Monday, December 28, 2009

Video Related to The Bride Came C.O.D.

Part 2 of the 1941 Warner Bros. Bloopers Reel, which has nothing to do with this film but has a few clips from it:

The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)

I just recently watched the James Cagney/Bette Davis movie The Bride Came C.O.D., and it was pleasant if not totally great! James Cagney was lovable as Steve Collins, the scrappy aviator who must collect $1,180 to pay off his plane so it doesn't get reposessed by kidnapping Bette Davis. This is one of the few Bette Davis films that I have seen, besides that clip from All About Eve (1950) that I watched in film class last year. In fact--and don't take this to heart--I'm not really a big fan of Bette Davis. (There! I said it once again!) For some reason, I find her acting to be really disturbing! Nevertheless, I do think that she and James Cagney were very similar, as both were dramatic and could act in a wide range of film roles. Still, there is something about her that I just don't like. But before I prattle on about my feelings for Bette Davis, I should really focus on the film! So anyway...
Bette Davis and James Cagney went for a change of pace in The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941), a slapstick comedy about a runaway heiress kept from marrying a band leader when her father (Eugene Pallette) hires Cagney to kidnap her. They got the hit they were hoping for -- it was one of the year's top 20 box-office films -- but a year later the studio gave them the bird, quite literally, when Chuck Jones spoofed their film in the Conrad Cat cartoon "The Bird Came C.O.D." For Davis' part, she would later complain that all she got out of the film was a derriere full of cactus quills.

Warner Bros. had developed the project for Cagney, who was gradually moving away from gangster roles. (I personally think that Jimmy Cagney's label as a tough guy could not be more wrong! He was a very versatile actor, just like Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep!) He was making the romantic comedy The Strawberry Blonde (1941), and advance word on the film was quite good, so another comedy seemed the perfect choice. Cagney was eager to break into independent production at the time, so he insisted that his brother, William, who was set to be his partner once he went independent, serve as associate producer.

Originally the studio considered a number of established comedic actresses for the female lead. They bypassed the likes of Ann Sheridan, Ginger Rogers and Rosalind Russell, however, in favor of rising star Olivia de Havilland. Then Davis expressed an interest in the part, and Hal Wallis went to bat for her. Both had read critics' complaints that she needed a break from serious dramatic roles. In addition, she was eager to re-team with Cagney, who like her had a history of battles with the Warner Bros. management. They had not worked together since 1934, when they teamed for the minor comedy Jimmy the Gent. Some biographers have suggested that the studio was punishing her with the film because of her notorious temperament, while others have suggested she may have wanted to emulate Katharine Hepburn, who had been equally successful in serious and comic roles. Also possible is that she was drawn to the film's obvious similarities to It Happened One Night (1934), another tale of a runaway heiress saved from a bad marriage by the love of a simple working guy. Director Frank Capra had tried to cast Davis in that film, but Warners didn't want to loan her to another studio on the heels of her loan-out to RKO for Of Human Bondage (1934). Instead, the role had gone to Claudette Colbert, who ended up winning the Best Actress Oscar® most critics think should have gone to Davis for the RKO film.

Any hopes of scoring another It Happened One Night were dashed, however, when production started and the promised re-writes from twin writing partners Julius and Philip Epstein did little to improve the script. (Director William Keighley described the atmosphere on the set as funereal.) Nor were matters helped by ten days of location shooting in Death Valley in January. When Cagney complained about the heat, with temperatures climbing to 100 degrees each day, Keighley could only console him that they hadn't shot during the summer, when the highs hit 130.As for the cactus quills, studio publicity claimed that Davis actually got them by accident when she was told to jump out of Cagney's downed plane into a sand dune that concealed the offending flora. The incident was then added to the script. By other accounts, there was a stunt woman on hand to perform the bit, but when Davis got into the cactus patch for the next part of the scene, she got "quilled" nonetheless. A doctor had to be brought in to remove 45 of the things from the star's stern. Her painful situation got worse a few days later when the script called for Cagney to fire a sling shot at the injured body part.

