and the long history of the studio with host James Patrick. It’s a wide ranging conversation that covers about any aspect of Hammer you could imagine. I especially enjoyed learning about the early history of the studio.

Film Connection
Billy Wilder: Kiss Me Stupid

November 12, 2018

In the fourth installment of a multi-episode Billy Wilder arc, Steven Saunders discusses the unusual and problematic Kiss Me Stupid (1964) with film writer Jeremy Carr. As much as I enjoy listening to podcasts about my favorite films or finding new discoveries, I think my favorite episodes are about films that haven’t won me over like this one. This thorough discussion helped me to examine some of my own reservations about this unusual entry in Wilder’s filmography and helped me to understand a bit more why it is such an uneven work.

NitrateVille Radio
Episode 32
Pioneering Women Filmmakers, with Shelley Stamp,George Willeman of Library of Congress

Mike Gebert discusses Kino’s massive new 6-DVD collection Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers and the preservation of movies by women filmmakers with curator and professor Shelley Stamp and George Willeman of the Library Congress. While Stamp initially hoped to craft a set of Lois Weber films, she enthusiastically switched gears to curate a set that encompassed a wider array of female filmmakers from the silent era. Stamp has a lot to share about the early days of female filmmaking, what has until been lost to history, and how she helped bring these underseen films to a more extensive audience.

The Movies That Made Me
Robert Forster

October 22, 2018

This conversation with Robert Forster is epic, essential. If you listen to one episode in this post, make it this one. Forster discusses his career, going into great detail about working with director John Huston on his film debut, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967). He also does a dead-on impression of Huston. Watch out Bogdanovich, you’ve got some competition in the celebrity impersonation arena.

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