Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Party Wire (1935)

One of the great things about movies is that aside from entertaining, they serve as time capsules...a great example being PARTY WIRE, which demonstrates to modern audiences a phone system few people today have ever experienced.

Jean Arthur plays Marge, a nice girl who nearly has her life destroyed when vicious smalltown gossips misinterpret what they hear when eavesdropping on a party line. Arthur is her usual sweet self as one of the only nice people in town. As leading lady roles go, it's a relatively small part, as much of the screen time is devoted to people talking about her, rather than her being on screen.

Victor Jory has a rare leading man role as the wealthiest man in town, who finds a unique way to combat the gossip. Jory is best-known for playing villains, such as Injun Joe in THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER and Jonas Wilkerson in GONE WITH THE WIND. Here in Southern California he did play another hero role onstage, starring in the famous Ramona Pageant in the late '30s.

Charley Grapewin plays Marge's father, while Clara Blandick plays one of the gossips. Four years later Grapewin and Blandick would play Uncle Henry and Auntie Em in THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Walter Brennan has a brief uncredited part as one of the townspeople. The very next year Brennan would move from a long string of bit parts to the first of his three Academy Award winning roles, in COME AND GET IT. Brennan also received Oscars for KENTUCKY (1938) and THE WESTERNER (1940), and was nominated for SERGEANT YORK (1941).

The film runs 70 minutes and was filmed in black and white. It was directed by Erle C. Kenton, whose career began in the silents. Most of his films seem to have been relatively inconsequential "B" movies.

This movie is unfortunately not available on either DVD or video, but it can be seen on cable as part of the Turner Classic Movies library.

The film's cautionary conclusion is that sometimes people refuse to learn from their mistakes. It's an interesting, somewhat unusual film worth catching.

Update: This film is now available on DVD in the Jean Arthur Drama Collection in the TCM Vault Collection line.

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