SOMETHING TO BE HAPPY ABOUT: THE DEPRESSION
by Harvey Perr
published February 13, 2009
"Breadlines and Champagne: Depression Movies"
now playing at the
through March 5
The Film Forum is, on the heels of its Carole Lombard retrospective and its holiday gift of Preston Sturges goodies, in the midst
of a new series, “Breadlines and Champagne,” a rich grouping of films, all from the thirties, celebrating the great depression – so apt at the moment – and the good times
Hollywood tried to give an audience in the midst of hard times. There isn’t a film in this collection that isn’t worth considering if
you’ve never seen them before or if you’ve never seen them on a big screen. There are the classics – Howard Hawks’ Scarface (Feb 21; teamed with Rowland Brown’s Blood Money); Frank Capra’s It Happened
One Night (Feb 22/23; teamed with Victor Fleming’s Bombshell with
Jean Harlow); William Wyler’s Dead End and Mervyn LeRoy’s Three on a Match (Feb 20); the stunningly iconographical double bill of King Kong and 42nd
Street (Feb 28); two of the best “screwball comedies”: Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes
to Town and Richard Boleslavski’s Theodora Goes Wild, in which
Irene Dunne was added to an already imposing list of great film comediennes (Feb 27).
But there are two films I want to especially recommend because they are more rarely seen. One is Lewis Milestone’s Hallelujah, I’m A Bum, an Al Jolson musical with a score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz
Hart (both are extras in the film). There’s dialogue in iambic pentameter and radical socialist
ideas, most of which are spoken by the great Harry Langdon, the most forgotten of the four great silent screen comics. And it is paired with
Vitaphone Varieties of 2009, a series of sound shorts that have been restored by
the UCLA Film Archives and which feature the likes of Russ Columbo, Bert Lahr, Al Jolson, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy (film history
couldn’t get more “historical”). All of this on Feb 19.
And, on Feb 26, a film that I think could be the real discovery of this series: Frank Borzage’s No Greater Glory, a dated but nevertheless still powerful (and vibrant with poetic
imagery) indictment of war, as seen through the eyes of children, represented by two opposing gangs in a Budapest slum. Its mawkish moments
disappear in the overall lack of sentimentality, and, now that Borzage is getting the revisionist treatment, here he is at his peak (and his
source material is The Boys of Paul Street, an uncharacteristic work by the great Ferenc Molnar).
This is one any film lover cannot afford to miss. (It is paired with Cecil B. DeMille’s
This Day and Age, which I have not seen.)
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com