Need help figuring out what to watch this week on Warner Archive Instant? The Black Maria has you covered. Each week, we pick a small handful of must watch titles from the Warner Archive Instant catalog: some hidden gems, others well-known and beloved classics. All deserving of a look or two (or five).
Don’t have Warner Archive Instant yet? No problem: the service has a free one week trial that you can take advantage of.
This week we’ve got Federico Fellini at his most charming with Ginger and Fred (1986), Warren William at his most ruthless in Skyscraper Souls (1932), and Joan Crawford at her most … well … Joan Crawfordish in The Damned Don’t Cry (1950).
Here is our Must Watch Warner Archive: 10.03.14
Skyscraper Souls (1932)
Director: Edgar Selwyn
Starring: Warren William, Margaret O’Sullivan, and Anita Page
So get this: A vicious wolf of wall street will do anything to keep his name on his skyscraper–the tallest in the world– even if it means double-crossing not only his board of directors, but every single employee in the building. He’s also been sleeping with his secretary for years, has a fling with his secretary’s assistant, and is pretty much the oiliest son of a so-and-so you’ve ever met. We’re talking about Warren William of course, everyone’s favorite pre-code cad, and he is at the top of his ruthless game in this fast-paced melodrama that follows intertwining tales of passion, greed, excess, adultery, and suicide, high in the Manhattan skies. Beautiful Maureen O’Sullivan is a virtuous young stenographer soiled by William’s prowling. Sexy Anita Page is a wrong-side of the tracks lingerie model with a heart of gold who is the object of Jean Hersholt’s undying affection. Hedda Hopper is Warren’s absentee wife who cares nothing for his philandering as long as the checks are signed. And Veree Teasdale, the heart and soul of the film, is Warren’s loyal secretary and mistress who finds that even she has a limit.
Skyscraper Souls is pre-code melodrama at its most soapy — which is reason enough to stop what you’re doing and start watching.
Ginger and Fred (1986)
Director: Federico Fellini
Starring: Giulietta Masina, Marcello Mastroianni, and Franco Fabrizi
Ginger and Fred, from the twilight years of Italian master Federico Fellini, is a woefully under-appreciated thing of beauty that is also perhaps his most accessible. Plot is hardly a Fellini hallmark, and here it’s about as simple as it gets: a dance team, named “Ginger and Fred”, that were something of a sensation 40 years ago are reunited when they both agree to appear on a variety show after not having seen each other in decades. Simple. And that’s pretty much as deep as the plot gets. But in Fellini’s hands it is so much more: a vehement commentary on media and commercialization (it is rare for frame to not have a TV screen in the background somewhere) and a heartbreaking contemplation of age and the ravages of time. Fellini’s blend of fantasy and reality — the outlandish flourishes that turned his name into an adjective — are all here too. (What better venue than a TV variety show for dancing midgets, garish celebrity impersonators, gaudy color, a transvestite, and plenty of other touches that positively scream Fellini.)
But the real treat here, of course, is getting to see those two giants of Italian cinema — the great Marcello Mastroianni (as “Fred”) and the magnificent Giulietta Masina (as “Ginger”) — for the first and only time.
Their faces may be weathered but their spirits are ablaze, and their tender performances make Ginger and Fred one of Fellini’s most sensitive and heartfelt.
The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)
Director: Vincent Sherman
Starring: Joan Crawford, David Brian, and Steve Cochran
Oh, Joan Crawford. You crazy bitch. Enough is never enough for you, is it? You think you would have learned that lesson in Mildred Pierce, but oh no. You gotta go and try climbing the latter to affluence again thinking it means happiness, and where does it land you? In another fine mess. This time around, Crawford is Ethel Whitehead, an opportunist who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “enough.” When her only son is killed, she takes off in search of the good life. She woos men who can serve her socially and financially (poor Kent Smith) and drops them like a hot potato for bigger fish. In this case, the big fish it’s David Brian, a big shot New York gangster. He sees potential in Crawford, lavishes upon her the beautiful things in life she’s always dreamed of, and reinvents her, passing her off as a beautiful heiress named Lena Hansen Forbes. But in reality Crawford is still just the gangster’s moll (Bugsy Siegel and Virginia Hill, anyone?), and when she finds herself running dirty errands for her lover, cupid inevitable strikes again. And so does karma. Noir style.
The Damned Don’t Cry is a pulpy, gripping noir that shows, at 45, Crawford was still a damn good actress who could not only still carry a film, but obliterate every other person on the screen. What a woman.