The BFI is showing a season of pre-code films. These aren’t the respectable ones like King Kong but the “naughtier, rougher-edged and more shocking” ones. Not that King Kong is particularly respectable when you think about it.
Red Dust (1932)
This was the first film we saw (it was not actually part of the season but never mind) and it is one that I have seen probably twice before. It doesn’t say much for me that is only now that I noticed how horribly racist it is.
For most people, this film is all about Jean Harlow and Clark Gable and I can see why; Gable was astonishingly attractive and didn’t they know it at MGM with his topless moments; and Harlow is attractive too and funny, very funny in fact. But she’s totally obvious; unlike Mary Astor who was subtly gorgeous. Lots of people consider her too matronly in The Maltese Falcon but to me she is a low key smouldering volcano waiting to go off. And when buttoned up Astor gets wet in a rainstorm she is a million times more appealing than Harlow. And, as an added bonus, she reminds me of Julianne Moore.
One of the oddest parts of the film isn’t the pronunciation of Saigon but the how to make rubber lesson given by Gable; it was almost like an advert for the rubber industry.
Next up was a double bill.
Employees’ Entrance (1933)
Ironically, Andy hated this film for reasons that I usually make loud objections to – notably the issue of sexual consent (or the lack of it) but also having a leading character who is almost a complete and utter bastard. Now, I’ll not deny that the film is problematic but by taking the film as a black comedy then I found it very funny and very black. Loretta Young was beautiful, Wallace Ford was surprisingly appealing, and Warren William was fabulous – a truly forgotten film star.
Highlights include a dog in a bin and a drunken Young stubbing a lighted cigarette on a bald man’s head (honestly, this was funny).
This was our second Loretta Young film but the first chronologically. She wasn’t particularly good in this but I can partly blame the terrible role she had. Now, I really do object to this sort of thing – I understand that in real life this does happen but how many times did she say that this aggressive and violent man had one more chance? And if he had done the fist to the face thing once to me, I’d be off. And so would her character as written – she didn’t make any sense. Urgh, I just spent this film feeling totally uncomfortable. I think James Cagney’s early on screen persona is deeply unpleasant – as I said violent and aggressive but also mean to women, volatile, ill-tempered, and cross all the time.