Classic Movies

Movies I’ve stared at recently on TCM FXM #64

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Call Her Savage (1932) – Clara Bow’s penultimate film is a bit of a cheat for me; I saw this many, many moons ago but decided to record and watch it again thanks to the DVR.  Clara’s sensational in this film that really doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, plot wise; she plays a wild child named Nasa Springer whom the filmmakers (directed by John Francis Dillon from Edwin J. Burke’s screenplay based on a novel by Tiffany Thayer) decide to make miserable by throwing everything but the kitchen sink in her path.  Seriously—this movie touches on adultery, miscegenation, prostitution, STD’s, and just about anything else on which one can put one’s finger.  (You may be familiar with a famous scene set in a Greenwich Village hangout in which two waiters outrageously camp it up, shown in the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet.)  

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Clara Bow and Gilbert Roland in Call Her Savage (1932)

This movie got a resurrection at the TCM Film Festival in 2012 and while its reputation is legendary, it’s so incoherent you might find yourself dozing off in some of the slow stretches.  Thrilling Days of Yesteryear fave Thelma Todd makes an appearance (and engages in a hair-pulling catfight with the star) but sadly, she doesn’t stick around too long.  Savage also features Gilbert “Cisco Kid” Roland (as Nasa’s half-breed pal) and Monroe Owsley, and there’s a hysterical bit of symbolism in which Bow’s character takes on a rattlesnake with a bullwhip (I guess the snake is a Garden-of-Eden thing).  My favorite part of Savage is director Dillon’s novel way of demonstrating time passages; a close-up of a clock has its hands move to the proper hour, which I found kind of Pythonesque. 
 
13 Rue Madeleine (1947) – The origins of The Agency (a.k.a. the Cee Eye Ay) are examined in this wartime thriller, in which James Cagney (as Robert Emmett “Bob” Sharkey) is tasked to assemble a crack team of espionage agents in the final days of WW2.  No sooner has Jimmy started putting together his spying aggregation when he learns from his superior (Walter Abel) that one of the candidates is a Nazi agent—but because there would be no movie if he separated the chaff from the wheat, he allows the infiltrator to stick around so that the agent will pass on false information to the Nazis.  Unfortunately for Cagney, the Nazi swine jeopardizes a mission involving the Allied invasion by killing one of the new agents and so Cagney must take his place or the war will be lost.  (Lost, I tell ya!)  

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Judith Lowery (young!) and James Cagney in 13 Rue Madeleine (1947)

The U.S. government frowned on Hollywood mentioning the O.S.S. during the actual war but once it was over the studios started using the organization as fodder for films like O.S.S. (1946), Cloak and Dagger (1946), and of course, Notorious (1946).  20th Century-Fox got into the act with 13 Rue Madeleine (the address of the Gestapo headquarters in La Havre, France), and the picture was originally going to be about the exploits of O.S.S. founder William “Wild Bill” Donovan.  Donovan wasn’t too thrilled about the idea of a Nazi agent in his spy ranks, so Fox retooled the material to include him out.  Madeleine is pretty much styled in the same manner as the studio’s The House on 92nd Street (1945) (it even uses similar opening titles, and features narration by Reed Hadley) and while it’s slow-going at first it gradually picks up steam and features good performances from star Cagney and co-stars Richard Conte, Annabella, Melville Cooper, and Sam Jaffe.  An unbilled Karl Malden plays the jump master in the plane sequence (with Red Buttons as his second-in-command) and E.G. Marshall can be seen as a resistance fighter.

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