Film Review: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Release Date: December 21st, 1937 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: David Hand (supervising), William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen
Written by: Ted Sears, Richard Creedon, Otto Englander, Dick Rickard, Earl Hurd, Merrill De Maris, Dorothy Ann Blank, Webb Smith
Based on: Snow White by The Brothers Grimm
Music by: Frank Churchill, Paul Smith, Leigh Harline
Cast: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Harry Stockwell, Roy Atwell, Pinto Colvig, Otis Harlan, Scotty Mattraw, Billy Gilbert, Eddie Collins, Moroni Olsen, Stuart Buchanan

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I’m awfully sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you. But you don’t know what I’ve been through. And all because I was afraid. I’m so ashamed of the fuss I made.” – Snow White

I’ve owned all of the original Disney animated films on DVD for years. I’ve always been a big fan of the classic hand-drawn 2D animation style and I’ve never really gotten into the Pixar CGI stuff. In fact, one of the first things I wanted to be, as a kid, was a Disney animator.

I also figured that reviewing all of these films is long overdue, as I’ve already written nearly 2000 film reviews on this site since its launch in late November of 2016. So why not start at the beginning with Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature film?

That being said, I’ll probably do one of these per week until I get through the thirty or so that existed before CGI took over and killed the style that made Disney a massive company.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs wasn’t just Disney’s first animated motion picture, it was also the first one that I saw in the theater. I saw this on the big screen around 1983 or so, when I was four years-old. That experience always stuck with me and it helped fashion a lifelong love of Disney’s classic animation style.

This isn’t my favorite of these movies but it’ll always be special because it was my introduction to them.

I feel like everyone on Earth has seen this film but, as I’m learning as time goes on, the younger generation doesn’t have the attention span to indulge in anything old. To them, classic Disney is Toy Story 2 and films like these are relics that are probably seen as racist or offensive because everything is racist and offensive now.

For Disney’s first big feature, this is really well done. It has some issues with smoothness and how the characters move and flow but it is better than what was the norm in 1937. Also, Disney’s skill would improve with each movie until they really hit their stride around 1950.

I’ve always liked this story, even if it’s overly simplistic and plays more like a series of musical sequences tied together with a paper thin plot but honestly, that’s most musicals. And while I’m not particularly a fan of the musical genre, it has always worked for me in Disney’s animated films. Here, it’s no different and it was cool revisiting this simply because I forgot some of these songs.

This is a fairy-tale and you have to suspend disbelief but on that same token, this isn’t a film that really asks too much from its audience. It’s clear that the film was made in an effort to let its audience kick back and enjoy the feature without having to use a lot of processing power. In that regard, it works.

Granted, if you’re an overactive thinker like myself, there are a lot of questions you might have. Especially, now that you’ve reached adulthood and have a hard time taking things at face value.

For instance, the ending is kind of odd if you want to nitpick it apart. Actually, it’s slightly disturbing.

To give a brief rundown: the girl gets poisoned to death. Then the Dwarfs won’t bury her, so they just keep her corpse around the house as they build an opulent, intricate, gold and glass coffin to display her dead body in like a jewelry counter at Piercing Pagoda. Then a prince hears about this and sets off on a journey to kiss this corpse and bring it back to life like a zombie. I’m assuming all that didn’t happen within an afternoon and would also have to assume that Snow White got pretty rank.

See, there I go overthinking it like an overthinking adult.

The ending actually is fine but it’s pretty dark for a kids’ movie. But that’s also kind of cool, as it’s obvious that people in 1930s America didn’t coddle their damn kids into being complete weaklings. I’m glad that things were still that way when I was a kid in the ’80s: going to the movies at five to watch Gremlins.

Anyway, despite my weird tangent about the ending, this film just tells its story, throws in some tunes and gets it all over with in just 83 minutes. I wish more movies were only 83 minutes.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other early animated feature films.

Film Review: Night Nurse (1931)

Release Date: July 16th, 1931 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: William A. Wellman
Written by: Oliver H.P. Garrett, Charles Kenyon
Based on: Night Nurse by Dora Macy
Music by: Leo F. Forbstein
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Joan Blondell, Clark Gable

Warner Bros., 72 Minutes

Review:

“The successful nurse is one who keeps her mouth shut.” – Dr. Milton A. Ranger

I wanted to watch and review Night Nurse during Noirvember. Not because it is really film-noir but because it is one of many films that laid the groundwork for the cinematic style. Plus, it stars a very young Barbara Stanwyck, who would go on to become one of noir’s greatest femme fatales, thirteen years later in Double Indemnity.

