Sunday, January 07, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) at UCLA

Last night was a wonderful evening in Westwood, enjoying a pre-Code double bill in the UCLA Film & Television Archive's new series Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film.

Alan K. Rode (seen in photos below) was on hand to sign his new book on the director and provide introductions for 35mm prints of FEMALE (1933) and THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN (1932).

In the well-attended audience for the screenings were Ann Dvorak biographer Christina Rice, film historian Michael Schlesinger, and film locations expert John Bengtson, who I was happy to meet; I greatly admired his book SILENT VISIONS.

It was also terrific to see several friends from the L.A. classic film community! What a fun evening enjoying a pair of films from that brief, unique time period in Hollywood history, the pre-Code era.

I hadn't seen FEMALE (1933) in nearly a decade. It's one of my favorite pre-Codes, featuring handsome (pre-mustache!) George Brent, fabulous set design (including a Frank Lloyd Wright house and the FOOTLIGHT PARADE swimming pool -- and that organ perched high on a wall!), "Shanghai Lil" playing on the record player, and a super-fast one-hour running time.

Ruth Chatterton (seen below with Brent) is an interesting leading lady, Robert Grieg is perfection as her butler, and since I've seen Johnny Mack Brown in so many Westerns in the last few years it was fun to see him in this early role as one of Chatterton's temporary romantic targets.

Michael Curtiz was actually one of a trio of directors to work on FEMALE, brought in to work on Brown's scenes, but he was the one who ended up with the screen credit.

Curtiz directed all of the second film of the night, THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN. As is the case with many pre-Codes, the lead characters are for the most part flawed, but Curtiz moves the tragic melodrama along in a brisk 73 minutes, with Lee Tracy's disreputable reporter helping to lighten the mood, at least!

As the movie begins, a woman is crying. It's Molly (Ann Dvorak), who is being comforted by her wealthy boyfriend Ralph (Don Dillaway). We're not initially certain just how serious the problem is, though we have a good guess or two, but shortly after Ralph unexpectedly dumps Molly we learn that she was expecting his baby. The cad high-tailed it out of town with his mother!

Molly wants to leave town and hits the road with slimy salesman/minor criminal Nicky Grant (Leslie Fenton). A few years later she stows baby Ann Marie (Jackie Lyn Dufton) with a babysitter and is reunited with old friend Jimmy (Richard Cromwell), who wants to marry her, and she also meets reporter Scotty Cornell (Tracy), who doesn't know Molly's real name and just wants her for a good time.

Molly and Jimmy are in hot water due to Nicky's latest crime, and little does Scotty know that his plot to force Molly to give herself up to the cops is going to impact the new woman in his life -- a woman he's falling in love with despite himself.

The plot's kind of a perpetual downer, which made it less fun than FEMALE, but Dvorak is solid as she always is as tragic Molly, who makes a string of poor choices leading to her downward spiral. The film reminded me a bit of her THREE ON A MATCH (1932) from the same year, in which she was quite unforgettable.

Tracy's Cornell is no good, but he livens things up in that fast-talking Tracy way, and his habit of tossing around the telephone when he picks it up is memorable. Cromwell is kind of drippy as the good boy, and Fenton is a very believable sleaze we first meet when he's a nylon salesman.

For me the best fun in the movie was recognizing all the character players. I might have yelped a tiny bit in pleasure when a pack of reporters spilled into the police station led by George Chandler. How many times did that man play a reporter in his career?!

The cops include Selmer Jackson, Pat O'Malley, Guy Kibbee, and J. Farrell MacDonald, and wonderful Louise Beavers has a scene as well.

The movie was filmed in black and white by Robert Kurrle, who sadly died the same year the movie was released. He shot a number of memorable pre-Codes, with his final film being THE MATCH KING (1932).

THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN is available on DVD from the Warner Archive. It also had a VHS release in the Forbidden Hollywood series.

All in all, a most enjoyable evening "at the movies"! For upcoming titles in this series, which runs through March, please visit my post on the series.


Blogger Vienna said...

Sounds a terrific evening! And two good titles. Love Ann Dvorak.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It really was, Vienna! Glad to see another of Ann's films on a big screen.

Best wishes,

9:28 AM  

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