By CARLEY JOHNSON
The Black Maria is pleased to introduce a new weekly feature in which we offer a weekly list highlighting titles of interest from the Warner Archive. We’ll be picking between three and five titles each week from the archive’s online instant streaming service, Warner Archive Instant, primarily focusing on the deeper cuts that the Archive has to offer.
Although, to be fair, a bulk of the archive’s holdings are deep cuts– something for which we are grateful.
Here are the our must-watch picks from Warner Instant for the week of 09.02.14:
Under Eighteen (1931)
This spitfire of a pre-code is a hidden gem within the Warner Archive that is well worth the mere 75 minutes it takes to watch. Starring the early ’30s screen goddess Marian Marsh (really, they don’t get much more beautiful than her), and pre-code favorite William Warren (in one of his earliest film roles–hence his 4th billing), Under Eighteen is a zesty and surprisingly modern film that perfectly captures the extreme class division of Depression-era America. Real footage of the streets of working class Depression-era New York juxtapose with the glitzy, shimmery world of the rich and idle– a world that Marsh’s Margie Evans lusts after. Margie is a refreshingly well-rounded character, and we feel for her: every time she claws her way up on her own two feet (she is a hardworking, penny-pinching seamstress) something or someone is always there to foil her plans of escaping the slums. Embittered by the extremes of poverty and family duty, Margie is a good girl but is willing to flirt with the dark side (i.e., Warren William’s shady playboy) in order to get what she needs to survive. Williams is in the film relatively briefly, but he lights up the screen the minute his distinctive profile comes into view, and of course, one could watch the perfection of Marian Marsh’s face and form and never get tired.
Hold Your Man (1933)
The lobby card says it all:
“THE STARS YOU LOVE TO SEE MAKING LOVE! Gable, the swaggering heart-smasher! Harlow, the one-man woman! Their romance will make the world run a temperature!”
There’s a reason that Clark Gable and Jean Harlow were the sexiest couple of the early ’30s, and while most people credit their white-hot sensation to Victor Fleming’s Red Dust, this writer leans toward Sam Wood’s Hold Your Man for proof in the pudding. Their chemistry absolutely is downright illegal, both are in the bloom of their youthful beauty, and they handle the Anita Loos’ crackling script like trained sharpshooters. Gable is a con-man, and Harlow is the hapless beauty upon whom he happens while dodging the cops. She falls hard for him, although acting as the gentle conscience on his shoulder doesn’t do Gable any good: he ends up in the pen. When he’s released he goes right back to his old tricks, and the heartsick Harlow goes right along with him. Here is where the film makes an unexpected sharp turn, turning into a morality play when Harlow is incarcerated in a women’s prison after being identified as a partner in one of Gable’s cons-gone-wrong. The film’s steam slows from then on, since Gable and Harlow aren’t together on screen much for the duration, and a myriad of subplots intertwine (the least of which is the discovery that the unwed Harlow is carrying Gable’s child while in prison). But even with the overblown melodrama, the film works, and works damn well, thanks to the magnetic screen presence of the two stars. Oh, how powerful starpower used to be.
The Ritz (1976)
Ensemble comedy is a very easy thing to get wrong, yet director Richard Lester seems to have been born for nothing else. He corralled the vitality and talent of The Beatles into the groundbreaking A Hard Day’s Night, and managed to keep Zero Mostel on track amidst the raucous anarchy of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The man knows what he’s doing, a fact that is obvious with his curious, raunchy ’70s comedy The Ritz, starring Rita Moreno and Jack Weston. And F. Murray Abraham. And Treat Williams. And Jerry Stiller. And … you get the picture. (I also spotted a walk-on by a pre-Cheers John Ratzenberger.) The Ritz is the name of an all-male bath house: an in-the-know watering hole for New York City’s gay community … a demographic to which straitlaced Jack Weston does not belong. But, dodging his incensed brother-in-law who is trying to kill him (Stiller), who’s assigned a prepubescent-voiced private eye to follow him (Treat Williams. I kid you not.) The Ritz is the last place on earth he thinks he’ll be found. Of course, he’s wrong, and what ensues is a series of you-gotta-be-kidding me misadventures. It’s a hot mess of crazy, this film, but Lester keeps the action as tight as possible, reeling in the story while letting the actors let their hair down. It is overtly ridiculous, but what makes it all OK is the fact that the cast is obviously having a riot of a good time. When Rita Moreno marches onscreen, rain-soaked, with an issue of Variety over her head, mumbling “Fucking weatherman– little maricon” you know you’re in for something … different. Turns out, Moreno is the main reason to watch this film. She is a delicious hellcat as a hack nightclub singer, and blows everyone else out of the water, making you wish the film was more about her instead and less about Weston/Stiller. (OK. Her and F. Murray Abraham. They seriously needed their own ’70s sitcom.)