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I Cover the Waterfront (1933)


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Pre Code Hollywood Season: FD Cinematheque

I Cover the Waterfront (1933)

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Director: James Cruze

Cast: Ben Lyon, Claudette Colbert, Ernest Torrence, Hobart Cavanaugh, Maurice Black, Purnell Platt, Harry Beresford, Wilfred Lucas,  Rosita Marstini

75 min

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I Cover the Waterfront is a 1933 American Pre-Code romantic drama film directed by James Cruze and starring Ben LyonClaudette ColbertErnest Torrence, and Hobart Cavanaugh.

Based on the book of the same name by Max Miller, the film is about a reporter who investigates a waterfront smuggling operation, and becomes romantically involved with the daughter of the man he is investigating.

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Plot

San Diego Standard reporter H. Joseph Miller (Ben Lyon) has been covering the city’s waterfront for the past five years and is fed up with the work. He longs to escape the waterfront life and land a newspaper job back East so he can marry his Vermont sweetheart. Miller is frustrated by the lack of progress of his current assignment investigating the smuggling of Chinese people into the country by a fisherman named Eli Kirk (Ernest Torrence). One morning after wasting a night tracking down bad leads, his editor at the Standard orders him to investigate a report of a girl swimming naked at the beach. There he meets Julie Kirk (Claudette Colbert), the daughter of the man he’s been investigating.

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Meanwhile, Eli Kirk and his crew are returning to San Diego with a Chinese passenger when the Coast Guard approaches. Not wanting to be caught with evidence of his smuggling operation, Kirk orders his men to weigh down the Chinaman and lower him overboard to his death. The Coast Guard, accompanied by Miller, board the boat but find nothing. The next day, Miller discovers the Chinaman’s body which was carried in with the tide, and takes it as evidence to his editor, who still remains skeptical of Kirk’s guilt. To get conclusive evidence, Miller tells him he plans to romance Kirk’s daughter Julie in order to break the smuggling operation.

When Kirk returns, he informs Julie that they will need to move on soon—maybe to Singapore—as soon as he can put together enough money for the voyage. One night, Julie discovers her father drunk at a boarding house. Miller, who was there investigating Kirk, helps Julie take her father home. Julie does not discourage Miller’s flirtations, and during the next few weeks they fall in love. She is able to help Miller see the beauty of the waterfront, and inspires him to improve the novel he’s been working for the past five years. While visiting an old Spanish galleon on a date, he playfully restrains her in a torture rack and kisses her passionately—and she returns his passion.

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Julie and Miller spend a romantic evening together on the beach, where she reveals that she and her father will be sailing away in the next few days. After spending the night in Miller’s apartment, Julie announces the next morning that she’s decided to stay, hoping that he will stay with her. When Miller learns from her that her father is due to dock at the Chinese settlement that night, he notifies the Coast Guard. At the dock, while the Coast Guard searches the vessel, Miller discovers a Chinaman hidden inside a large shark. When the Coast Guard attempt to arrest Kirk, he flees the scene but is wounded during his escape.

The next morning, Miller’s breaking story is published on the Standard’s front page. When a wounded Kirk makes his way back home, Julie learns that it was Miller who helped the Coast Guard uncover her father’s smuggling operation (of which she was unaware), and that she unknowingly revealed to him his landing location. Soon after, Miller, feeling guilty over the story’s impact to Julie’s life, arrives at her home and apologizes for the hurt he’s caused her, and announces that he loves her. Feeling used by his actions, an angry Julie sends him away.

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Later that night, Miller locates Kirk, who shoots him in the arm. Julie arrives to help her father escape, and seeing Miller wounded, she tells her father she cannot leave Miller to die. Seeing that she loves him, Kirk helps her take Miller to safety, after which Kirk dies. Later from his hospital bed, Miller acknowledges in his newspaper column that Kirk saved his life before he died. Sometime later, Miller returns to his apartment, where Julie is waiting to greet him. Noticing that she cleaned and transformed his place into a cozy home, he tells her he finally wrote the ending to his novel, “He marries the girl”. Julie acknowledges, “That’s a swell finish”, and the two embrace.