This is a pre-Code film, which means that it didn’t have its hands tied by the political forces that would come to censor Hollywood for decades. Because of that, this feels grittier and more genuine than the glossed over, wholesome, pristine looking, classic Hollywood feel that would come to stifle the art of filmmaking for a very long time.

I wouldn’t quite call this film exploitation but just from the fact that it features scenes with Stanwyck in her lingerie and in bed, automatically gives it an edginess that you don’t normally find in old movies.

The story is about a young nurse who starts taking care of some kids at a private residence, only to discover that someone is trying to slowly kill them. The plot makes me wonder if M. Night Shyamalan borrowed the idea for the Mischa Barton character in The Sixth Sense.

The film has mystery, twists and turns and it really is a crime story at its core. Basically, it has a lot of the elements that would go on to define the film-noir genre a decade later.

This is also a comedy, however, but not an outright comedy. It’s just a good mixture of humor and drama to give a pretty balanced picture that doesn’t get lost in its dark subject matter. It gives it a strange tone to a degree but this came out in a time where sound in film had only existed for a handful of years and filmmakers were still experimenting with the medium in a fairly primitive way, especially in regards to narrative style and pacing.

Now that does not make this a bad picture, in fact, it’s entertaining, moves pretty swiftly for a film of its time and it is certainly better than the norm in 1931.

Stanwyck’s performance is superb and it is also cool seeing Clark Gable in the movie, just before he became a Hollywood megastar.

There are other pre-Code films that Barbara Stanwyck was in. Based off of this one, I’ll probably check out some of the others in the near future.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other early Barbara Stanwyck films, as well as other pre-Code dramas.

Film Review: The Peanut Vendor (1933)

Release Date: April 28th, 1933
Directed by: Dave Fleischer
Music by: various, Armida
Cast: Armida

Fleischer Studios, 2 Minutes

Review:

Experimental films from early film history are always interesting to watch, at least for me.

The Peanut Vendor is a two minute animation test, mixed and synced up to music.

I think that its synced pretty well for the time and the animation of the monkey man’s lips are done rather well.

The monkey peanut vendor sings and dances to a song about peanuts. The movement is good but the character is fairly creepy, as he has really long arms and a detachable tail that he uses to dry his butt like a bathroom towel.

I was lured into checking this out due to seeing GIFs of it in various places recently. Without context, those GIFs are the things of nightmares. Hell, with context, it’s still creepy.

However, it’s intended to be a strange but lighthearted number and I think it succeeds at that.

Granted, even in 1933, I bet there were some people that ended up getting terrifying Slenderman dreams and maybe this is where that iconic boogeyman came from.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other experimental short films of the era and earlier.

Film Review: Crime School (1938)

Release Date: May 10th, 1938 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Lewis Seiler
Written by: Crane Wilbur, Vincent Sherman
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: The Dead End Kids, Humphrey Bogart, Gale Page, George Offerman Jr., Weldon Heyburn, Cy Kendall

Warner Bros., 86 Minutes

Review:

“Those guards you fired were valuable men. Whatta you want to replace them with? A crew of schoolteachers?” – Morgan, “Maybe you got things just a little twisted, Morgan. This is a school you’re running and not a prison. You’re dealing with kids, not hardened criminals!” – Mark Braden

I never really watched any of the Dead End Kids movies but my mum always liked them. I was aware of who they were but they just seemed like an older, unfunny Little Rascals to me.

However, while trying to clear out my queue on FilmStruck before it closed down, I was hitting all the Humphrey Bogart movies I could, so that brought me to this.

I actually liked this picture and not just because it features Bogart in a prominent role.

The Dead End Kids aren’t as kiddish and comedic as the Little Rascals or other similar groups. It’s certainly a familiar shtick but the tone of this film is mostly serious and has a much harder edge than I expected. In fact, the kids are straight up juvenile criminals and you even believe them to have killed a man, until it’s revealed by dialogue later that the guy they bludgeoned nearly to death, survived the attack.

Anyway, this sends them all to juvenile detention for two years but luckily for them, it is at the beginning of Bogart’s tenure, where he is a stand up guy that is actually trying to reform these boys and not set them up for failure and a life of crime.

The film examines the criminal justice system pretty good for its day. And really, the story is relevant today, as criminal rehabilitation is still a joke.