Although most critics welcomed the comic about face for Davis and Cagney, some were quick to point out that the property itself was hardly up to their talents. The New York Times dismissed it as "a serviceable romp," while Archer Winston in The New York Post pleaded "Okay, Jimmie and Bette. You've had your fling. Now go back to work." More recent fans have looked on the film as one of the low points in both stars' careers, though acknowledging that their first love scene, set in a mine shaft, is a standout for both. Davis would fare better the following year in the more sophisticated comedy of The Man Who Came to Dinner, also written for the screen by the Epstein brothers (adapted from the 1940 Hart/Kaufman play where the Monty Woolley character is based on Alexander Woolcott play and the character Banjo is based on Harpo Marx [True!] ) while Cagney would have a much better role as a flyer in the wartime drama Captains of the Clouds (also 1942).

And while this film is definitely not one of James Cagney's or Bette Davis' best, it is enjoyable when you watch it for the first time but when you watch it for the second or third time...Well, let's just say it all goes downhill from there. Plus I might add that in one scene Cagney and Davis sing to each other discordantly through a closed door. That scene was entertaining in the trailer but in the actual film, it was awful and obnoxious! Although some of you folks may think that Bette Davis can do anything, one of those things is obviously not singing!

Now you folks may think that I judged Bette Davis rather unfairly earlier on, and I probably did, so I thought I could watch perhaps some of her best films just to see that she ain't so bad. But I can't force myself to like her. I've discovered over time that I don't have to go with the flow and that it should be okay if I don't like Bette Davis. Now I'm not complaining or anything but it seems that around here, you folks seem to have uniform interests: You all love the same actors like Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant (by the way, did any of you know that Cary Grant was Jewish?), etc, and the same films like The Thin Man, Dark Victory, Alfred Hitchcock films, etc. (And besides, we all know you can't have too much of a good thing! ) At this moment, I should stop before I get too preachy or self-serving, but all I'm saying is we should diversify our interests! To explain my point, just as an example, I have seen no one mention, or express interest in, King Kong (1933).
To make a long story short, I personally prefer Jimmy the Gent to this film but in any case, I would recommend this movie for James Cagney fans who love seeing him in comedies and who are also Bette Davis fans. Happy commenting!!!
(Next blog: A Night at the Opera [1935])

Clips from The Bride Came C.O.D.:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Video Related to St. Louis Kid

1936 Warner Brothers Bloopers Reel, which has nothing to do with this film but has a few clips from it:

P.S. I've found a very good that describes Cagney. It's "Country Boy" by Alan Jackson.

The St. Louis Kid (1934)

I just recently watched the 1934 James Cagney film The St. Louis Kid for the first time, and it was good. James Cagney was good as Eddie Kennedy, the pugnacious truck driver who always finds himself in jail and uses a new method of punching guys--using his head (literally)! In The St. Louis Kid (1934), his nineteenth picture, James Cagney plays a truck driver who gets embroiled in a "milk war" between a trucking company and striking dairymen - a topical subject of the time. The trucking company is determined to maintain its milk shipments even though the dairymen are on strike. When a dairy worker is murdered, Cagney is accused of the crime and must find the real killer to clear himself. He also must rescue his kidnapped girlfriend (Patricia Ellis) in this zippy little film which runs barely over an hour.

Production began on July 16, 1934. On July 19, Warner Bros. production chief Hal Wallis sent director Ray Enright a memo, which read in part: "Your first two days' dailies, generally, look very good. The action is good and your set-ups are OK but there is one major criticism and that is in Cagney's characterization... I know that, when he first read the script, he objected to playing another tough character and I can see that he is doing his best to soften him up and make him as much of a gentleman as possible...It is true that we don't want to play him as tough as he usually plays these things as there is naturally an objection to slugging dames and all of that stuff today but, at the same time, we don't want to lose Cagney's real characterization which is a semi-tough character... It is going to hurt the picture considerably unless you change immediately." In a follow-up memo, Wallis wrote: "I want you to call me...when you get this and let me know if you are directing the picture or if Cagney is directing it." A snide remark, to be sure, but it illustrates the power struggle that often went on as both the studio and the star battled over shaping the star's on-screen persona.

