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Monster man and more

By STEVE VINEBERG  |  September 8, 2009

There's a curio from 1933, THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR (September 21 at 7 pm), with Frank Morgan chewing the scenery as a lawyer who learns that his wife (Nancy Carroll) has a lover. And from 1935, the year of Bride of Frankenstein, comes REMEMBER LAST NIGHT? (September 11, following This Old Dark House), Universal's desperate and disastrous attempt to cash in on the success of MGM's The Thin Man. It's a madcap murder thriller in which a corpse turns up the morning after a drunken party — none of the guests at which can remember exactly what happened the night before. At the center are Robert Young and Constance Cummings as a cocktail-swilling aristocratic couple; it's painfully clear that they aren't remotely up to The Thin Man's William Powell and Myrna Loy, or Cary Grant and Constance Bennett of the yet-to-be-released Topper.

By some accounts, the end of Whale's career was in sight when he spent too much money on Universal's 1936 film of the Jerome Kern–Oscar Hammerstein musical SHOW BOAT (September 20 at 3 pm). If so, the studio was short-sighted, since it's the only great musical ever made there. The nominal stars are Allan Jones and Irene Dunne, but it's the co-stars you remember: Helen Morgan as the tragic mulatto Julie, leaning against the piano to sing "Bill" before she fades out of the picture; Paul Robeson as Joe, giving the definitive performance of "Ol' Man River"; Hattie McDaniel as his sweetheart Queenie, joining with him on the duet "I Still Suits Me" (which Kern and Hammerstein wrote especially for the movie); Charles Winninger and Helen Westley as the big-hearted show-boat captain and his ornery wife. (Morgan, Robeson, and Winninger had played their characters on stage.)

Whale put his experience with melodrama to good use in this version of Edna Ferber's sprawling bestseller — and again in his unjustly forgotten 1939 film of the Alexandre Dumas swashbuckler THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (September 13 at 7 pm). It stars Louis Hayward in a dual role as the cruel, narcissistic King Louis XIV and his twin brother — who's raised as a rebel and trained as a swordsman by d'Artagnan (Warren William, playing exuberantly against type) and the three Musketeers (Alan Hale, Miles Mander, and Bert Roach) — and Joan Bennett as the Spanish princess Maria Theresa, who comes to marry the royal twin and unwittingly falls in love with his proletarian brother. This movie is one of the liveliest costume pictures Hollywood put out in the '30s. Whale didn't go in for starch. He was a lean, vibrant filmmaker, and this tribute to him is long overdue.

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  Topics: Features , Harvard University, Charles Laughton, James Whale,  More more >
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