Friday, September 13, 2019

Tonight's Movies: Mills of the Gods (1934) and For Heaven's Sake (1950) at Cinecon

My second day at this year's Cinecon Classic Film Festival consisted of seeing four movies, with a short in the mix as well.

I started off with the silent films THE SHAMROCK HANDICAP (1926) and THE DELICIOUS LITTLE DEVIL (1919), both reviewed here, along with the short ROOM MATES (1933).

Then it was time for a mid '30s film, MILLS OF THE GODS (1934), which was a mashup of workplace drama and family soap opera, followed by the comedic fantasy FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE (1950), featuring festival honoree Gigi Perreau; the former child actress sat just a few rows ahead of me as she watched herself acting six decades ago!

MILLS OF THE GODS stars May Robson as Mary Hastings, the head of Hastings Plow Works.

Mary's family (including Fay Wray, James Blakely, Raymond Walburn, and Josephine Whittell) are content to enjoy the wealthy lifestyle the Plow Works affords them, but none of them are interested in succeeding the aging Mary as company head. Truth to tell, they're a collection of selfish jerks.

Things change when business begins to tank due to the Great Depression, which also results in labor unrest. Mary summons her family home, hoping against hope that they will help loosen up some trust funds to bail out the company, but the family members prefer to "take the money and run," letting the company close and putting all the employees out of work.

Sarcastic, hard-edged Jean Hastings (Wray) chances to get to know labor leader Jim Devlin (Victor Jory) and a crack in her armor appears when she decides to help him avoid being arrested on a trumped-up charge cooked up by her relatives. Jean and Jim flee to hide overnight at a mountain cabin; as they get to know one another in their hours together, Jean's attitude begins to change.

This was an interesting 66 minutes, although one of the big questions raised is how did someone as "noble" as Mary raise such a collection of unpleasant people? When Jim gets to know Jean, he asks what had hurt her and caused her to act as she does, but she never answers the question. We're left to wonder. Perhaps Mary was too wrapped up in the business even decades earlier? Or was it just plain bad luck and out of her hands? Clearly there were issues never explained to the audience.

Despite that lingering question mark, the film is worthwhile, especially the extended sequence with Wray and Jory in the cabin. It's sharply written and adult, with excellent performances by Wray and Jory. The sequence zigs when you expect it to zag -- I was glad when it appeared something bad would happen, but it didn't come to pass -- and all in all this section is really superbly done. The movie doesn't go for a pat ending with Wray and Jory, either; it seemed fitting to leave it more open-ended.

MILLS OF THE GODS was directed by Roy William Neill, known for Sherlock Holmes movies, and was filmed by Allen G. Siegler.

The last film of the day for me was FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE (1950), which was a favorite of mine on local TV when I was growing up here in Southern California. Though I've seen it multiple times, I doubt I had seen the movie in the better part of four decades.

FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE is a fantasy in which a pair of angels, Charles (Clifton Webb) and Arthur (Edmund Gwenn), are attempting to retrieve a little sprite of sorts (Gigi Perreau) from a New York penthouse. The little one believes she is destined to be the child of the people who live in the apartment, a playwright named Jeff (Robert Cummings) and his actress wife Lydia (Joan Bennett); careers and marital uncertainty continually cause the couple to put off having children.

The angels take pity on the little girl and Charles temporarily takes human form as "Slim," a possible backer for Jeff's next show, hoping to help push Jeff and Lydia closer together and finally have their baby.

As may be deduced from the briefest of descriptions, this one is pretty wild, between the oddball fantasy and Clifton Webb's scenes playing a different kind of "angel," a Broadway investor; Slim is a Western oilman and as one might imagine, Webb is pretty funny in these scenes, playing wildly against his usual urbane type.

The film is a tad long at 92 minutes, but the interesting premise and solid cast make it worthwhile. The film was a reunion for Gwenn and director-cowriter George Seaton, who had worked together on MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947).

FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE was filmed in black and white by Lloyd Ahern Sr. The top supporting cast includes Joan Blondell, Jack La Rue, Harry von Zell, Tommy Rettig, Charles Lane, Whit Bissell, and Robert Kent.

Perreau was interviewed after the film; her entire family was there to watch the movie with her, which she had never seen theatrically. I'm fortunate in that this was my second time to see her interviewed in person this year. She also appeared at a Noir City Hollywood screening of SHADOW ON THE WALL (1950).

Perreau said that while Webb was clearly not very comfortable around children, he was also quite nice, as was Gwenn, and she had a wonderful experience working on the movie. Perreau is very appreciative in general of the many special people she worked with as a child; happily it all seems to have been positive for her, and she grew up to be a happy, well-adjusted adult.

Coming soon: My final reviews from my last day at this year's Cinecon fest: HIT PARADE OF 1941 (1940), CROOKED STREETS (1920), and CHATTERBOX (1943).


Blogger Lee R said...

I like any movie with Edmond Gwenn and when you add Clifton Webb to the mix that makes a film I just have to have. I saw this movie only a couple years ago, I remember it being very enjoyable if not for anything but all the great stars in it, made it worthwhile. Bob Cummings, another favorite, was also in it as the father to be in question. Yes, I liked this movie a lot. Puts me in the mood now to watch either a Clifton or Edmond movie tonight.

A recommendation to anyone who hasn't see it is Edmond Gwenn's "Sally & St. Anne" with Ann Blythe too.

But I just don't get into all these ancient movies from the '20's and early '30's. Exception is anything with Laurel & Hardy or Thelma Todd or Charley Chase. But the rest of the 20's and '30's stuff just leaves me indifferent.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Lee,

I'm glad to know you liked FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE as well.

SALLY AND SAINT ANNE, like FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, was a childhood favorite of mine. I reviewed it here a few years ago if anyone would like to take a look.

Perhaps one day you'll see a movie which will spark your interest in earlier films; it's been that way for me with genres or actors I previously didn't care for, and suddenly I found myself watching a whole lot of movies I hadn't expected I'd ever enjoy. :)

Best wishes,

7:49 PM  

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