Unashamed (1932)

US / 76 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Harry Beaumont Scr: Bayard Veiller Cine: Norbert Brodine Cast: Helen Twelvetrees, Robert Young, Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt, John Miljan, Monroe Owsley, Robert Warwick, Gertrude Michael, Wilfrid North, Tommy Jackson, Louise Beaver (i.e., Louise Beavers).

Unashamed - 0 Unashamed - 1 Naughty nightclub life

Naughty nightclub life.

This was the first of two movies released in 1932 to be based on a celebrated Philadelphia murder case, in which Eddie Allen killed Francis “Skinny” Donaldson, the lover of Eddie’s younger (in fact, underage) sister Rose. The other was Two Against the World (1932) dir Archie Mayo, with Constance Bennett, Neil Hamilton, Helen Vinson, Allen Vincent and Gavin Gordon, which I haven’t seen but obviously should. Although the Eddie Allen/Skinny Donaldson case was widely described as an honor killing, justified under the so-called “unwritten law,” there seems from my limited reading about it to have been a good deal more involved—it was a sort of premeditated self-defense killing. In Unashamed it’s reworked as something akin to a crime passionnel.

Unashamed - 4 Joan dreams of romance as she dances with Harry

Joan (Helen Twelvetrees) dreams of romance as she dances with Harry.

Rich man’s daughter Joan Ogden (Twelvetrees) has contracted an unsuitable relationship with wide boy Harry Swift (Owsley), whose main talents are gambling, playing polo and spending money he doesn’t have. Although Continue reading

Search for Beauty (1934)

US / 79 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Erle C. Kenton Pr: E. Lloyd Sheldon Scr: Frank Butler, Claude Binyon, Sam Hellman Story: David Boehm, Maurine Watkins, based on a possibly unproduced play by Schuyler E. Grey and Paul R. Milton Cine: Harry Fischbeck Cast: Larry “Buster” Crabbe, Ida Lupino, Robert Armstrong, James Gleason, Toby Wing, Gertrude Michael, Bradley Page, Frank McGlynn Sr, Nora Cecil, Virginia Hammond, Eddie Gribbon, “Pop” Kenton, Colin Tapley, Donald Gray, Ann Sheridan.

Search for Beauty 0 opener

Search for Beauty 0a other opener

Fresh out of jail, Jean Strange (Michael) is not interested in hearing any more about the “great ideas” of fellow con artist Larry Williams (Armstrong): after all, it was one of his “great ideas” that got her into the jail in the first place. But he’s persistent:

Larry: “Won’t you please listen to me? This is so honest it’s disgusting. What’s the most sought-after thing in the country today?”
Jean: “A medium-price giraffe.”

As they travel by train to the big city, sharing a sleeping compartment (although not a berth), he keeps up the pressure despite her skepticism. This time his “great idea” can’t—just can’t—get them into trouble with the cops:

Larry: “That’s where we start—Los Angeles, at the Olympic Games. . . . All the countries of the world send their best physical specimens, and we step in and take our pick.”
Jean: “Pick of what? No pockets in running suits, are there?”

Search for Beauty 1 Trainbound Larry talks Jean into idea

Entrained, Larry (Robert Armstrong) talks Jean (Gertrude Michael) into taking part in his latest scam.

The idea is to buy the defunct fitness magazine Health and Exercise, persuade a couple of world-famous athletes to act as its editors, and then relaunch it filled with pictures of Continue reading

Notorious Sophie Lang, The (1934)

US / 63 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Ralph Murphy Pr: Bayard Veiller Scr: Anthony Veiller Story: The Notorious Sophie Lang (coll 1925) by Frederick Irving Anderson Cine: Alfred Gilks Cast: Gertrude Michael, Paul Cavanagh, Arthur Byron, Alison Skipworth, Leon Errol, Ben Taggart, Ferdinand Gottschalk, Jack Mulhall, Lucio Villegas, Norman Ainsley.

The first in a trio of lighthearted comedy thrillers of the kind that, in series like Boston Blackie, would be popular from the 1930s all through the noir era. In the other two Sophie Lang movies—The Return of Sophie Lang (1936) dir George Archainbaud, with Michael repeating her role and Sir Guy Standing taking over from Cavanagh, and Sophie Lang Goes West (1937) dir Charles Reisner, with Michael again and a cast including Larry “Buster” Crabbe—the heroine would be a reformed crook solving crimes, a common Hollywood transition for characters of this sort; but here she is, in her own words, “Lady Raffles herself—no rivals.”

Notorious jewel thief Sophie Lang (Michael) has been away from NYC for a few years, but now she’s back—and stealing gems all over the place. Her arch rival, Inspector Stone (Byron), has the idea of using Maximilian “Max” Bernard (Cavanagh), a famed English jewel thief visiting the US under the guise of Sir Nigel Crane, as a means of getting on her trail.

Although Max doesn’t know he’s being manipulated, Sophie has bugged Stone’s apartment from the one upstairs, and is soon onto his scheme: “Stone’s been reading Edgar Wallace—set a thief to catch a thief.” She and her hard-drinking sidekick Aunt Nellie (Skipworth)—”I haven’t had a drop of breakfast yet”—persuade Sir Nigel/Max that they’re rich socialites; matters are complicated by Sophie (as “Alyssa Morgan”) and Max falling head-over-heels on first sight.

The two rivals—with Max still not knowing Sophie’s identity—go after the fabled Fortescue Pearls, currently being held at the Telfen jewelry store. Stone, one step ahead, has replaced the Fortescue Pearls with fakes, but this doesn’t faze Sophie, who (as “Countess Dineski”) steals the equally valuable Vestigliano Necklace instead. Fitness-fanatic Detective Stubbs (Errol) is set on the trail of both thief and loot, and offers some comedy.

The movie’s unlike the later series in several respects. First, the humor is (and this may be hard to credit) really quite funny; this is genuinely a comedy thriller rather than, as with most of its kind, a lightweight thriller, short on the thrills, with bolted-on “comic relief” scenes. Second, very atypically for this sort of movie, Stone is no bumbling idiot but an intelligent, resourceful detective; and, although Stubbs may clown around in appropriate secondary-cop fashion—there’s an excellent scene in which, acting undercover as a French waiter, he faces two voluble French customers attempting to place a complex order with him in their native tongue—he actually gets the last laugh on the thieves.

Author Anderson, upon whose tales of Sophie Lang the movie is loosely based, seems to have had a penchant for Raffles-like characters. His other series of note concerned a male equivalent, Godahl; these stories were collected as The Adventures of the Infallible Godahl (1914).

Reportedly the part of Sophie was offered to Carole Lombard, who turned it down. In the event, Michael plays the role as if born to it; the New York Times said of her performance that “Gertrude Michael, a smart and highly personable young woman, becomes a star, which is not as meaningless a term in the studios as you might imagine. Her subtly mocking burlesque of the alluring female Raffles, more than any other single fact about The Notorious Sophie Lang, helps the film preserve its humorous mood.” This was one of no fewer than 12 movies she made in 1934.

On Amazon.com: The Notorious Sophie Lang (Anderson’s book)