Saturday, December 3, 2016

Two short notes on Ronald Coleman movies

Last night I ended up screening another movie I'd had no intention of watching. It was on the Turner Classic Movies channel, and something about the title cards and music caused me to pause it while I finished up some miscellaneous household chore. The ability to pause whatever I'm watching is one of the things I like about digital television. (One can rewind and watch something that has just gone by as well. I often pause programs like 'Dancing With the Stars', later fast forwarding through commercials and other time consuming bits of business. I've started that program more than 45 minutes in, and caught up with the live broadcast by the program's end.)

This particular exercise in serendipity involved a 1930 United Artists release called 'The Devil to Pay'. It stars Ronald Coleman as a son of English nobility. We are introduced to his character whilst he is in the process of selling off his home and furnishings (in 'East Africa', no less) thanks to his tendencies to bet on "horses with short noses, and cards that were good but not good enough". He's the kind of charming roué who, back in England, visits his old girlfriend - at midnight! (Gasp!) It's definitely pre-code. Oh, by the way, the girlfriend is a sultry young Myrna Loy in a blonde wig. Of course Mr. Coleman's character, Willie, soon meets a wealthy sweet young thing whose engagement to a Russian Grand Duke is about to be announced. The sweet young thing, with the movie foreshadowing name of Dorothy Hope, is played by Loretta Young. There's plenty of connective tissue for film buffs: Willie's father would soon play Baron von Frankenstein, people like cinematographer Greg Toland worked on the project, a memorable scene involves Ronald Coleman talking with a fox terrier he instantly names 'George' - sadly Myrna Loy has no screen time with George; she'd soon co-star with another fox terrier in the Thin Man series, etc.). The film's favorable review in the New York Times took pains to note that, "The sound recording is remarkably satisfactory, for not only are the voices lifelike, but one even hears George's persistent panting." Often cited as a melodrama, it's really a romantic comedy.

As it happens, one of the first movies I screened with my video projector was another Goldwyn - United Artists - Ronald Coleman pre-code talkie, "Bulldog Drummond", released in 1929. (Just to clear things up, Samuel Goldwyn's company was merged with Metro into the formation of MGM, but he had nothing to do with the new company. United Artists was a releasing company formed to give movie makers better control - and a better percentage of profits - by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith. But that is, as they say, another story.) I was familiar with 'Bulldog Drummond' from other early sound movies as well as its 1940's radio shows, so seeing the first sound version had caught my interest. (There were a couple of 'Drummond' silents.) The 1929 picture gets underway when Drummond, a rich, bored, ex-WWI captain, takes out an ad in the newspaper:
Naturally, trouble finds him with all due dispatch. The picture is, as they say, a hoot - full of melodramatic nonsense, a missing rich uncle, a sinister sanitarium, even more sinister shadows on the walls, a torture room, a little light bondage, and Lilyan Tashman. What more could any decent movie fan want? As the review in the New York Times noted, " conveys a strong appeal even to the most blasé individual".
There's any number of other movies and life events with which I should catch up, but as is so often the case, I lack the time to continue just now. And yes, I know these notes are frustratingly brief.



ricola said...

Yes, thank goodness for DVRs!! I can't tell you how many products or services I've never had to think about since I've never seen their commercials!

My computer finally died on me recently, at which time I lost everything on it. But even more recently, I found a wizard who retrieved much of what I lost.

I can't wait to see what you write about GRAND CENTRAL MURDER and BABY FACE (the Stanwyck one?).

Happy New Year!


sdt (a.k.a. stevil) said...

Hey - what happened to my reply to Ricola? I wrote one, but it seems to have vanished. My apologies to my friend Rico. There was a reply. I was delighted to see your note, and hope to hear from you again soon. Bestest Wishes.