Thursday, 19 February 2015
Snapshot #1 - Five and Ten (1931)
What's it About?: John Rarick is the owner of the largest five and ten cent store in the country and decides to bring his family from Kansas City to the bright lights of New York City. As he gets more wrapped up in his business he fails to notice that his once happy family is unravelling in front of his eyes. His daughter Jennifer attempts some social climbing with disastrous results and falls in love with an engaged society maven. His bored wife plans an affair and his son Avery starts drinking to cope with the pressure of having to inherit the family business. Misery ensues…
The Call Sheet: Marion Davies, Leslie Howard, Richard Bennett, Irene Rich, Douglass Montgomery (as Kent Douglass), Marry Duncan and uncredited appearances from Haliwell Hobbes and Henry Armetta
Behind the Camera: Directed by an uncredited Robert Z. Leonard. Costumes by Adrian. Art Direction by Cedric Gibbons. A Marion Davies Production!
Snapshot Thoughts: Though the film is essentially about the disintegration of the Rarick family, the story mainly focuses on the fraught love affair between Jennifer (Marion Davies) and socialite Berry (Leslie Howard). Their tragedy being that Berry is engaged to be married to a woman ‘of his class’, while Jennifer is ‘new money’ a thus unable to fit into his society without the clutching of pearls and the clenching of teeth from all and sundry. Can’t all the rich people just get along? Luckily (or unluckily depending on your view) Berry is an also absolute cad with a wandering eye and is easily tempted away from his fiancé’s arms. When Jennifer visits his apartment for the first time he suddenly and randomly strokes her bare arm, presumably with the intension to shock her (and the audience) with his boldness. Unfortunately, it just comes across as inappropriate and awkward (she should've reached for the pepper spray) and resembles the fumbling of two teenagers on a first date to the ice cream parlour. The scene sets the tone for the interaction between the leads but nonetheless it’s a testament to Leslie Howard’s ability that Berry is at least vaguely likable because on paper he’s a bit of a creep. The love story has some good moments but sadly takes over far too much of the movie which could have been better spent exploring the relationships of the Rarick family as they struggle to cope with their new wealth. Instead we get a rather damp and ill-tempered romance that weighs down the film.
Star Performances: Marion Davies and Leslie Howard are very charming as the romantic leads but sadly there is virtually no chemistry between them, despite the smoke and mirrors of the script to wring some romantic tension out of their affair. Despite this, the supporting cast is very appealing, led by famous stage star Richard Bennett as the family patriarch in a good role. He’s a sort of combination between Lionel Barrymore and Lewis Stone and plays John Rarick with a great deal of subtlety and care. He succeeds in maintaining our sympathy for the character despite his many failings and his blindness to what is going on around him. However, the star of the movie is Douglass Montgomery (here under his early career name of Kent Douglass) as brother Avery. He is only in a few scenes but his transformation from happy go lucky youngster to pressured businessman and finally to alcoholic wreck is well played. Montgomery has an unusual look, an intense yet young looking face, a shock of blond hair and an impossible prettiness that must have made him hard to cast in suitable roles. He’s definitely not the traditional leading man, but he’s very good here as the tortured brother, and shows real talent.
Technical Excellences: It’s never a good sign when there is no director’s credit on a film, and I’m not sure the circumstances of this omission but uncredited or not, Robert Z. Leonard does a good job. Despite being quite stagey at times, everyone looks great and the action travels at a good pace. In the main scenes between Davies and Howard there are some admirably long takes employed and these extended scenes at least help give an organic feel to their relationship. This is a useful way to hide the slight lack of sparkle between the two leads.
The Sublime: The best scene sees Berry enter Jennifer’s room unannounced while she is in her nightgown. Despite her ‘what would people think?’ protestations, he refuses to leave, and regardless of her attempts to resist him, she doesn’t want him to leave either. After a few breathless embraces, the stalemate is broken and he wearily says "Now look here, you know I’m not a man of honor. Don’t look at me like that, won’t do any good!". He then reluctantly asks her to get dressed, but of course, while she is dressing he covers his eyes, then immediately sneaks a peek! Somehow the fact that he has been so noble convinces Jennifer that he actually loves her and suddenly the roles become reversed - he becomes uncomfortable and wants to leave and she is the one pleading for him to stay. All this makes Leslie Howard’s character a bit too morally corrupt to be the usual idle yet erudite dreamer we are used to from him, but Howard plays it in such a way that you have to at least admire his nerve. In a film marred by leaden love scenes, this is the one that manages to impress, and both Davies and Howard do well to give the impression of deep emotional conflicts running beneath their need to be together.
The Ridiculous: Avery (Douglass Montgomery)’s decline is a highlight of the movie for drama, but the way it ends is definitely not. It’s established that he has started hitting the bottle to cope with his problems, and in true movie fashion he downs a couple of stiff drinks, then immediately starts staggering around and slurring his words (I’d love to get some of that fast acting Hollywood booze!). Just then, he has a moment of clarity and realises that the family is starting to fall irreparably apart. Oh no! Seeing his moment he mumbles “There’s an answer to everything” and runs off. Next, we cut to him FLYING AN AIRPLANE, (still in his suit!), and before you can blink he’s crashed straight into a forest in a cloud of smoke. You know, I have a suspicion that he didn't think through his answer. Personally I would have just called a family meeting, but I guess it was a simpler time in 1931 so I can't judge. It’s an utterly ludicrous, yet glorious moment of insanity that seemingly arrives out of a different (and funnier) movie. It’s a good job he talked about his love of flying earlier as foreshadowing and…oh wait, he didn’t, did he? Hmm. Anyway, he dies but you know what? It brings the family back together, so what do I know about family reconciliation? Simpler times.
Is it Worth Watching?: Well, fans of Marion Davies will definitely want to watch Five and Ten, as she’s rather charming and gets to show her dramatic skills a bit more than usual Leslie Howard is fairly disappointing but they both try hard with a dull script. In the end it’s a pretty average melodrama but one that is worth a look if you bypass the main story and focus on the secondary plot lines and the cast of top notch supporting actors. It also has to be pointed out that Marion Davies wears a hat for approximately 80% of the movie, so make of that what you will.
Random Quote: "Well, if I must be a hero, give me a little help will you? Take some of these arms away from me. For heaven's sake put some clothes on, I won't look".