In this film, it is said that James Cagney's character is 24 years old; Cagney himself was already 35 years old (already entering middle-age) when he did this film. However, because of his baby face, he could easily have gotten away with playing someone 11 years younger than himself!! And Cagney the country gentleman is made obvious by his lines in which he speaks highly of the countryside and praises the farmers of America (I'm pretty sure he ad-libbed those lines)! Speaking of which, some critics complained that the picture would have been far more interesting if it had delved more deeply into the politics of the milk wars, but almost all admired the film's fast pace. Many also noted that the movie inverts a memorable feature of some of Cagney's previous films: "The St. Louis Kid shows James Cagney receiving a cuff on the jaw from his leading lady instead of giving her one," observed Time. "He can take it as well as dish it out," said The New York Times. "He permits himself to be slapped vigorously by Patricia Ellis, [and his] response is limited in violence to what the cinema literateurs picturesquely refer to as a dirty look."And Cagney seemed to use that dirty look rather mischievously and cutely!

Supporting player Allen Jenkins, a fixture in working-class Warner melodramas and comedies of the era, appeared with Cagney five times, usually as the comic sidekick. In the book Warner Brothers Presents, film historian Ted Sennett wrote vividly of Jenkins: "Cabbie, gangster, manager, sidekick, he had the battered but tenacious look of the urban animal who had been around - and intends to stay around." (And besides seeing him in Cagney pictures, I think I remember seeing Allen Jenkins in one episode of I Love Lucy as well. For those of you who are also big fans of I Love Lucy, you should know what I'm talking about.)

Co-star Patricia Ellis, a now-forgotten actress of low-budget 1930s Warner Bros. movies, was a last-minute replacement for Ann Dvorak, who had herself replaced Margaret Lindsay. Speaking of which, I enjoyed the fact that Cagney and the actress started out as backstabbing enemies (in one scene, she puts Tobasco sauce on his toast and I just love it when he goes outside and spits it out) but became rather disappointed when they became boyfriend and girlfriend.

The St. Louis Kid was supposedly Cagney's first "Code" film, while according to most sources, that honor belongs to Here Comes the Navy (fun fact: Cagney became one of the Top 10 box-office draws during the year 1934, next to Shirley Temple and Clark Gable). It was a project apropos of his recent election to Vice President of the Screen Actors Guild. Anyway, in the end, the Cagney couple get married and spend their honeymoon in jail after being busted by an innkeeper. This ending is an obvious example of the type of film Warner Brothers began producing after the Production Code was enforced.

The St. Louis Kid is a prime example of the studio's blend of compromised liberalism, cocky tough-guy action and situation comedy that emerged after mid-1934. Hollywood liked to place the blame for labor troubles in the 1930s when it could, so that it did not have to confront corporate American responsibility labor violence (I've notice that the same evasion marks Taxi!), but still, the picture was very occasionally funny plus lively.

And I almost forgot to add that Jimmy Cagney dances a little in this film at a local dance--and that's where his girl-enemy falls in love with him. (She is also attracted by his incendiary charm, which is what I'm also attracted by.) And I also almost forgot to add that I was both amused and surprised when Cagney escapes from his handlers after being accused by doing the personally unspeakable: Smoking a cigarette at a gas station in the scene.
Anyhow, before watching this film, I couldn't understand any of its plot or itself, and I doubt if I could understand it when I watched it. It was a Jim Cagney movie that I wasn't so crazy about seeing but then again, I really wanted to see it! As for the head blows, suitably enhanced by the sound department, they were very surprising and funny, and Cagney would repeat this bit later in a scrap with Bette Davis in The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941). I would recommend this movie for any James Cagney fan who loves seeing him in lively comedy-dramas.

