Friday, February 13, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Four Frightened People (1934) at UCLA

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.

After the very exciting opening, the foursome land on an island and must trek through the jungle to get a spot on the island where they can flag down a freighter to pick them up. They meet a friendly guide (Leo Carrillo) but it's tough going, with poisonous snakes and other wild animals (and plants!), plus native tribes which pose varying threats to the group.

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.

The movie was filmed on location in Hawaii by Karl Struss.

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.

Update: This film is available on DVD from the Universal Vault Series or as part of the Cecil B. DeMille Collection.


Blogger Kristina said...

I remember liking this one too, though I saw it when I was a newb who didn't know much about anyone other than Colbert, so I need to see it again soon. Must have been amazing to see the jungle scenes big and restored like that!

12:36 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It was a great print and great fun, Kristina. Hope you enjoy checking it out again!

Best wishes,

10:13 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

That's one DeMille movie I did like a lot! It was so entertaining. I like it better than his epics--didn't know its lack of commercial success pushed him decisively in that direction. Too bad maybe.

That said, UNION PACIFIC is pretty good among those big films, at least way better than most of them, so maybe you will have a good time with that one too.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Blake! It was really a fun movie, liked it a lot. It would have been interesting to see what else he might have made if the studio hadn't pushed so hard for the money-making epics. That said, I've come to appreciate what he did with movies like THE CRUSADES and CLEOPATRA, they are certainly one-of-a-kind entertainments.

I last saw UNION PACIFIC as a kid, circa 1977, and can't say I remember it, so I'm really looking forward to checking it out, especially as it stars Joel McCrea.

Best wishes,

12:30 PM  

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