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Saturday, April 1, 2023

GIRL MISSING (1933) with Glenda Farrell



Ex-chorus girls, Kay Curtis (Glenda Farrell) and June Dale (Mary Brian), are gold digging their way through a Palm Beach holiday when their frustrated sugar daddy (Guy Kibbee) walks out on them leaving them stuck with a big hotel bill. Seeing that their former chorine colleague Daisy Bradford (red-headed firecracker, Peggy Shannon) is about to marry a rich playboy, Henry Gibson (bland Ben Lyon), they put the touch on her, only to be rebuffed when she doesn’t want to give away her true background.

When Daisy goes missing on her wedding night and mafia bookie, Jim Hendricks (Harold Huber), turns up dead outside her window, Kay smells a rat (“There's something haywire about this. Looks like a fake to me!”). Kay then hatches a plan to figure out the mystery of Daisy’s disappearance and snag the $25,000 reward offered by Henry.

There several possible scenarios. Has Daisy really disappeared or, now that she’s slept her way into a rich lifestyle, is she up to something more sinister? What’s up with Daisy’s gigolo ex-boyfriend, Raymond Fox (Lyle Talbot), who’s suspiciously drinking highballs in the background and is very anxious to settle Kay’s hotel tab and pack her off out of town? Or, could it be that since Henry only received his inheritance upon getting married that Daisy is now just a liability to be disposed of?

For such a short film (69 min.), not a lot happens in the first half of Girl Missing, with Daisy not even disappearing until the halfway point. We get to know the characters and their dynamics, and any time spent with the quick-tongued Farrell is time well spent, but the film would have benefited from engaging with the actual plot from the start. But, Girl Missing is more pasta salad than gourmet meal. It’s not so much about solving the mystery, but rather enjoying an uncomplicated and pleasant story when your brain needs a rest. The question foremost in my mind while watching this film was how two down on their luck chorines could afford all those gorgeous Orry-Kelly dresses that they wear in every scene?

The film can be faulted for rushing supporting actor, Guy Kibbee, off the screen too fast. Not only is he fun to watch, but he’s instrumental in establishing our heroines as gold diggers trying to string along rich saps without giving anything in return (“I spent a lot of money on you. What do I get? Nothing but promises”). Mary is the shy, pretty bait while Glenda is her expert handler (“Don't bother Mother when she's making business”) who always steps in when things get too steamy. Kibbee specialized in playing characters whose stallion-sized libido didn’t realize that it was stuck in the body of a fat, red-faced, old man. Once he walks out on the girls leaving them with a $700 hotel tab that they can’t pay, the plot of the film starts rolling, but it’s also loses a red herring in a film that’s already too short on them.
Girl Missing was Glenda Farrell's first top-billed role, coming after she had made her mark in supporting roles in Little Caesar (1931) and I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932). Farrell showed a natural comedic ability at playing fast-talking, no-nonsense women who would get to the bottom of a mystery faster than anyone else – especially her male counterparts who were always two steps behind her.

Farrell stole the show in The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) with this persona that Warner Bros formalized in her later run as the investigative reporter, Torchy Blane, in seven films between 1937 and 1939. The Torchy’s are all terrific fun thanks to Farrell, but also notably sexless, especially in comparison to the Pre-Code Girl Missing that doesn’t sugar coat the naughtiness happening off screen (“Burn my clothes, here I come!”). Another sign that Girl Missing is a pre-code film is that Kay ends up with the reward money AND gets to walk off to enjoy it without having to get married or sacrifice her power to any man.

The 1930’s hosted a full slate of ‘gold diggers trying to score a sugar daddy’ films that were all kicked off by the massive success of Warner Bros The Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929), followed by Gold Diggers of 1933, 1935, 1937, and finally ‘in Paris’ (1938). Teamed here with Mary Brian though, the Farrell-Brian duo lacks the chemistry that Farrell would soon have with Joan Blondell in their string of successful gold digger-buddy films like Havana Widows (1933), Kansas City Princess (1934) and Miss Pacific Fleet (1935). Brian is fine, but her subservient role to Farrell makes her almost unnoticeable except for the necessity of giving Farrell someone to talk to as she explains what’s going on in her mind. Mary was dubbed "the sweetest girl in pictures", starting her career in silents as Wendy in Peter Pan (1924) and may be best remembered as Pat O’Brien’s jilted fiancé in The Front Page (1931).

