Sunday, November 29, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Clear All Wires! (1933) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Lee Tracy plays fast-talking international news reporter Buckley Joyce Thomas in CLEAR ALL WIRES! (1933), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

We first meet Thomas interviewing a desert leader (Mischa Auer) in Morocco, while the world awaits the fate of the "kidnapped" journalist.  Thomas's "rescue" (he was never actually kidnapped) makes headlines.  Thomas, it turns out, excels at self-promotion and isn't above exaggerating or faking stories, either about himself or his subjects.  

After a brief stop in Paris, where Thomas is reunited with a pair of old flames, Dolly (Una Merkel) and Kate (Benita Hume), it's off to Moscow for Thomas and his righthand man (James Gleason), ironically nicknamed Lefty.

Thomas, having been fired while in Moscow, plots a big story to get his job back, covering the assassination of "the last Romanoff" in his own hotel room -- actually orchestrating the whole thing himself!  Unfortunately things don't go as planned and Thomas ends up imprisoned by a Soviet commissar (C. Henry Gordon).

That doesn't sound too complicated, but I honestly found it quite hard to follow the Moscow section of the film, between Thomas's machinations and the political intrigue.  The most interesting thing to me about this section of the film was simply realizing that the movie was released only 15 years after the Russian Revolution; what seems like "history" to us in 2020 was still relatively fresh news at the time the movie was made. 

I have a soft spot for Tracy, albeit in limited doses, and I anticipated a Tracy film with the snappy title CLEAR ALL WIRES! (1933) would be a lot of fun. Alas, it was only middling; the second half of the film, in particular, grew tiresome and made for an increasingly long 78 minutes.  

There are some fun lines scattered throughout, with Merkel having some very pre-Code dialogue; the screenplay was by Sam and Bella Spewack (KISS ME KATE), based on their play.  Unfortunately the film never loses a stagebound feel, with a majority of the action set in a couple of hotel rooms.

Merkel brightens up every scene as Thomas's old girlfriend Dolly, who's currently having a fling with his boss (J.H. Stevens).  James Gleason is always welcome, and Akim Tamiroff shows up in just his second film, playing a Moscow hotel clerk Thomas bribes to give him a room reserved for another reporter (Alan Edwards).

This was the Hollywood debut of British actress Benita Hume, who was lovely as the quiet, lovestruck Kate, but frankly not especially memorable, especially in the shadow of Merkel's dizzy blonde.

Hume would marry Ronald Colman in 1938; after his passing two decades later, she married George Sanders in 1959.  Her marriage to Sanders lasted until her death in 1967.

This was the last film directed by George W. Hill, who was married to screenwriter-director Frances Marion from 1929 to 1931.  Sadly, Hill killed himself in 1934.

The Warner Archive print is slightly soft, in the manner of many films of this era, but all in all quite acceptable, and the soundtrack was also good for a film of this vintage.  I had no difficulty making out Tracy's staccato line deliveries.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

4 Comments:

Blogger Caftan Woman said...

The title is noted for the time when I am in a mood for fast-talking Lee Tracy.

7:30 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'd love to know what you think when you catch up with it!

Best wishes,
Laura

10:38 AM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

You do have to be in the mood for Lee Tracy. He sure is hyperactive. He's grown on me to some extent.

5:52 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I watched an intro to Lee Tracy's BLESSED EVENT last night in which Eddie Muller and Bruce Goldstein said some very interesting things about how Tracy was the archetype for so many fast-talking newspaperman characters to follow, and that his speaking cadences in early sound films may have impacted how Americans speak. Some interesting thoughts there.

Best wishes,
Laura

10:39 PM  

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