(Next blog [for sure]: The Bride Came C.O.D. [1941])

Clips from The St. Louis Kid:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Videos Related to The Fighting 69th (1940)

1940 Warner Brothers Bloopers Reel, Part 2, which has nothing to do with but has a few clips from it (but they don't have James Cagney in them):

James Cagney on What's My Line (which has nothing to do with this film):

The Fighting 69th (1940)

I just recently watched the 1940 James Cagney movie The Fighting 69th, but not for the first time, and it was full of action! James Cagney was superb as Jerry Plunkett, the obnoxious, despicable braggart who soon turns into a coward as soon as he gets down in the trenches! It was very rewarding to see James Cagney in a movie with his two best friends, Pat O'Brien and Frank McHugh, again!
Warner Brothers' inspirational tale The Fighting 69th (1940) was an enormous hit with the public when it first premiered in pre-Pearl Harbor America. The studio rightfully assumed that American audiences, well aware of the escalating signs of war in Europe and the Pacific, would respond well to a patriotic action-adventure. And the box office take alone convinced Warner Bros. mogul Jack Warner to continue making gung-ho war films, culminating in a movie about the much-decorated World War I hero, Sergeant York (1941). Like the latter film, The Fighting 69th is based on the true-life story of a World War I hero - Father Duffy, who was played by Pat O'Brien. The real Father Duffy was the regimental chaplain of "the fighting 69th," a group of Irish national guardsmen who were incorporated into the Rainbow Division in 1917 after distinguishing themselves in combat.

Typical of Warner Brothers (and Hollywood), their film version of The Fighting 69th was highly fictionalized. Tom Wicker wrote in Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies that the movie was "stereotypically "Hollywood." (Eh, what are you gonna do?) He also commented that "predictably, the wise guy turns coward in battle; predictably, the wise priest tries to save his soul; predictably, the coward finds God and courage in the end. And when all else fails, as it usually does, the film throws in Frank McHugh for wisecracks and funny faces."

O'Brien's co-star in the picture was James Cagney, who often played the scoundrel in need of redemption from O'Brien's saints in Warner Bros. movies. Together the two actors co-starred in nine films together, including Ragtime (1981), the last film either one of them ever made. Close friends off camera, O'Brien later remarked of his frequent and easily more famous co-star, "Jimmy can steal a scene by lifting an eyebrow." Father Duffy was one of O'Brien's most famous portrayals, while Cagney's was patriotic showman George M. Cohan, whom he played in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). Ironically, statues of both of these famous men are still standing in the middle of New York City's Times Square.

Jimmy’s character in this film was very different from his usual characters. He usually made them lovable and cute (in my eyes) but he makes this character disagreeable (well, maybe not so much in my eyes). A scene in this film that I really loved for its use of juxtaposition is a scene where Jimmy Cagney is sitting by a sign that says "NO SMOKING!" But rather predictably, he is disobeying the sign by smoking!

Most of The Fighting 69th was filmed at Warner Brothers' Calabasas Ranch which doubled as Camp Mills, the regiment's training base, various French villages and numerous battlefields. No expense was spared in the pre-promotion of the film, which included a well-publicized meeting in New York City between O'Brien, Cagney, the real Father Duffy and surviving members of the regiment. For this event, more than five thousand fans showed up to greet the two stars when they arrived from Hollywood at Grand Central Station. The real Father Duffy also attended the New York City premiere and shook hands with nearly every actor who appeared in the film, all of whom were of Irish descent.
The Fighting 69th beat another rival studio's production of the same story to the theatres; Fox had planned to borrow Spencer Tracy from MGM for the starring role in Father Duffy of the Fighting 69th but dropped it once the O'Brien-Cagney picture went into production. When The Fighting 69th was released, the critics were mixed in their reviews. Some derided the movie's clich├ęs while others enjoyed its vitality and pace. Frank Nugent, the film critic at the New York Times (and later a close collaborator of director John Ford), wrote that the film "is better if you can manage to forget the plot, with all it obvious theatrics, hokum and unoriginality, and think of it instead as the human, amusing and frequently gripping record of a regiments' marching off to war." The public, though, loved every minute of it and helped make it one of the biggest moneymakers of the year. (And the public is obviously more important than the critics.)
James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, and George Brent (who I obviously underestimated by thinking he wasn't a very famous actor but he apparently is) are all billed above the title (that's because they're all better and more important than the f****** title [sorry, but I just had to say that]), and the impressive group of actors is featured in of Warners' most stunning visual "cast parades" before the action begins. William Keighley's depiction of the "Rainbow Division" opens at Camp Mills, New York, featuring fictionalized versions of real-life soldiers Father Duffy, "Wild Bill" Donovan (Brent), and Joyce Kilmer (Jeffrey Lynn), the poet best known for "Trees."
And since it's almost Christmas, I thought it'd be appropriate if I added that in one scene, during what seems to be Christmastime, the soldiers, except for Cagney, are in a church singing Christmas carols, and they sing "O Come All Ye Faithful" in Latin. Now I've studied some Latin but I've forgotten most of it, unfortunately. So I could only translate some of the lyrics they were singing. I didn't really watch the battle scenes because I thought they were too dramatic, especially the scene where Cagney gets wounded in a German bomb blast and later dies. I would recommend this film for any James Cagney fan who loves watching him in dramatic war films. Happy commenting!!
(Next blog: The Bride Came C.O.D [1941])
Clips from The Fighting 69th:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Boy Meets Girl (1938)