In most films of this sort, the heroine (our Kay) would have her own male sparring partner. Here that role is taken by Edward Ellis’ police inspector who gives Kay enough rope to either hang herself or solve the mystery (no spoiler - it’s the latter). Comedic murder mystery fans will recognize Ellis as the ill-fated ‘thin man’ in The Thin Man (1934). And, keep an eye open for the befuddled garage operator played by Walter Brennan who also performed uncredited roles in 24 other movies in 1933.

I have a soft spot for “That Red Headed Girl”, the doomed-to-die-too-young Peggy Shannon. She’s now faded into the oblivion that holds thousands of other early actors, but if I survive the coming apocalypse, I hope that I end up with someone as tough as Peggy's end of the world survivor, Claire Arlington, in Deluge (1933).

Girl Missing is efficiently directed by Robert Florey who is best remembered as the man who didn’t direct Frankenstein (1931) with Bela Lugosi as the Monster. Florey had a promising early career working with King Vidor and Josef von Sternberg, and notably co-directed the first Marx Bros film, The Cocoanuts (1929). But, Murders in The Rue Morgue (1932; starring Lugosi), his consolation prize from Carle Laemmle for losing Frankenstein, was a flop, and the remainder of Florey's career saw him studio hopping to work mostly on B-pictures and later in television.

Is Girl Missing Worth My Time? Yes. Whether you’re a fan of light, comedic murder mysteries or just love the acerbic motor mouth of Glenda Farrell that cuts everyone off at the knees, this is the movie for you. The film was scripted by Carl Erickson and Don Mullaly, who also wrote Mystery in the Wax Museum (1933) that introduced us to Farrell’s soon to be classic mystery-solving powerhouse. I think that Torchy and her precursors, like this film's Kay Curtis, would have given Sherlock Holmes a run for his money. 

A special nod to credited dialogue writer, Ben Markson, for filling the film with memorable lines (“S as in sardines. P as in peanuts. I as in indigestion. E as in elephant. G as in gosh. A as in adenoids. L as in lumbago. H as in hotcha. Another E. Oh, yes, that makes two elephants...).

Availability: It was available as a Warners On Demand DVD paired with Illicit (1931). It turns up on TCM and intermittently on the interweb.

Credits: Producer, Jack Warner. Director, Robert Florey. Script, Carl Erickson & Don Mullaly. Starring Glenda Farrell, Mary Brian, Ben Lyon, Lyle Talbot, Peggy Shannon, Edward Ellis, and Guy Kibbee. Cinematographer, Arthur L. Todd. Music, Bernhard Kaun. Produced by The Vitaphone Corporation & distributed by Warner Bros. 69 min.

Saturday, March 4, 2023



The always likable Paulette Goddard stars with Ray Milland in the rom-com THE CRYSTAL BALL (1943). It’s a Paramount film distributed by United Artists due to Paramount having too much product to get on the screen during WWII.

Goddard plays Toni Gerard, a beautiful, sharp-shooting Texan redhead who is stranded in New York due to losing out to a blonde in a fixed beauty contest. For the sake of the plot, Toni decides to spend her last 38 cents on fortune teller, Madame Zenobia (Gladys George), a likeable low-rent grifter. Zenobia takes pity on Toni, letting her a room in the back of her shop and then sets her up working next door with shooting gallery owner, Pop Tibbots (Cecil Kellaway), who acts as her father confessor and guardian angel.

When Toni is forced to masquerade as the veiled Madame Zenobia, she gets mixed up in a plot (largely irrelevant to the film) to get the haughty rich widower, Jo Ainsely (Virginia Field), to buy into a crooked land deal. This gets Toni involved with Ainsely’s handsome estate counselor, Brad Cavanaugh (Milland). After this, the rest of the movie is a series of amusingly farcical scenes where Toni juggles trying to win Brad away from Jo without revealing that she is now also Madame Zenobia. No one will be surprized in how the story ends – happily for everyone, except Jo.

The script by the soon to be Executive Producer of Columbia Pictures, Virginia Van Upp (Cover Girl, 1944), from a story by Steven Vas, is bit too complicated for its own good, but it maintains a solid pace for its 81 minutes. I enjoyed two of the running gags that almost become their own subplots. This first involves Toni getting a hapless waiter (you’ll recognize the face of Sig Arno) fired from every job that she continuously runs into him (literally) at, all of which he accepts with the frustrated good grace of someone who can’t afford to explode with indignation. The second sees Toni, Brad, and Brad’s right hand man (the always wonderful William Bendix) mistakenly visiting the apartment of the squabbling Mr. & Mrs. Martin (Ernest Truex – Bensinger in His Girl Friday, 1940 & Iris Adrian – Lola in My Favorite Spy, 1951), and getting tossed out on their ears by one of the pair who mistakes each visitor as the indiscreet lover of the other. The scene is made funnier by the quips of snoopy onlooker (Mabel Paige).

