Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Three Stars from the Thirties

Claudette Colbert, "Cleopatra," 1934.
Claudette Colbert actually made a great Cleopatra in the 1934 film, of the same name, directed by Cecil B. DeMille.  It's a tough role.  The Queen of the Nile has to be seductive and devious, thinking she is in control of her and Egypt's fate, while at the same time she's very naive about Roman politics.  She leads both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony to their doom, in a way that seems utterly convincing.  Warren William is familiar to many movie buffs as a smooth talking, somewhat duplicitous leading man in many early talkies; he seems too smart for his own good in this film as Caesar, thinking he controls Cleopatra when she is really controlling him.  Henry Wilcoxon as Antony is less nuanced; he's just a drinker, fighter, and lover who seems honestly baffled when first his Roman generals desert him, and the Cleopatra flees to save her own skin at his expense.
Randolph Scott, "Roberta," 1935.
Randolph Scott was so well known for his many roles in Westerns that seeing him in romantic comedies is sometimes a surprise.  I forget he was great in films like "My Favorite Wife."  In the 1935 film "Roberta" he stars alongside Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  It's a silly film with a complicated plot - in France tagging along with Astaire's band, American football player Scott finds out his aunt, who owns a wildly successful haute couture, dies, leaving him the shop.  He ends up in a romantic triangle between his snooty girl visiting from back home and the shop's manager, played by Irene Dunne.  It's the main plot of the film, with Astaire and Rogers (who plays a counterfeit Russian duchess - see, the plot is complicated) relegated to the singing and dancing interludes.  I missed the ending - but I'm guessing Scott ended up with Dunne and either they both returned to America or he stayed to help run the shop!

Priscilla Lane, "The Roaring Twenties," 1939.
Priscilla Lane was one of the five Lane Sisters, four of whom were singers and actresses, and three of whom made the successful jump to the Silver Screen in the 1930s.  Priscilla had the biggest career, appearing in over 20 films, including the classics "Arsenic and Old Lace" and "Saboteur."  In "The Roaring Twenties" she's the young ingenue Great War-veteran-turned-bootlegger Jimmy Cagney falls hard for; but she instead marries one of his war buddies, a young lawyer on his way to become a District Attorney.  Conflict ensues.  As in all of her roles she's sweet and likeable, the girl the hero makes sacrifices for and sometimes loses to a better man. 

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