Mandalay (Michael Curtiz, 1934). Watching some pre-Code pictures; this one has Kay Francis as a woman abandoned in Rangoon by Ricardo Cortez and forced to work in Warner Oland’s nightclub. A lot gets packed into 65 minutes – sex, songs, bottles of poison – and the last part takes place on a boat to Mandalay, where noble but alcoholic doctor Lyle Talbot meets Francis. Curtiz makes the thing look great.
The Wet Parade (Victor Fleming, 1932). An extremely weird Pre-Code picture based on a Prohibition-themed novel by Upton Sinclair. Two family patriarchs (Lewis Stone and Walter Huston) are ruined by alcohol; the dry crusaders include Robert Young and Dorothy Jordan. At one point Young joins forces with the law, and his G-Man partner is Jimmy Durante, because the movie wasn’t quite bizarre enough. But if the film paints alcoholism as destructive (Huston’s initially comical character ends up committing a truly brutal act), it also knows its audience. So there’s a lot of ambivalence about booze. Prohibition wouldn’t last much longer anyway.
Downstairs (Monta Bell [uncredited], 1932). Another one, and another doozy. John Gilbert plays a rakish-to-the-point-of-creepy chauffeur, newly arrived for work at a mansion where the head butler (Paul Lukas) runs a tight ship. Gilbert wrote the original story. The whole thing seems to take place in another world.
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