It was another fun evening in UCLA's Cecil B. DeMille series, with a screening of the very entertaining FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE (1934).
The movie was introduced by Robert S. Birchard, author of CECIL B. DEMILLE'S HOLLYWOOD. He explained that in its day FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE, a jungle adventure with a main cast of five, was not a success, which helped to lock DeMille into place as a director of epics, as by contrast his "big" films THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932) and CLEOPATRA (1934) were huge hits. All three films starred Claudette Colbert.
Seen from today's vantage point, FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE is wonderful fun. Who could resist a pre-Code jungle adventure with Claudette Colbert as a prim schoolmarm who gradually turns into a very exotic and enticing Eve?
As the movie begins, four people are hiding on a small boat, escaping a ship which has passengers stricken with bubonic plague. The escapees are Judy (Colbert), the aforementioned schoolteacher; Arnold (Herbert Marshall), a rubber chemist; Mrs. Mardick (Mary Boland), the wife of a British official; and Stewart (William Gargan), a self-important reporter who unfortunately proves that newsmen were overly inflating their records decades before Brian Williams came along.
Mrs. Mardick never loses her cool -- or the little dog she carries. (I was worried he'd become food for the wild animals!) She keeps a stiff upper lip at all times, and the movies' most hilarious sequence finds tribesmen wanting to kill her because she's educated their wives on family planning (!) -- but she's become a heroine to their wives so they let her go instead.
Judy eventually loses her glasses and her clothes, and as she literally lets her hair down the men stop treating her like an annoying "poor relation," as Judy describes it, and greedily start looking at her as a jungle goddess.
The famous reporter initially seems to have the edge, but it's the shy chemist who emerges as the stronger man who wins Judy's heart. Unfortunately back home he's a henpecked husband with a most unpleasant wife (Nella Walker) -- so to some extent Judy and Arnold are happy remaining in the jungle.
This 95-minute film, shown in a beautiful 35mm print restored by UCLA, was quite enjoyable, with an interesting theme as each person's true self is revealed in the fight for survival.
Of course, that fight for survival is also very '30s Hollywood, with Colbert adorned in a succession of animal skin outfits the men seem able to whip up for her in nothing flat! Her makeup also survives amazingly well. That said, the Hollywood magic is part of what makes the film so much fun. Who wants realism?
The entire cast is solid, but Colbert is especially terrific in a very good part, and her fans should make it a point to catch this one.
I needed to get home from Westwood relatively early tonight so did not stay for the second film on the double bill, THIS DAY AND AGE (1933). I hope to return next weekend for UNION PACIFIC (1939) starring Joel McCrea, Barbara Stanwyck, and Robert Preston.