I’d Give My Life (1936)

vt The Noose
US / 80 minutes / bw / Astor, Paramount Dir: Edwin L. Marin Pr: Richard A. Rowland Scr: George O’Neil, Ben Ryan Story: The Noose (1926 play) by H.H. Van Loan and Willard Mack Cine: Ira Morgan Cast: Sir Guy Standing, Frances Drake, Tom Brown, Janet Beecher, Robert Gleckler, Helen Lowell, Paul Hurst, Charles C. Wilson, Charles Richman, Tom Jackson, Charles Judels, Robert Elliott.

I'd Give My Life - 0 opener

This movie is a remake of the silent The Noose (1928) dir John Francis Dillon, with Richard Barthelmess (who received an Oscar nomination for his role), Thelma Todd, Montagu Love and Robert E. O’Connor. Both movies were based on the play The Noose (1926), which was of especial significance in that its Broadway director and co-author Willard Mack took a gamble on casting a young chorus girl called Ruby Stevens in the role of romantic lead. Ruby Stevens soon adopted a new professional name: Barbara Stanwyck.

Orphan Nickie Elkins (Brown) and chanteuse Mary Reyburn (Drake), who both work at the niterie Club Gordon, are very much in love; Nickie hopes to be an airline pilot one day and thereby able to keep Mary in the manner she deserves. A chance encounter at an airport introduces him to Stella Bancroft (Beecher), the wife of the state governor, and the two immediately take a liking to each other—he regarding her as a “swell lady” while clearly sparking off the maternal instinct in her.

I'd Give My Life - 1 Nickie & Mary

Nickie (Tom Brown) and Mary (Frances Drake), very much in love.

Meanwhile, recently elected Governor John Bancroft (Standing)—Stella’s husband—has been telling the press that all his pre-election talk of cleaning up the state and ousting the racketeers has not been just so much hot air: he really intends to come through on his promises. The reporters, as they leave, are disconcerted to recognize Buck Gordon (Gleckler), the dirtiest crook in the state, waiting to meet with the Governor. At that meeting, Continue reading

Midnight Lady, The (1932)

US / 66 minutes / bw / Batcheller, Chesterfield Dir: Richard Thorpe Scr: Edward T. Lowe Cine: M.A. Andersen Cast: Sarah Padden, John Darrow, Claudia Dell, Theodor von Eltz, Lina Basquette, Montagu Love, Lucy Beaumont, Donald Keith.

Not really a protonoir, but decidedly part of film noir’s ancestry. Young lawyer Bert (Darrow) is befriended by speakeasy-owner-with-a-heart-of-gold Nita St. George (Padden). He’s unofficially engaged to ditzy Jean Austin (Dell), who’s playing around behind his back—and in front of his face—with artist, bootlegger and complete cad Byron Crosby (von Eltz). Crosby is murdered in his apartment by vengeful mistress Mona Sebastian (Basquette); Nita arrives shortly afterwards, finds Jean there, and assumes she’s the killer. When a trio of Crosby’s friends turns up they discover Nita standing over the corpse. Despite Bert’s best efforts in court, Nita gets a long jail sentence for manslaughter.

Since the early minutes of the movie we’ve known that Nita is the mother of both Jean and Jean’s wimpish brother Don (Keith); for reasons largely unspecified she had to desert them in their infancy, leaving them to be brought up by stuffy martinet Harvey Austin (Love) and his truly toxic mother (Beaumont).

Of course, Bert’s instrumental in pinning the real killer and gaining Nita’s release. Where he’s less successful is in recognizing that Jean, who let someone she knew was innocent be convicted and sent to jail, is pretty much a toad: Nita’s worth at least ten of her. When airhead Jean comes out with the line “Et pluribus unum . . . that means ‘one of many'”, it more or less sums up her character.

Padden delivers as always, as does Darrow; a few years after this movie the latter gave up acting and became a talent scout. According to Hollywood legend (and it may very well be true), ex-showgirl Dell—more starlet than star—was the inspiration for the “Liberty” figure in the Columbia logo.

On Amazon.com: Midnight Lady