Ray Milland, Virginia Field, Paulette Goddard & Cecil Kellaway

The story shares many similarities with Ann Southern’s Maise series that ran for 10 installments from 1939 to 1947. Like Toni, Maisie is a southerner who starts every film broke and out of work, but soon falls in love with someone who she has to separate from an annoying girlfriend/fiancée. Toni’s wardrobe and sharpshooter background also foreshadows Peggy Cummins’ doomed gangster, Annie Laurie Starr, in Gun Crazy (1950).

The ex-Mrs. Charlie Chaplin, Goddard might not have been an actress with a large range, but she more than made up for it by the sincerity she brought to every role. I can’t think of another actress from the 1940’s who had a more likable onscreen persona than Goddard. She was nominated for one Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actress in So Proudly We Hail! (1943)

Millard was the polar opposite talent-wise of Goddard, with the ability to easily move from gut-wrenching drama to light comedy. He’s quite enjoyable here and he and Goddard make fine sparring partners. Milland and Goddard costarred in three other films together, The Lady Had Plans (1942), Reap The Wind (1942) and Kitty (1945). Watch for Milland's comically small 2-cylinder Crosley convertible that, as he mentions, would have been a good, gas-efficient vehicle during the war. Paulette Goddard owned one in real life.

Any cracks in the script are ably patched over by the dozens of great uncredited actors who fill out almost every scene. Top billed costars Gladys George, Virginia Field, Cecil Kellaway and WilliamBendix deserve full Atomic Surgeon reports of their own. But keep an eye open for a young Yvonne De Carlo (future Lily Munster) as Milland’s sassy secretary; Hillary Brooke (little Jimmy’s mom in Invaders From Mars, 1953) as Jo's catty friend; and Nestor Paiva (Capt. Lucas in Creature from the Black Lagoon) as the restaurant owner caught in the middle of Toni's scheme (an imaginary mouse in a teapot) to meet Brad. I'd have watched a film about any one of these characters. If there was any justice in the world, Paramount would have given Milland and De Carlo's characters their own film series.

The Crystal Ball was directed by Elliott Nugent, who had previously directed Goddard opposite Bob Hope in The Cat and The Canary (1939) and Nothing But The Truth (1941). Nugent started out as an actor costarring with Marion Davies in Not So Dumb (1930) and Lon Chaney in The Unholy Three (1930) before switching careers into directing. He specialized in light comedies, notably directing Bob Hope and Harold Lloyd. It’s worth watching his She Loves Me Not (1934) starring Miriam Hopkins and Bing Crosby that helped establish Bing as a top Hollywood screen personality.

The director of photography was twice Oscar nominated Leo Tover. He was one of the top cinematographers in the 40’s and 50’s working mostly for Paramount and 20th Century Fox. He made the intergalactic robotic enforcer, Gort, look menacing in The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), and made us all want to Journey To The Center of The Earth’s (1959) glorious CinemaScope lost world.

Is THE CRYSTAL BALL worth my time? An unqualified yes. While not quite an A picture, it delivers on the laughs with a fun, watchable cast. Goddard is as adorable as ever (just look at that picture above!), and everyone in it shines.

Availability: As a MOD (manufactured on demand) DVD from ClassicFlix’s Silver Screen series. Check for availability, but very good copies of The Crystal Ball are currently watchable on many online platforms..

Friday, February 10, 2023

Joan Blondell in GOOD GIRLS GO TO PARIS (1939)


GOOD GIRLS GO TO PARIS (1939) is a Columbia Pictures romantic comedy directed by Alexander Hall and starring Joan Blondell, Melvyn Douglas and Walter Connolly.

Jenny Swanson (Blondell) plays a good-hearted waitress who thinks that she is not above a little harmless gold digging blackmail to fulfill her dream of going to Paris. All that changes when she meets the Aesop-quoting, English exchange professor, Prof. Ronald (‘Ronnie’) Brooke, (Douglas) who sets her conscious – and heart – aflutter.

