A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Barbary Coast (Howard Hawks, 1935)

Miriam Hopkins and Edward G. Robinson in Barbary Coast
Mary Rutledge: Miriam Hopkins
Luis Chamalis: Edward G. Robinson
Jim Carmichael: Joel McCrea
Old Atrocity: Walter Brennan
Col. Marcus Aurelius Cobb: Frank Craven
Knuckles Jacoby: Brian Donlevy
Jed Slocum: Harry Carey
Sawbuck McTavish: Donald Meek

Director: Howard Hawks
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur
Cinematography: Ray June
Art direction: Richard Day

The chill, clammy hand of the Production Code's Joseph Breen is detectable in Barbary Coast, and only the diligent playfulness of director Howard Hawks and the cheeky irreverence of screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur make it watchable today. That, and the performances of Miriam Hopkins, Edward G. Robinson, Joel McCrea, and Walter Brennan, each of whom knows the whole thing is nonsense as far as actual history and human behavior are concerned, but are happy to go along with the joke. Hopkins's Mary Rutledge is a shady lady -- perhaps a prostitute and certainly the mistress of Robinson's Luis Chamalis -- but she becomes a Hawksian woman, who gets along in the world of men by keeping them at arm's length with wisecracks and wry condescension. She arrives in San Francisco supposedly to marry a man who has struck it rich in the gold fields, but finds out that he's dead and his winnings have been confiscated by Chamalis after losing at the roulette wheel. She's greeted with enthusiasm by the waterfront crowd, who keep exclaiming, "A white woman!" But in the face of bad luck she neither faints nor falls but instead takes her turn running the crooked wheel for Chamalis while coyly locking her door against him at night. Eventually, she will find her true love, McCrea's Jim Carmichael, who will have his own fortune robbed at the wheel, but through various improbable turns will wind up sailing back to New York with his recouped fortune and Mary herself. Brennan, after removing his false teeth, plays a character called "Old Atrocity," cackling and spitting his way through the scenes he steals. Though the film was produced by Sam Goldwyn,  Robinson is nothing more than one of his Warner Bros. gangsters wearing a frilled shirt and an earring, with Brian Donlevy, as a character called "Knuckles," to rough up his enemies, which include the newly arrived newspaper editor played by Frank Craven, who wants to clean up the town and install "law and order." Eventually, the cleaning up is done by vigilantes, who string up Knuckles, which is not exactly the kind of law and order that the editor had in mind. When he's rounded up by the vigilantes, Chamalis turns noble and releases Mary from her promise to marry him if he'll spare her true love's life. Melodrama never got more blatant than Barbary Coast, but there's wit in the lines and spirit in the performances.

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