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Cast

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Production

Screenplay

Rights to the novel were bought by Edward Small and his partner Harry Goets in 1932. They made it through the Reliance Picture Corporation as the first of a six-film deal with United Artists.[2] Reliance co-produced the film with Joseph Schenck’s Art Cinema Corporation.[1]

Filming

I Cover the Waterfront was filmed from mid-February to early March 1933.[1]

Soundtrack

The film’s title song, “I Cover the Waterfront“, appears in the film only as an instrumental.[3] Written by Johnny Green and Edward Heyman, the song went on to become a jazz standard recorded by many artists, including Billie HolidayLouis ArmstrongFrank SinatraThe Ink Spots, and Ella Fitzgerald, among others.[4]

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Critical response

In his review for The New York Times, film critic Mordaunt Hall called the film “a stolid and often grim picture”.[5] While Hall felt the drama was not as good as some of director James Cruze’s previous work, the “clever acting of the principals”—especially that of Ernest Torrence—offset some of the film’s shortcomings.[5]

Hall found some of the scenes “more shocking than suspenseful” and felt a broader adaptation of Max Miller’s book may have been more interesting than the focus on the melodramatic series of incidents related to a sinister fisherman.[5]

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While acknowledging that “Colbert does well as Julie”, Hall did not find her convincing as a fisherman’s daughter because she does not look the type.[5] Hall reserved his highest praise for Ernest Torrence in his final screen performance.[5] Torrence died on May 15, 1933, shortly after the film was completed.

John Mosher of The New Yorker described the adaptation as a “commonplace screen romance,” but also praised the performance of the late Torrence, writing that he “was at the height of his power … One can foresee that many pictures will be empty things for lack of him.”[6] Variety called it “a moderately entertaining picture … The late Ernest Torrence has the meat part and his performance is in keeping with the standard he had set for himself. A pretty tough assignment they gave him, one in which it was necessary to capture sympathy in face of the worst sort of opposition from the script. He’ll be sorely missed on the screen.”[7]

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Remakes

I Cover the Waterfront was remade in 1961 by Edward Small as Secret of Deep Harbor.[3]

See also

References[edit]

  1. Jump up to:a b c “I Cover the Waterfront”American Film Institute. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  2. Jump up^ Babcock, Muriel (September 24, 1932). “Notable Novel to be Filmed”. The New York Times. p. A7.
  3. Jump up to:a b “I Cover the Waterfront: Notes”. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  4. Jump up^ “I Cover the Waterfront”. Discogs. Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  5. Jump up to:a b c d e Hall, Mordaunt (May 18, 1933). “The Late Ernest Torrence in His Last Picture…”The New York Times. Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  6. Jump up^ Mosher, John (May 27, 1933). “The Current Cinema”. The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 49.
  7. Jump up^ “I Cover the Waterfront”. Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. May 23, 1933. p. 15.

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Just Imagine (1933)


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Pre Code Hollywood Season: FD Cinematheque

Just Imagine (1930)

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Director: David Butler

Cast: El Brendel, Maureen O’Sullivan, John Garrick, Marjorie White, Frank Albertson, Hobart Bosworth, Kenneth Thomson, Micha Auer, Ivan Linow, Joyzelle Joyner, Wilfred Lucas

113 min

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Just Imagine is a 1930 American pre-Code science fiction musicalcomedy film, directed by David Butler.

The film is known for its art direction and special effects in its portrayal of New York City in an imagined 1980. Just Imagine stars El Brendel, Maureen O’Sullivan, John Garrick and Marjorie White. The “man from 1930” was played by El Brendel, an ethnic vaudeville comedian of a forgotten type: the Swedish immigrant.

The film starts with a preamble showing life in 1880, where the people believed themselves the “last word in speed”. It switches to 1930, with the streets crowded with automobiles and lined with electric lights and telephone wires. It then switches to 1980, where the tenement houses have morphed into 250-story buildings, connected by suspension bridges and multi-lane elevated roads.