Jenny is working at the diner near the local college as she tries to snag herself a rich student, extract a promise of marriage from him, and then collect a big payoff from his father when he objects to the marriage. When Jenny strikes up a friendship with Douglas’s professor and tells him of her plan, he advises her that "good girls go to Paris, too" and that she should go straight back home to Minnesota. When her blackmail plan seemingly blows up in her face, she heads for the train station, but in a last minute decision buys a ticket for New York City.

On the train she hooks up with the Tom Brand (Alan Curtis), brother of Brooke’s previously unmentioned fiancée, Sylvia (Joan Perry), and soon ends up as the inadvertent house guest of the wealthy Brand family.

All of the family have their secrets. Brooke’s fiancée, Sylvia, is really in love with medical student Dennis Jeffers (Henry Hunter), the son of the Brand’s butler. Mother Caroline (Isabel Jeans) has a not-so-secret paramour, Paul Kingston (Alexander D’Arcy), and Tom has a $5000 gambling debt hanging over his head. All of their problems stem from their inability to stand up to their overwrought, overbearing and continuously apoplectic patriarch, Olaf (Connolly).

Can our little Jenny untangle everyone’s problems and ensure that everyone – including her and the professor – all end up with the right partners?

The ending might not be a surprize, but the path that Jenny takes to get there, constantly guided by her inner ‘flutter’, is a continuously unfolding delight. Jenny’s every interaction adds a new complication that she has to solve by hook or by crook – happily using the latter when she gets cornered into doing a little well-meaning blackmail to save Tom’s hide from the gangster he owes money to.

By the end of the film every male has proposed marriage to Jenny at least once - all except, of course, for Prof. Brooke! 

If you wanted to call this a screwball rom-com, I would not argue with you. The cascading series of comedic crises that drag Blondell’s character into the Brand family’s orbit, and the sparks they generate, are the hallmarks of a good screwball. But every really good screwball comedy needs a solid cast of memorable (and often eccentric) supporting characters. Blondell, Douglas and Connolly all have terrific screen presence and know how to get the most out of an almost A-quality script, but the rest of the cast are so bland as to be interchangeable. While writing this review I had to consult the IMDB a dozen times to keep these characters straight. Is Isabel Jeans playing Olaf’s wife or another daughter? I had to rewind the film to confirm that she’s his wife.

Good Girls Go To Paris is the second of three films that Blondell and Douglas made together within two years, the others being There’s Always a Woman (1938) and The Amazing Mr. Williams (1939). They would not appear together again for almost thirty years until MGM’s Advance to the Rear (1964). The two actors were probably initially brought together to try to capture the Nick and Nora box office magic that William Powell and Myrna Loy had generated in The Thin Man series.

Blondell and Douglas make a great comedic team & this film is by far the best of their three 1938-39 films. Blondell exudes her natural effervescence and quick tongue without any of the underlying tinge of bitterness found in many of her best roles. Her Jenny may not have gotten any breaks, but she’s not yet cynical. She is warm and loving, and any potential larceny in her heart is totally without malice.

The director and the script give Douglas a break from his frequent aggressive misogyny that he was forced to portray in many of his comedic roles (see my previous review of Two-Faced Woman (1941) where he plays opposite Greta Garbo) and that mars both of the other two Douglas-Blondell pairings. Here his Ronnie is sympathetically good natured, but too restrained to acknowledge the deep connection that he and Jenny quickly make. We’ll soon learn that he’s engaged to be married to the rich debutante, Sylvia Brand, which will be the spark that ignites the oncoming farce. And, even though Douglas is supposed to be playing an Englishman, he never attempts an accent, which I found funny in itself.

As in any well-constructed story, when things seem to be happening too fast to follow, the film slows down to allow us some introspective one-on-one moments between the characters. Jenny and the constantly agitated Olaf bond over their shared love for their simple Minnesota upbringings. Jenny works her way into Olaf’s heart by being the only one in the house not afraid to speak her mind to him. Their scene together playing cards while Olaf is in his sick bed reminded me of the gentle interaction between Deanna Durbin and Charles Laughton in It Started With Eve (1941), where Deanna's warm charm soon lifts Laughton from his proclaimed death bed. 

Jenny and Ronnie also get a few, but not enough, scenes where they debate Jenny's plans to get to Paris. Their unacknowledged love grows as they gently spar back and forth. If Ronnie will just say the word, she’ll give up her plans to go to Paris, at least by herself;

Ronnie:  Jenny, have you lost your flutter?
Jenny:  Oh, no. I'm fluttering something awful right now.

