Sunday, August 18, 2013

Devil-May-Care (1929)

Although Ramon Novarro first sang on film in The Pagan (1929), Devil-May-Care, made the same year, is his first all-talking picture. He passes this crucial test with ease (many other Hollywood stars were not so lucky). His accent may be out of place in a Napoleonic-era film (the same was true of his co-stars, especially blues and jazz singer Marion Harris), but his voice and singing are splendid.

Devil-May-Care is very much in the swashbuckler mode and, in fact, is somewhat similar to MGM's earlier Bardelys the Magnificent (1926). Novarro plays a Napoleon loyalist who, while escaping from Royalist forces attempting to execute him, falls for a stubborn Royalist daughter, Dorothy Jordan. Compared to other early sound films, Sidney Franklin's direction is remarkably smooth and accomplished. It doesn't seem as stagebound as most other 1929 films and only suffers from a few of the odd editing choices one sees in MGM films of this period. It even features a completely superfluous Technicolor ballet sequence.

That the film is so technically accomplished is made more remarkable when you take into account this was one of the first Hollywood musicals (the songs by Herbert Stothart and Clifford Grey range from okay to annoying). It's a missed opportunity that Marion Harris didn't sing in the film.

Ramon Novarro is fine in the film, ensuring more years of work at MGM. His mischevious pursuit (some might call it stalking) of Dorothy Jordan can seem a little creepy, though, perhaps depending on what mood you're in when you watch it. John Miljan's also in this film. But, you knew that.

Devil-May-Care has been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Pack Up Your Troubles (1932)

Second-rate Laurel and Hardy material is so good it would be nearly any other comedian's first-rate material and Pack Up Your Troubles is a good example. It takes an exceedingly unfunny subject (WWI), adds in a little-girl-lost plot, meanders about as Laurel and Hardy movies often do and is still timelessly enjoyable.

Comedians have frequently used the lost or orphaned kid plot; it usually generates audience sympathy and gives the comedians someone to play off of. Chaplin created the template with The Kid. Some of the many later examples include Pack Up Your Troubles, Harry Langdon's Three's A Crowd (1927), Max Davidson's The Rag Man (1925) and even Jerry Lewis' The Family Jewels (1965).

The girl in Pack Up Your Troubles, who loses her father in a French trench, is played by Jackie Lyn Dufton. She's perfect for the role and has some charming scenes with Stan Laurel. This Hal Roach production is filled with great character actors who our duo meet as they attempt to reunite the orphaned girl with her real family, including James Finlayson, Tom Kennedy and Billy Gilbert.

Pack Up Your Troubles is short (68 minutes), but sweet.

Pack Up Your Troubles has been released on DVD as a part of Laurel and Hardy: The Essential Collection.