I just recently watched the 1938 James Cagney movie Boy Meets Girl for the first time, and it was kinda weird. James Cagney was crazy as Robert Law, a lazy screenwriter brought to Hollywood from Vermont and is partners with Carlisle Benson (Pat O'Brien). Pat O'Brien was also pretty crazy, but James Cagney was more flamboyant and therefore caught my attention. Since the two real-life best friends are both down-to-earth actors, it's hard imagining them playing such wild and eccentric guys. And the pregnant commissary waitress really does fit the dumb blonde stereotype. Another thing in this movie that caught my attention was that future US President Ronald Reagan (who was an actor in his pre-President days) played the announcer at the fictional movie premiere. The main thing I liked about this movie was how it went behind the scenes of movies, and being a film student, I like learning how films are made. Cagney also dances a little in this film but in a very cocky way.

Boy Meets Girl (1938) is a perfect example of why Warners' contract actors and directors were called The Warner Bros. Stock Company. The film marked James Cagney's eighth time working with director Lloyd Bacon (they would make nine movies total). It was also Pat O'Brien's eighth picture (out of ten) with Bacon. And for pals Cagney and O'Brien, Boy Meets Girl made for a fifth film collaboration the two would make nine movies together, including both stars' last feature Ragtime (1981). Also joining the group was Ralph Bellamy on his second film with both Cagney and Bacon. Because of their close working relationship, it's no wonder that Cagney, O'Brien and Bellamy became friends off-camera as well and eventually the three actors formed a social clique that also included Boy Meets Girl co-star Frank McHugh as well as Spencer Tracy and Frank Morgan; they met for dinner every Thursday and called themselves "The Boys Club."

As well as Ronald Reagan, several Warner newcomers are also showcased in Boy Meets Girl. Penny Singleton, who made a few films for Warners before moving to Columbia to star in the Blondie series, plays the manicurist (she was later the voice for Jane Jetson in the animated series, The Jetsons). And Carole Landis turns up as the commissary cashier. There's also Marie Wilson, who got her start in the Laurel and Hardy vehicle Babes in Toyland (1934), as Susie.

The role of Susie was originally intended for Marion Davies. There are several accounts as to why Davies, the longtime mistress of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, did not appear in the film. Some say Hearst objected to Davies playing Susie a pregnant (and husbandless) waitress. Others cite the timing of Hearst pulling his financially strapped Cosmopolitan Pictures off the Warners lot. While other accounts claim Davies was displeased with casting changes (the comedy team of Olsen & Johnson were originally to have played the screenwriting team portrayed by the less comedic Cagney and O'Brien) and by the size of her role. The part of Susie was reduced even further after Davies was replaced by Marie Wilson. Regardless of the reason, Davies never made another film. Ever Since Eve (1937) would stand as her Hollywood swansong.