Ronnie, just kiss the girl already!  

The chemistry between the two leads is unforced and enjoyable to bath in. Although Jenny is supposed to be younger than Blondell’s real age at the time the film was made (she was 32, Douglas was 38), there does not seem to be the usual awkward age gap between the female and males leads that was so common in films of the era, where men in their 40’s are always engaged to 17 year old girls. Such was the time.

As usual, I enjoy digging into the background of the supporting characters.

Next to Blondell and Douglas, Walter Connolly (playing Olaf Brand) is the biggest presence in the film, both physically and vocally – this big man is always shouting. You’ll recognize him as the father of Claudette Colbert’s character in It Happened One Night (1934) and as Frederic March’s hot-headed editor in the classic screwball, Nothing Sacred (1937). Connolly’s specialty was playing sweating, yelling, always outraged men who could not get the people around him to do what he wanted. Although a memorable character (your enjoyment of his screen persona may vary), his main career in Hollywood was short (1932 to 1940) after which he died at age 53.

Alan Curtis (playing Tom Brand) was a handsome actor who often got close to leading and supporting roles from the late ‘30’s until his death (following surgery) in 1953. Some of his more notable parts were as Babe Kozak, the hot-headed and inexperienced robber opposite Bogart and Ida Lupino in High Sierra (1941) and the engineer whose loyal secretary (Ella Raines) needs to find The Phantom Lady (1944) to save him from execution.

Dorothy Comingore plays an uncredited tearoom hostess. Can you pick her out in the lineup of cute waitresses that introduces us to Blondell’s character? In two years time she would be acclaimed for playing the feather-brained second wife of Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles Citizen Kane (1941). But her star quickly fell as she felt the wrath of William Randolph Hearst who hated his inferred portrayal in the film and Comingore’s character who was modeled after his mistress, Marion Davies. Hearst used his power to destroy Dorothy’s career. Her fate was sealed when she was blacklisted for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. She spent time in an asylum, became an alcoholic and died at age 58. [I think that's her third from the right standing next to Blondell]

Although Isabel Jeans (playing Caroline Brand) did not make much of an impression for me in this film, she soon had a much better role playing  Mrs. Newsham in Alfred Hitchcock’s’ Suspicion (1941). Sauvé Alexander D'Arcy (playing Paul Kingston), went on to star in the underground cult classic, Horrors of Spider Island (1960). 

And finally, a tip of the hat to hard working actor Sam McDaniel as the confused train porter trying to figure out where to put Jenny up for the night. You’ve seen him in at least one of his over 200 roles, almost all uncredited and almost all playing porters, janitors or servants.

Good Girls Go To Paris is from a story by Oscar nominated Lenore J. Coffee (Four Daughters, 1938) and William J. Cowe (Kongo, 1932 [Director]), with a screenplay by Oscar nominated Gladys Leham (Two Girls and a Sailor, 1944) and Ken Englund (No, No, Nanette, 1940). The script is well-written and generates a lot of fun scenes for Blondell to show off her innate comedic chops. Straight man Douglas manages to get in a few zingers as well, but his character is more reactive than proactive in driving the storyline.

The direction by Alexander Hall (Here Comes Mr. Jordan, 1941) is fast-paced and keeps the 75 minute story in constant motion. One does tend to lose track of the convoluted complications that come up between Jenny and almost everyone in the Brand household, but – as in the best films of this sort – we’re having too much fun to be concerned with trying to keep the plot straight. Has anyone ever figured out who killed Sean Regan in The Big Sleep (1946)?

Is GOOD GIRLS GO TO PARIS worth my time? A definite yes. If you like 1930’s romantic comedy’s this is a probably a little gem that you’ve overlooked. A nod as well to cinematographer Henry Freulich for his assured hand on the camera and his unfussy, but well-chosen, set ups that never distract us from story. He specialized in light fare and B comedies, being Director of Photography on many of the Blondie films from the 30’s to the 50’s. The only complaint I might have is that the film is TOO short at 75 minutes. I would have enjoyed being with Blondell’s Jenny for another half hour.

Availability: As far as I can determine, the film has never had an official DVD release, which is a shame. It is available as a print-on-demand DVD from the usual grey market sources, and watchable copies are currently up on the interweb. Keep your eyes open for it to turn up on TCM.