I Wake Up Dreaming 2014: William Wellman’s “Love is a Racket” & Howard Bretherton’s and William Keighley’s “Ladies They Talk About”

lyle talbot barbara stanwyck ladies they talk about 1As rewarding as passing the time away with my friends on the silver screen often are, for sanity’s sake, I must also devote time to hanging out with my other friends – the human ones. This weekend was one of those times, and it was also the reason as to why I only saw 2 of the 9 programmed films playing at Roxie’s “I Wake up Dreaming” noir festival this weekend.

Love is a Racket

loveisaracket6My friends/foes (if you are foe, why are you reading this?), I would love to tell you what this 1932 film was all about, but being that I nodded off more times than a narcoleptic shooting up tryptophan would, delving into any specifics of the plot is almost impossible, so I won’t even try.

However, that doesn’t mean the movie was a total wash, for the times when I was lucid were also the times where two wonderfully snappy catchphrases were being worked into my cinemarebral cortex. I counted at least three times where the moxie-filled catchphrases “fancy face” and “certainly” (pronounced “Soiteny“, as if he were auditioning to play the 3 stooges’ Curly) were being spat. In fact these words were spat with such flare that they couldn’t help but leave an impact. Time will only tell, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be aping these phrases just as much as I do say “I’ll be back”, or “Are you talking to me?”. Consider them ingrained.

It’s not often I sleep through a film and still leave the theatre affected by it. Yet, it was all I could do to exit the Roxie and not slap the first person I saw across the cheek while muttering the words, “How’s it shaking, Fancy Face?”. That’s the power of cinema right there. But, don’t worry, because even though – and especially because – the first person I saw upon exiting the theatre was a friend of mine, I refrained from any mimicking of actions that only a much dapper Douglas Fairbanks Jr. would get away with. Instead it was my friend who did the slapping – by purchasing some strong coffee for me, that is, and thus assuring my fully wide awake attention for the next feature, which was…

Ladies They Talk About

Ladies-They-Talk-About-4If San Quentin is supposed to be a tough as nails correctional facility you wouldn’t know it from this female prison drama. Barbara Stanwyck plays Nan, a woman convicted for taking part in a bank robbery who is sentenced to serve time in what can best be described as an ongoing slumber party in a five star resort. The ladies seem to come and go as they please from various free roaming areas of this “prison”. There’s a beauty parlor, a garden nursery area, a rec-room with rocking chairs, and from what I could gather, there has to be some kind of on-staff interior decorator who is so good at making this prison world appear cozy and lavish that I’m sure more than a few depression-era movie goers of the early 1930s left this film feeling more depressed than they were going in.

Imagine going to the theatres in 1933 for an hour or so with the sole purpose of escaping your daily hardships, only to see prisoners lapping it up in luxury on a giant screen. Heck, I wonder how many disillusioned women walked out of this movie and b-lined it to the nearest bank themselves with the intention of either getting rich quick or, even better, getting caught and being sent to a free room and board far more luxurious than their current living quarters. These ladies cells were furnished with sofa seats, window draperies, assortments of hand stitched throw pillows, and wardrobes consisting of evening wear dresses, an assortment of hats, and negligees for those late night in-cell sing-a-longs. Not too bad if you ask me. And although the occasional threat of violence did occur, no actual fists were ever thrown. For the most part the women were welcoming and friendly.

But the silly playful pre-code and pre-Wes Anderson-ish diorama dolly pans of a cinematic universe didn’t end with the depiction of lighthearted prison life. Once our heroine gets out of prison, it’s exacting revenge time on the meddling meddler of meddlesome manliness (seriously, the dude is a self proclaimed meddler for the people) who helped put her in that hideous swell prison in the first place. I’d be lying if I said the ending wasn’t one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen.

I did learn one thing from this film though; the next time you go to shake someone’s hand and they only offer up their left, chances are it’s because just moments ago they were shot in their right. I guess you have to see this to believe it. If the rest of this week’s film are as enjoyable as this one was, well, then I’m gonna have me a hell of a week.

Up next…Mervyn Le Roy‘s 1932 Two Seconds, starring Edward G. Robinson.


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Categories: I Wake Up Dreaming, Reviews

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