Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Flame of New Orleans (1941)

Longtime readers may recall that I've never been much of a Marlene Dietrich fan, but despite that, I recently purchased the DVD set Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection.

This five-film set was on sale from Amazon for just $7.19, and it came highly recommended by my father, whose tastes usually coincide with mine. What's more, the set includes GOLDEN EARRINGS (1947), directed by Mitchell Leisen and costarring Ray Milland; I love their films and hadn't realized it was out on DVD.

I was looking for some light viewing late this evening and picked out a film from the set, the 78-minute THE FLAME OF NEW ORLEANS (1941). THE FLAME OF NEW ORLEANS is a comedy directed by Rene Clair, who did such a good job with the fantasies I MARRIED A WITCH (1942) and IT HAPPENED TOMORROW (1944). The movie has a marvelous supporting cast, starting with Bruce Cabot and Roland Young, and to my pleasant surprise it proved to be delightful, worth the price of the set in and of itself.

Dietrich plays an impoverished countess in New Orleans who sets a marital trap for wealthy buffoon Charles Giraud (Roland Young). The seemingly meek and mild-mannered countess is secretly attracted to a sailor, Robert Latour (Bruce Cabot). Robert's as broke as she is, so she plans to go through with her wedding.

Matters grow increasingly complicated when Charles believes the countess may have engaged in past behavior which wouldn't befit his bride, so the countess must pretend to be her wicked cousin, Lili. She succeeds in convincing Charles that Lili and the countess are two different people and that it was Lili who had a notorious past, but Robert catches on...

This comedy was written by Norman Krasna, who was behind many wonderful comedies such as BACHELOR MOTHER (1939) and IT STARTED WITH EVE (1941), and it was filmed with an airy, light touch by director Clair. In the wrong hands this story could easily have been leaden, but it's stylishly presented by a cast which seems to be having a grand time.

I have to say that Marlene was quite good in this, speaking in a wispy baby talk voice as the countess and a harder, more accented tone as bad girl Lili. Her comic expressions and looks of longing at Robert were all quite well done.

Cabot makes a credible Gable-esque leading man in this, and Roland Young does his typically effective job as the befuddled Giraud, who's not as smart as he thinks he is.

It's always a pleasure to see Theresa Harris, who has a substantial role as the countess's saucy, calculating maid Clementine, who tries to keep the countess on track for a wealthy marriage.

The deep cast includes Franklin Pangborn, Melville Cooper, Mischa Auer, Laura Hope Crews, Anne Revere, Clarence Muse, Dorothy Adams, Andy Devine, Frank Jenks, and Eddie Quillan.

Reed Hadley and Mary Treen can be spotted in small roles as party guests; alas, I missed Bess Flowers, but she's apparently in there somewhere! I'll have to pop the DVD back in for the "Find Bess Flowers" game.

This Universal film was produced by Joe Pasternak and elegantly photographed by future director Rudolph Mate. Future director Phil Karlson was an assistant director.

The movie had a separate single-title DVD release in the Universal Vault Series sold via Amazon. The film can be rented from ClassicFlix.

It also had a release on VHS.

Since I enjoyed this movie a great deal I'm hopeful I'll find the other films in the set equally entertaining; in addition to a film with Ray Milland, other titles feature Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. BLONDE VENUS (1932) is one of a relatively small number of Grant films I've never seen; the majority of my yet-unseen Grant films are pre-Codes. A set worth checking out, especially at current pricing.

March 2020 Update: This movie is being released on Blu-ray this month by Kino Lorber. My review of the Blu-ray may be read here.


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

In my opinion, you are luckier than you know to have bought this collection at this great price. The three movies you don't mention are among the seven that Dietrich made with Josef von Sternberg, one of the greatest of all directors and the one who decisively nurtured her career in her early years. These three are all great, especially MOROCCO, the best of all their films and one I would name among the ten or twelve best American movies ever if I were naming only one movie per director. But BLONDE VENUS is almost that good. THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN is great too, but it was the last of their movies together and best appreciated when you've seen all the others.

Now, a word of thanks, Laura, just for calling this to my attention. I saw this collection once and was tempted by it but wasn't buying as much in those days and it was four times as expensive as this so I let it go by. But not at $7.25! So, I've just ordered it thanks to you and will be great to have it.

I never read anything you said about Marlene Dietrich and would be interested to know why you don't like her much. It seems to be she was highly capable and professional and an ideal actress for many of her roles, not just the von Sternbergs but also in much later ones like RANCHO NOTORIOUS and TOUCH OF EVIL.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, I'm absolutely delighted that my dad's recommendation has had a domino effect and you also now own the set at a great price! And I'm very glad to get your strong recommendations on these movies in addition to his feedback. It sounds like I have much more good viewing ahead.

Some other excellent deals recently seen at Amazon: Busby Berkeley Vol. 2 for $11.99, Forbidden Hollywood Vol. 1 for under $15, and the Ronald Reagan Signature Collection for $16.49. I helped my husband do some early Christmas shopping for me. :)

Re Marlene Dietrich, in most of the films in which I've seen her I've found her unappealing -- hard, mannered and mannish. In particular she ruins A FOREIGN AFFAIR for me with her monotone singing. It's hard to know how much is her and how much the roles -- I may have just had some bad luck with the first handful of Dietrich movies I saw -- I liked her more in a "kinder, gentler" role in NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY.

Given that I once loathed both Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck yet in more recent years started collecting their movies (grin), I strive to stay as open minded about actors as I can, hoping negative opinions will change in the future so there will be more movies ahead to enjoy!

Best wishes,

10:55 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Flame of New Orleans was a disappointment at the time of release both critically and commercially. Many reasons for that but one really need only to look at Bruce Cabot's "Gable- esque" performance to shudder. Not Dietrich's fault at all.

1:52 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

FOREIGN AFFAIR probably is more typical of Dietrich than NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY. She wasn't made to be "kinder, gentler" as much as some actresses--she does other things, which is not to say she cannot be sympathetic. I like her in A FOREIGN AFFAIR including her singing so maybe you'll never enjoy her as much as I do.

But as you indicate, it won't hurt to give her a chance. You know, I wasn't easily drawn to Joan Crawford either--and still wouldn't say she's a type of woman I warm up to much--yet she is in so many first-rate movie, and always seems to be very good in them and really an asset, so in the fullness of time I've come to admire her.

With Stanwyck, I've always liked her, liked her even more with the years. She can do it all, can't she? Just speaking personally, the number of great directors she worked for (and they all admired her, as did her costars and crews on her movies) and the movies she's in make such a strong career. It's hard to think of an actress who I like better now.

Looking at the three together, though, they share a kind of toughness, and maybe that can take some getting used to. Obviously, there are a lot of appealing actresses who play a softer femininity and I respond more quickly to that myself so I guess I get where you're coming from.

Still, give those Dietrich/Sternberg movies a chance (as I know you will). They are special films, definitely not the kind of movie one sees every day, whether one likes them or not.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

My, this sounds wonderful. I've always confused this title with "Lady for a Night" which also has a New Orleans setting so I thought I had seen it. I haven't yet, but I sure will.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Laura, I left you a comment on this post the other day which never turned up - wonder if it is in your spam filter? Anyway, just to say that I enjoyed reading this and hope you will soon be a Dietrich fan, as I am, though I must confess I haven't seen this movie yet!

9:56 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Judy!

I'm not sure where your original comment ended up, but I so appreciate you returning and posting it again!

I'd love to know what both you and Caftan Woman think when you have the chance to catch up with this one. :)

Best wishes,

12:02 AM  

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