The third of Paramount’s “deluxe” westerns of the 1930s (following The Texas Rangers and The Plainsman) was Wells Fargo, filmed on a Cecil B. DeMille scale by producer-director Frank Lloyd. In his first western appearance, Joel McCrea plays Ramsey McCay, troubleshooter for the newly formed partnership of Henry Wells (Henry O’Neill) and William Fargo (Jack Clark). Dedicated to maintaining a safe and speedy overland mail and freight service to the West, Wells-Fargo is at the forefront of several important historical events, including the California Gold Rush, the formation of the Pony Express and the Civil War. Hero McCay is briefly separated from his wife Justine (played by McCrea’s real-life spouse Frances Dee) during the last-named conflict, but the two are reunited late in life as Wells-Fargo celebrates its 20th year of service. Constructed in a rather pedantic “tableau” fashion (a frequent shortcoming in Frank Lloyd’s films), Wells Fargo nevertheless contains several thrill-packed highlights, most of which would do service as stock footage in such later Paramount westerns as Geronimo. Originally released at 115 minutes, Wells Fargo was radically shortened in subsequent re-issues, almost completely eliminating the semi-villainous character played by fourth-billed Lloyd Nolan (if asked, audiences would probably have preferred to see far less of comedy-relief Bob “Bazooka” Burns).
Tag Archives: 1930s
Homespun vaudeville monologist Chic Sale repeats his “old geezer” characterization in Warner Bros.’ Stranger in Town. Sale is cast as Crickle, a tenacious small-town grocer who stubbornly resists the efforts of a monopolistic chain-store firm to purchase his establishment. The chain manager retaliates by cutting off Crickles’ supply of produce, whereupon our hero’s friends and neighbors save his business by supplying him with goods from their own farms. As a result, the Depression-plagued village suddenly gets back on its financial feet again. Evidently, Warners regarded Chic Sale as the studio’s own Will Rogers, and as such his character spends an ample amount of screen time helping the romantic leads, played by David Manners and Ann Dvorak.
Donald Woods heads this Warners musical/romance/comedy that offers a peek behind the scenes in Hollywood. It centers on a recently unemployed talent scout (Woods) who begins looking for a real talent to help him reestablish his career. He finds a talented singer and manages to convince his old boss to give her a screen test. Unfortunately, she is just awful. Still the scout manages to get her on the studio payroll. Later she does indeed become a major star, and promptly falls in love with her leading man. This leads to big trouble. Fortunately, the talent scout saves her, and romance ensues. Songs include: In the Silent Picture Days; I Am the Singer, You Are My Song; Born to Love and I Was Wrong – all by the ace Warners songwriting team of M.K. Jerome and Jack Scholl.
Gold-diggers Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman meet susceptible lonely businessmen at conventions in this ribald preproduction code story. The millionaires lavish the girls with expensive gifts. Francis falls for poor but virtuous Joel McCrea. Eugene Paulette is a copper king who gives Tashman jewelry. His wife reacts not with jealously but by trying to imitate her rival’s style.
Fresh from his success with the moody melodrama Murders in the Rue Morgue, director Robert Florey dashed off The Man Called Back at bargain-basement Tiffany Studios. The film is set in the tropics; Conrad Nagel tops the cast as a dissipated, derelict doctor, hopelessly in love with married socialite Doris Kenyon. Doris’ insane husband John Halliday commits suicide, but arranges the evidence so that his wife will be charged with murder. Nagel snaps out of his drunken doldrums to prove Doris’ innocence. Watch for “the ever-popular Mae Busch” in a minor role.
A large group of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco is clandestinely donating whatever money they earn to smuggle arms into China for the rebels in their fight against the centuries old Manchurian imperial oppressors. The secrecy of their mission is to hide their identities from anyone supporting the imperial regime. One of the immigrants supporting the rebels is Dr. Dong Tong. His only offspring, the demure Lien Wha, who also supports the cause, is in love with poor university student, Tom Lee, the two who, after meeting formally, want to get married, which Dr. Tong supports. However, Dr. Tong learns that the rebel backers are short $100,000 for the latest shipment of arms, and are asking the four men within the group with eligible daughters to donate $25,000 apiece, that money to be raised by selling their daughters into marriage to a wealthy buyer. Dr. Tong is one of the four, Lien Wha the daughter to be sold. Simultaneously, Dr. Tong learns of Tom’s true identity as the son of one of the most important leaders of the rebel movement in China. Dr. Tong’s answer to the request not only threatens Tom and Lien Wha’s marriage plans and happiness, but also the arms shipment and all their lives.
Death on the Diamond (1934) Edward Sedgwick, Robert Young, Madge Evans, Nat Pendleton, Drama, Mystery
Pop Clark is about to lose his baseball team, unless they can win the pennant so he can pay off debts. He hires ace player Larry Kelly to ensure the victory. As well as rival teams, mobsters are trying to prevent the wins, and as the pennant race nears the end, Pop’s star players begin to be killed, on and off the field. Can Larry romance Pop’s daughter, win enough games, and still have time to stop a murderer before he strikes more than three times?
Anna Christie (1930) Clarence Brown, Greta Garbo, Charles Bickford, George F. Marion, Drama, Romance
In New York, the alcoholic skipper of a coal barge Chris Christofferson receives a letter from his estranged twenty year old daughter Anna “Christie” Christofferson telling that she will leave Minnesota to stay with him. Chris left Anna fifteen years ago to the countryside to be raised by relatives in a farm in St. Paul and he has never visited his daughter. Anna Christie arrives and she is a wounded woman with a hidden dishonorable past since she had worked for two years in a brothel to survive. She moves to the barge to live with her father and one night, Chris rescues the sailor Matt and two other fainted sailors from the sea. Soon Anna and Matt fall in love with each other and Anna has the best days of her life. But when Matt proposes to marry her, she is reluctant and also haunted by her past. Matt insists and Anna opens her heart to Matt and to her father disclosing the darks secrets of her past.
Bird of Paradise (1932) King Vidor, Dolores del Rio, Joel McCrea, John Halliday, Adventure, Romance, Drama
A young man falls overboard and is saved by a beautiful Polynesian girl. They fall in love, but their idyll is smashed when the local volcano begins to erupt. The man discovers that the local custom is to sacrifice a young woman to the volcanic gods. They try to escape but realize that “east is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet”.
The Devil-Doll (1936) Tod Browning, Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O’Sullivan, Frank Lawton, Sci-Fi, Horror
Paul Lavond was a respected banker in Paris when he was framed for robbery and murder by crooked associates and sent to Devil’s Island. Years later, he escapes with a friend, a scientist who was working on a method to reduce humans to a height of mere inches (all for the good of humanity, of course). Lavond however is consumed with hatred for the men who betrayed him, and takes the scientist’s methods back to Paris to exact painful revenge.