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Plot

In 1980, J-21 (John Garrick) sets his aircraft on “hover” mode in New York, lands and converses with the beautiful LN-18 (Maureen O’Sullivan). He describes how the marriage tribunal had refused to consider J-21’s marital filing and applications, and LN-18 is going to be forced to marry the conceited and mean MT-3 (Kenneth Thomson). J-21 plans to visit LN-18 that night.

RT-42 (Frank Albertson) tries to cheer him up by taking him to see a horde of surgeons experimentally revive a man from 1930, who was struck by lightning while playing golf, and was killed. The man (originally named Peterson now is called Single O) is taken in hand by RT-42 and J-21, where it is revealed that aircraft have replaced cars, numbers have replaced names, pills have replaced food and liquor, and the only legal babies come from vending machines.

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That night, LN-18 feigns a headache, and her father and the despicable MT-3 decide to go to “the show” without her. The second they are gone, RT-42 and J-21 appear and woo B-27 and LN-18 respectively. MT-3 and LN-18’s father return quite early, as MT-3 was highly suspicious, and RT-42 and J-21 hide. However, the game is foiled by the moronic Single O (El Brendel), the man from 1930, becoming addicted to pill-highballs, getting drunk, and trying to get some more pill-highballs from J-21.

J-21 is depressed, but is contacted by Z-4, the scientist. He is told that Z-4 (Hobart Bosworth) has built a “rocket plane” that can carry three men to Mars. After a farewell party where J-21 works, on the Pegasus, a dirigible they call an “air-liner,” the rocket blasts off, carrying J-21, RT-42 and Single O, who has stowed away for the synthetic rum. Landing on Mars, they are received by the Queen, Looloo and the King, Loko. That night, Looloo and Loko take them to see a “show,” a Martian opera, where a horde of trained Martian ourang-outangs dance about.

They are suddenly attacked by Booboo and Boko, the evil twins (everyone on Mars is a twin) of the King and Queen. They escape and return to Earth, and as one of the first men on another planet, J-21 is permitted to marry LN-18. Finally, Single O is reunited with his aged son, Axel.

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Cast

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Production

Art/cinematography

The massive, distinctive Art Deco city-scape, for which Just Imagine has come to be best remembered, was built in a former Army balloon hangar by a team of 205 technicians over a five-month period.

The giant miniature cost $168,000 to build and was wired with 15,000 miniature lightbulbs (an additional 74 arc lights were used to light the city from above). Other production credits include costumes by Alice O’Neil and Dolly Tree with graphics by Post Amazers.[1]

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Special effects

The sequence in which the El Brendel character is revived from the dead features the first screen appearance of the spectacular electrical equipment assembled by Kenneth Strickfaden, seen again and more famously in James Whale‘s Frankenstein (1931).

Over 50 special effects shots combining previously photographed backgrounds with live foreground action were accomplished using the Dunning Process.[2] Rear projection technology of the scale and quality required was not available at the time.

The set design in the form of glass pictures and miniatures was done by Stephen Goosson, Ralph Hammeras, SPFX-guru Willis O’Brien, and Marcel Delgado (all uncredited).[3]

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Music

Of the DeSylva, Brown and Henderson songs introduced in the film, “Never Swat a Fly” was covered as the classic 1930 recording by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, the 1967 revival by Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band, and more recent recordings by Doc Cheatham among others.

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Reception

Mordaunt Hall called Just Imagine, “clever”, “highly imaginative” and “intriguing” and praised the costumes and set design.[4] This expensive film was a one-time-only novelty stunt, bolstered by the short-lived popularity of El Brendel.[5] Wonder Stories “cordially recommended” the film, saying it “shows us many of the wonders that our science fiction authors have been writing about”.[6]

Although a box-office flop, however, it was eventually able to make back some of its production costs in the studio shopping out clips of the futuristic sets for other films of the period. Clips of the cityscape from this movie were later used in the Universal serials Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers; the mock-up Mars spaceship was reused in the former as Dr. Zarkov’s spaceship.

