The Animal Kingdom 1932 Pre-code. Based on the play by Philip Barry. Directed by Edward H. Griffith. As you might expect from Barry, this is a comedy of manners. Successful illustrator Daisy Sage (Ann Harding) returns from a lengthy stay in Paris resolved to finally suggest marriage to best friend/lover Tom Collier (Leslie Howard). Her timing is off. Tom is about to marry Cecelia ‘Cee’ Thomas (Myrna Loy, out of typecasting as a seductive mercenary-terrific). He wants to continue their relationship. Heartbroken, she says no.
Tom marries Cee who surreptitiously takes over and remakes his life in ways that suit her socialite aspirations. Friends and principles fall away. Men can be so stupid. It takes awhile for him to realize what’s happening. The story was remade in 1946 as One More Tomorrow. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Berkeley Square 1933 Pre-code. Based on the play by John L. Balderston, itself based on Henry James’ incomplete novel, The Sense of the Past. Directed by Frank Lloyd. A genteel time travel fantasy in which American Peter Standish (Leslie Howard) inherits a family house in Berkeley Square, London, and becomes obsessed with a diary left by an ancestor with the same name. Peter is transported back from 1933 to 1784 stepping into the first Peter’s shoes. He arrives at the house then owned by The Pettigrews aware that the family, in dire financial straits, expects him to marry daughter Kate (Valerie Taylor).
The protagonist has resolved not to do so because of what he’s read – until he meets the lady in question. She in turn, wants never to marry, but dreams about the wealthy American. Twentieth Century habits frequently offend. Kate learns some of Peter’s foreknowledge. Decisions are made which leave both without love. “An example of delicacy and restraint, a picture filled with gentle humor and appealing pathos.” Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times. A newly restored 35mm print has been made. Don’t bother with the 1951 Tyrone Power remake/rewrite. All charm is lost. DirectTV, TCM.com.
Of Human Bondage 1934 Pre-code. Based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham. Directed by John Cromwell. Sensitive, club-footed artist Philip Carey (Leslie Howard) has returned to London from study in Paris having been told he lacks sufficient talent. He inexplicably falls head over heels for cruel, manipulative tearoom waitress Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis). The object of his affection chooses otherwise and Philip is helped to move on by Norah (Kay Johnson). Then Mildred returns – pregnant and broke. Philip succumbs. Again she ditches him, again he succumbs. Comeuppance is tragic.
The film that made Bette Davis a star. “My understanding of Mildred’s vileness – not compassion but empathy – gave me pause … I was still an innocent. And yet Mildred’s machinations I miraculously understood when it came to playing her. I was often ashamed of this …” (Bette Davis) Remade in 1964 with Laurence Harvey and Kin Novak, who has nothing on Davis. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Scarlet Pimpernel 1934 Based on the play by Baroness Orczy and Montagu Barstow and the classic 1908 novel by Baroness Orczy. Directed by Harold Young. Eighteenth-century English aristocrat, Sir Percy Blakeney (Leslie Howard), leads a double life as The Scarlet Pimpernel, leader of a secret society of 20 English noblemen in league with free French during the Revolution. Politics, violence, betrayal, love, self sacrifice – you know the drill. An adventure film where the right-minded score. Extremely popular in its time. With Raymond Massey, Merle Oberon, and Nigel Bruce. Free with Amazon Prime.
The Petrified Forest 1936 Based on the Robert E. Sherwood play. Directed by Archie Mayo. Failed British writer Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), now a jaded, penniless drifter, wanders into a roadside diner at the edge of the Petrified Forest in Arizona. He may be dirty, but he’s elegant, cultured, and compassionate. The owner’s daughter Gabrielle (Bette Davis) inherited a wider vision of the world from her French mother who abandoned the family. She powerfully gravitates to Squier. When a jealous employee provokes him to leave, Squier hitches a ride with Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm (Paul Harvey and Genevieve Tobin).
On the road, the car is stopped and confiscated by on-the-run gangster Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart), who takes them back to the diner. Confrontation between Mantee and Squire are the meat of this story which ends nobly in violence. The 1935 Broadway production of The Petrified Forest starred Howard, then an established star, and Bogart, an actor in his first leading theatrical role. Gangster Duke Mantee was based on John Dillinger whom Bogart resembled. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Pygmalion 1939 Based on the play by George Bernard Shaw that would eventually give rise to My Fair Lady. Directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard. Adapted Screenplay Academy Award. You undoubtedly know the story, but see it as Shaw intended in this pristine, understated film with Wendy Hiller as Eliza, Leslie Howard as Higgins, Scott Sunderland as Colonel Pickering and Wilfred Lawson as Alfred Doolittle. The poor flower girl is made a lady acquiring backbone that shocks Higgins. It’s ending is hopeful, but unresolved.
The movie also includes the first film appearance (brief and uncredited) of Anthony Quayle. Cathleen Nesbit, credited as Kathleen Nesbitt acting the role of ‘a lady,’ portrayed Mrs. Higgins in the original Broadway production of the musical 18 years later. The Criterion Channel, The Roku Channel.
Gone With the Wind can be found in Stream Leading Ladies (When There Were Leading Ladies) II– Vivien Leigh
Top photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain