I have been watching more movies from the early days of Hollywood and trying to understand why some stars became stars. I’ve just finished the book The Speed of Sound by Scott Eyman and I realized that the first year of sound was year one in cinema in many ways. Some careers were ruined and some were born. The big films like King Kong and their stars are part of my childhood but much of the rest is a big blur of names. Two of the actresses I’ve come to appreciate more because of their early films are Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell. I’ve always liked Stanwyck in Double Indemnity and Meet John Doe. If you watch two of her early films Baby Face and Night Nurse you see her appeal to audiences of the 1930’s. Both are Pre-code movies and she is learning her craft. In one film she is an “angel” in disguise and the opposite in the other.
Night Nurse (1931) is a wonderful film. Stanwyck wants to be a nurse and Blondell befriends her by showing her the ropes of nursing school. She treats a gangster’s gunshot wound, becomes a private nurse for 2 children that are being starved to death (who knew milk baths are the cure for starvation!) and gets socked in the face by future star Clark Gable, who gets a final ambulance ride at the end.
Baby Face (1933) is a pure woman’s film, Stanwyck is the star and she turns the men into props. She is a barmaid/ prostitute who works with her dad at a speakeasy. She’s had enough and one night she rejects the town’s big wig advances. A fight ensues, her dad is killed and the speakeasy burns down. Left with nothing she heads into the city “working” her way to the top of a bank. There is a funny part of the movie where she plays dumb like in Double Indemnity and the Bank’s Board of Directors pay her off and send her to Europe. The music from the song Baby Face “you have the cutest little baby face” plays at various times during the seduction scenes. At the end she falls in love with the one guy who wouldn’t succumb to her “charms”.
Joan Blondell is as fresh and perky as a young actress can be in Night Nurse. When I was in high school in the 70’s I hung around with some guys that were older, in college. One of their friends after finishing college had come up from Alabama to make it in NYC as an actor. He was a waiter at a famous restaurant, I can’t remember the name. Well anyway Blondell was in a Broadway play and afterwards the cast was at the restaurant. Blondell was telling stories and disparaging show business. What she was saying isn’t important. We all have had bad days but boy would I have loved to spend a couple hours at dinner talking to Joan Blondell!
TCM is showing Baby Face on Thursday December 3rd at 8:00pm and Night Nurse on Thursday December 17th at 9:15 AM. I recommend everyone give them a shot. Maybe Arthur Grant has written about these films and can share a link?
Anyone else have a favorite actress of the 1930’s?
Its Stanwyck for me. But i am also partial to Jean Arthur. In fact I am about to watch 'If Only you could Cook' in which she stars with Herbert Marshall.
My favourite screwball comedies both star these two actresses. They are The Devil and Miss Jones (not to be confused with the 70's porn flick) The More the Merrier and, best of all Ball of Fire, which is going to the film that my family sit down to watch this Xmas day.
I recently watched the film Girls Dormitory - that starred Simone Simon in her first Hollywood movie. My, was she cute - only 26.