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Also seen in the first Flash Gordon serial are the strange hand-weapons carried by J21 and RT42 on Mars, which are held under rather than over the fist, and re-used footage of dancing girls cavorting about and on a Martian idol with moving arms.[7]

By the time Just Imagine was released, movie musicals had greatly declined in popularity.[8] As a result, major American studios would not back another big budget science fiction film until 1951. There was to be only one other American science-fiction musical in that period, It’s Great to Be Alive (1933), which failed at the box-office. Film serials were an exception to this general trend, however.

The first Flash Gordon serial from 1936 had an unusually large budget for a serial of the time, and Gene Autry’s The Phantom Empire from 1935 can loosely be considered a science fiction musical serial.

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Awards

Just Imagine was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction by Stephen Goosson and Ralph Hammeras.[9] It is notable as the first film of the science fiction genre to be nominated for an Oscar.

See also

References

Notes

  1. Jump up^ Kreuger 1974, p. 241.
  2. Jump up^ The International Photographer, December 1930. p. 40.
  3. Jump up^ German 2010 DVD of movie Behemoth, the Sea Monster titled “Das Ungeheuer von Loch Ness”: Extras: Willis O’Brien-filmography: card 12 (Just Imagine (1930))
  4. Jump up^ Hall, Mourdant. “Derelict (1930).” The New York Times, November 22, 1930.
  5. Jump up^ Westphal, Kyle. “Early talkies: A Primer.” Northwest Chicago Film Society, September 30, 2012. Retrieved: May 2, 2015.
  6. Jump up^ “Book Reviews”, Wonder Stories, February 1931, p. 1054
  7. Jump up^ “Just Imagine (1930).” Movie Diva. Retrieved: May 2, 2015.
  8. Jump up^ Altman 1987, p. 186.
  9. Jump up^ “Details: ‘Just Imagine’.” The New York Times. Retrieved: May 2, 2015.

Bibliography

Altman, Rick. The American Film Musical. Bloomington Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1987. ISBN 978-0-253-20514-8.
Kreuger, Miles ed. The Movie Musical from Vitaphone to 42nd Street as Reported in a Great Fan Magazine. New York: Dover Publications, 1974. ISBN 0-486-23154-2.

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Through The Back Door (1921)


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Mary Pickford Season: FD Cinematheque

Through The Back Door (1921)

Director: Alfred E Green, Jack Pickford

Cast: Mary Pickford, Gertrude Astor, Wilfred Lucas, Helen Raymond, C Norman Hammond, Elinor Fair, Adolphe Menjou, Peaches Jackson, Doreen Jackson, John Harron, George Dromgold, Kate Price

89 min

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Through the Back Door is a 1921 American silent comedy drama film directed by Alfred E. Green and Jack Pickford, and starring Mary Pickford.[1]

Plot

The movie starts in Belgium in the early 1900s. Jeanne (Mary Pickford) is the 10-year-old daughter of Louise (Gertrude Astor). Troubles start when Louise remarries a selfish but rich man named Elton Reeves (Wilfred Lucas). He convinces her to move to America and leave Jeanne behind in Belgium to live with the maid Marie (Helen Raymond). At first Louise refuses to, but eventually gives in and leaves Jeanne in the care of Marie.

Five years pass and Jeanne and Marie bonded. Meanwhile, Louise hated living in America and feels guilty having left her kid behind. She returns to Belgium to reunite with Jeanne, but Marie doesn’t want to give her up. When Louise finally arrives, Marie lies to her Jeanne drowned in a river nearby. Louise is devastated and collapses, before returning to America. This results in estranging from Elton.

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World War I broke out and Belgium is occupied by Germany. Marie fears for Jeanne’s safety and brings her to America to live with her mother. After an emotional goodbye, Jeanne sets out for America to find her mother. Along the way she meets two orphan boys and decides to take care of them. When she finally arrives in America, she travels to Louise’s big mansion.

Too afraid to tell her she is her daughter, Jeanne applies to serve as her maid. While pretending to be someone else, she gets to know her mother. However, she has trouble keeping up the lie and wants nothing more but have a reconciliation. Waiting for the right time to tell the truth, Jeanne hopes everything will come to a right end. When guests of the mansion plot to fleece Elton, Jeanne is forced to reveal her true identity to save the day. A happy reunion follows.

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Cast

References

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