Movie Diary 1/2/2019

This Is the Night (Frank Tuttle, 1931). Pre-Code sauciness about a married woman (Thelma Todd) wanting a Venice vacation with her boyfriend (Roland Young); for a variety of reasons, he must manufacture a fake wife (Lili Damita) when Todd’s husband suddenly returns to the scene. The latter is played by an engaging chap called Cary Grant, in his first movie; he’s still got some baby fat, as befits a character who’s an Olympics-level javelin thrower. (Some pretty good jokes about javelins along the way.) The movie packs a lot in over the course of 80 minutes: an opening sequence that’s mostly sung dialogue, a batch of risqué jokes, the almost complete superflousness of the Charlie Ruggles character, except to get Charlie Ruggles into the movie. Grant has some good physical moments.

Thirty Day Princess (Marion Gering, 1934). Two years later for Cary Grant, and in the meantime he’d worked with Mae West and Marlene Dietrich. This will change a man. The slapstick here revolves around Sylvia Sidney, in a dual role as a princess visiting America and an American gal who impersonates her. Grant is a skeptical newspaper publisher, Edward Arnold is the businessman who hatches the scheme. This movie’s a good argument in favor of the auteur theory, in a reverse way: The script has many authors, but first-billed is Preston Sturges, and their are a number of lines that sound very Sturges-like; but most of them just lie there, flat, because the pace and the actors’ attitude lacks the  necessary tautness to make them pop – Grant being the exception. The movie’s also got Vince Barnett doing shtick as the heavily-accented and idiotic royal suitor, a bit that looks like a warm-up for Sig Arno’s role in Sturges’ Palm Beach Story.

A Family Tour (Ying Liang, 2018). A thoughtful look at a Chinese director – currently exiled to Hong Kong for making a movie disliked by Chinese authorities – visiting a Taiwan film festival as a ruse to see her mother, who’s on a bus tour of Taiwan. Mannered in its style, including the puzzling lead performance, but skillful in presenting a view of the human cost of oppression.

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