Boy Meets Girl was based on the hit Broadway play by Sam and Bella Spewack. The characters played by Cagney and O'Brien on film were supposedly based on real life screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. And it's been suggested Bellamy's part as Studio Supervisor was based on Fox's Darryl Zanuck. Sam and Bella Spewack would go on to great success penning the screenplay for My Favorite Wife (1940) and the book for the musical Kiss Me Kate (for which they would also win the Tony Award), but the film version of Boy Meets Girl failed to live up to its stage popularity.

Cagney for one thought the film's pacing was too fast (and so did I). After screening rushes one day, he reportedly said to Bellamy, "would you tell me what I just said? I couldn't understand a word." (He was speaking what I thought while watching this movie.) It was evidently a moment in his career that Cagney never forgot. Cagney also brought up Boy Meets Girl twenty-three years later when tackling another comedy, One, Two, Three (1961). This time, director Billy Wilder put Cagney's fears to rest, assuring him the pacing wouldn't be too fast at the expense of dialogue. Funnily enough, Cagney apparently never saw Boy Meets Girl until years later on TV and he found it much better than he remembered.

Boy Meets Girl made good use of Warners sound stages, back lots and front offices, so it's an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the studio. Also, for an inside joke, check out the marquee behind Ronald Reagan at the film premiere. The film's title is The White Rajah. This was the name of a script penned by Errol Flynn years earlier which was deemed too weak to film. Lloyd Bacon came across the script while looking for a title for Boy Meets Girl's fictional film premiere. Flynn was reportedly not amused.

The first three-quarters of the film was like a painfully unfunny Simpsons episode, but the last quarter of the film got very exciting, like a very good ABC drama show, when the comedy and slapstick shenanigans calmed down. Indeed, the problem with Boy Meets Girl is the out-of-control, rapid-fire dialogue, much of which is untelligible (we all know that Cagney talked fast but this was just ridiculous). And some of the lines that are discernible are delivered in such an obnoxious manner (by both Cagney and O'Brien) that they are painful to the ear (I'll say)! The film is approximately one-quarter charm and three-quarters torture (no wonder I was so reluctant to watch it). Most of it resembles a Poverty Row production, rather than an A film released by a major studio (and it seemed pretty low for Warner Brothers plus it was more like a Marx Brothers film).

Following this embarrassing effort, Cagney and O'Brien would collaborate on their greatest Warner Bros. film as a team, Angels with Dirty Faces (which I'm pretty much sick of by now, no offense). This farce was something new for Cagney. According to the book "James Cagney: A Celebration" by Richard Schickel:

For Cagney, Boy Meets Girl represents a complete novelty. He had never before
played in a pure farce, but in this form he was as expert as he ever was on the
screen. The speech and precision of his speech pattern, the inventive no-waste
choreography of his movements are superbly calculated. And he makes a masterful
lead dancer for O'Brien, setting the tone and place for their intricate and
dizzying verbal exchanges--and their pratfalls--with his pal following with
perfect professionalism and adding a few neat improvisations of his own. But it
is the suggestion of cold reasonableness that Cagney brings to his performance
that is a revelation. In is way Robert Law--wonderfully ironic name--is as much
an anarchist as Tom Powers ever was. Perhaps so, since as a literate man he
would be familiar with that word, understan its meaning and its application to
his behavior. He may be, then, even less moral that the instinct-driven
gangster. Cagney conveys that self-conciousness, that air of the put-on--which
is not entirely dissimilar to what Groucho Marx used to imply in his
work--without ever choking off any of his laughs. [I love how he smiles, in a
happy, mischievous sort of way.]

I would & wouldn't recommend this farce for any James Cagney fan, but if any Cagney fan would love to see their idol in all of his movies, then this is the film for them. After all, it is a far cry from his normal roles, which is what I like about it. Personally, this was one of Cagney's 1930s films that I wasn't so crazy about seeing, but since I'm so interested in seeing all of his '30s movies (and seeing the cute, baby face he had during this period), I saw this movie anyway, just like I intend to see The Frisco Kid, Winner Take All, etc. (And keep your shirts on: I will see White Heat.) Happy Commenting!!!

(Next blog [for sure]: The Fighting 69th [1940])

Clips from Boy Meets Girl:


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