TCM scheduled a trio of films this past Sunday night that were all on my must-see list for a variety of reasons, but their rationale for showing the movies was that they all featured actress Nancy Carroll, a popular actress who began her career in silents around 1927 (save for a small part in Riders of the Purple Sage, made in 1918) and smoothly made the transition to talkies thanks to her extensive musical background on stage. Truth be told, I’d only seen one of her films before the unspooling of the three films Sunday—1935’s Atlantic Adventure…and I watched that one only to catch silent comedy legend Harry Langdon in one of his better sound roles (as photographer-sidekick to newspaper man Lloyd Nolan). So now I have four Carroll films tucked under my belt—just don’t go thinking I’m an expert or something.
Broken Lullaby (1932) – Okay, I have something to confess but I don’t want everybody stampeding to the comments section all at the same time to tell me that I’m obviously insane. I’m not all that big a fan of Ernst Lubitsch. I don’t dislike him, you understand—and I respect his invaluable contributions to cinema—but apart from a few movies (notably The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg , “The Clerk” segment from If I Had a Million , Design for Living , Heaven Can Wait  and my all-time favorite, To Be or Not to Be ) I’m pretty much indifferent. Developing a stronger appreciation for Lubitsch is a work in progress, and I rectified this with watching the rarely scheduled Lullaby, which stars Phillips Holmes as an ex-French soldier so wracked with guilt over killing a German soldier (Tom Douglas) in WWI that he makes a pilgrimage to the soldier’s home town to make peace with his family (Carroll is the soldier’s fiancée, Lionel Barrymore his pop and Louise Carter his ma). Holmes loses his nerve at the last minute and tells the family a lie that the two men were good friends in France—they, in turn, take him into their home and treat him like an ersatz son despite the cluck-clucking from the townspeople. In the end, Carroll learns the truth about Holmes but decides to shield it from Barrymore and Carter, and everything comes out in the wash.
Despite some performances that are a tad overwrought, I liked Lullaby—particularly for Lubitsch’s trademark “touches” that include an amusing sequence in which Carroll and Holmes are taking a stroll downtown and all they can hear in the background are the ringing of bells from every shop because the proprietors are a bit nosey and keep opening their doors to hear their conversation. Barrymore is exceptionally good, and has a nice moment in which he confronts his “friends” at the local tavern and admonishes them (and himself) for never seeming to get the point that while they’re sending their sons off to war and toasting their good fortune…those same sons eventually end up dead…or badly scarred and wounded should they return. Emma Dunn, Tully Marshall, Lucien Littlefield and ZaSu Pitts are also in the cast, and though TCM’s print showed a little wear-and-tear (it had the familiar “A MCA-TV Release” titles) any opportunity to see a rarity like this is well worth it.
The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933) – Paul Lukas is a cuckolded husband who’s finally had it with unfaithful wife Gloria Stuart (she’s been dallying with Walter Pidgeon, who looks incredibly young here) and kills in her cold blood. His attorney, Frank Morgan, decides that his defense will address the fact that Lukas was acting in a diminished capacity when he busted a cap in Stuart’s ass, brought on by the stress of Stuart’s infidelity. (Yeah, like that would work in real life.) But as Morgan delves deeper and deeper into the case, he can’t avoid the comparisons between Lukas’ predicament and his own home life—particularly when it appears that his wife (Carroll) is two-timing him as well.
Director James Whale put this one together (shooting on sets left over from Frankenstein ) and while it’s worth a look for the curious it really doesn’t deliver on its promise. The performances carry the day: Morgan is aces in a straight role as the lawyer, Lukas has toned down his Bela Lugosi impression some and it’s a shame that Stuart departs the film so soon (Bobby Osbo compares her exit to that of Janet Leigh’s in Psycho, which is a fairly apt description) because she is sensationally tarty in her small role. Of the three Carroll films, this is the one that showcases her talent best; she strikes a nice balance between naughty adulteress and devoted wife. (Charley Grapewin is also in this film as Morgan’s clerk, and he’s practically unrecognizable.) Whale liked this material so much he recycled it five years later for Wives Under Suspicion (1938) with professional sleazeball Warren William as the lawyer hubby and Gail Patrick as the wife (and Morgan’s brother Ralph in the cast). Bobby also mentioned that Charles Laughton and Claudette Colbert were originally slated for the leads (now that’s a picture I would have liked to see) and received a rare standing ovation from yours truly when he asked why modern day filmmakers don’t make more movies with the breadth and economy of Kiss instead of stretching them out to two-and-a-half hours.
There Goes My Heart (1938) – This was Nancy Carroll’s cinematic swan song; she saw the handwriting on the wall that the big roles weren’t as forthcoming as they were in the past (Heart is a perfect example; her part is that of snooty roommate to Patsy Kelly) and went back to stage work (and did a lot of early television later on). The story here really focuses on heiress Virginia Bruce, who’s tired of having to bow and scrape to her fuddy-duddy grandpa (Claude Gillingwater) and jumps yacht to start her own life in
This was the first Hal Roach Studios film to be released by United Artists and while one certainly can’t overlook how derivative it is (it’s part-It Happened One Night and part-Nothing Sacred) it’s still an entertaining screwball comedy with some sprightly gags, jokes and pratfalls (March and Bruce’s antics on ice are hysterical, as is Kelly’s grappling with a reducing machine). The cast is also a big plus—in addition to those I’ve named, you’ll also find Alan Mowbray (as Patsy’s would-be-chiropractor boyfriend), Arthur Lake (this is the second film I’ve seen in which Lake is not playing Dagwood Bumstead), Irving Bacon, Robert Armstrong, Marjorie Main (uncredited)…and a funny cameo at the end from a silent comedian that I previously mentioned at the start of this post. It’s based on an original story by Ed Sullivan (I guess you could call it a really big shew) and directed by comedy veteran Norman Z. McLeod (Monkey Business , It’s a Gift , Road to Rio , The Paleface , etc.)