I liked the message of the movie and what it was trying to convey and I thought that it played out nice on screen. Bogart’s Mark Braden did everything he could to help the kids, even if his actions at the end of the film were a bit criminal too.

The kids weren’t too annoying, Bogart was superb and I thought that his leading lady, Gale Page, was also quite good and pretty lovable.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Dead End Kids movies, as well as other Bogart crime pictures.

Film Review: The Plough and the Stars (1936)

Release Date: December 26th, 1936
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Dudley Nichols, Sean O’Casey
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster, Barry Fitzgerald

RKO Radio Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“The spring of 1916 found a divided Ireland, torn by conflicting Loyalties. Thousands of her sons were at the front fighting the cause of England in the World War. Other thousands remained home planning another fight—a fight, under the flag of the Plough and the Stars, to free their country so that Ireland could take its place among the nations of the world.” – Opening credits prologue

John Ford is considered one of the top directors of his era. Before watching this, I had only ever seen his westerns. So I figured I’d venture out and see some of his other work. And since this had Barbara Stanwyck in it, I gave it a go.

This didn’t really do much for me though. And that’s not to take anything away from the picture, as the acting, especially from Stanwyck was damn good. However, it just seemed to move really slow and only really grabbed me in two scenes.

The first was in the beginning when Stanwyck’s Nora was confronted about not giving letters to her husband in regards to his military career. The second was the finale that saw some action but only enough to wake me up from my slumber for a few seconds.

I found it odd that this was a film that took place in Ireland and dealt specifically with Irish issues but the main cast was mostly American and didn’t even attempt Irish accents. So when real Irish people came into scenes with their authentic accents, it got really weird.

Also, the script wasn’t well written and seemed to be rushed through. That could be due to the short running time and maybe this adaptation of a play, wasn’t seamlessly adapted.

Out of the Ford pictures I have seen, this is the worst and the dullest.

But Stanwyck was actually dynamite and at least gave this dud some life.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Four Men and a Prayer, So Big and Woman In Red.

Film Review: Vampyr (1932)

Also known as: Adventures of David Gray (alternate original title), Castle of Doom (US dubbed version), Not Against the Flesh (US), The Strange Adventure of David Gray (Brazil English title), The Vampire (US copyright title)
Release Date: May 6th, 1932 (Germany)
Directed by: Carl Theodore Dreyer
Written by: Christen Jul, Carl Theodore Dreyer
Based on: In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Wolfgang Zeller
Cast: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz, Henriette Gerard

Carl Theodore Dreyer-Filmproduktion, Tobis-Filmkunst, Vereinigte Star-Film GmbH, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Why does the doctor always come at night?” – Gisèle

Just as Nosferatu was the quintessential vampire movie of the silent German Expressionist era, Vampyr is probably the quintessential vampire movie of German Expressionism once it moved into sound.

This film has aged incredibly well for what it is. It is still quite terrifying, at its core, and it has an ambiance that is chilling and rich with dark folklore.

It’s unsettling as it rolls on and the plot develops. It’s well written and strange, as it doesn’t necessarily follow the typical vampire fiction template. It feels as if it were ripped from old folk tales, as opposed to taking its cues from Bram Stoker’s Dracula like nearly all vampire fiction.

I thought the performances were very dramatic and very reminiscent of the silent era but they were all pretty good. This feels like a stage show put to celluloid, as things feel very confined like the walls are always closing in. I’m not sure if that was the intent of the filmmakers but the scale of the film works to serve the main character’s story, as he keeps falling deeper and deeper into the darkness.

While German Expressionism isn’t really associated with films after the silent era, the style is alive and well here or at least the spirit of it is, as it has evolved. But this does, in my opinion, fit well with the more famous silent horror films that Germany was pumping out in the 1920s.

Vampyr is definitely worth your time if you like films like the original Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: NosferatuThe Cabinet of Dr. CaligariThe Golem and the Swedish film The Phantom Carriage.

Film Review: Black Legion (1937)

Release Date: January 17th, 1937 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Archie Mayo, Michael Curtiz (uncredited)
Written by: Robert Lord, Abem Finkel, William Wister Haines
Music by: W. Franke Harling, Howard Jackson, Bernhard Kaun
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Dick Foran, Erin O’Brien-Moore, Ann Sheridan

Warner Bros., 83 Minutes

Review:

“So, you’re afraid! Maybe they better change the name of your outfit from the Black Legion to the Yellow Legion.” – Ed Jackson

I was talking about Humphrey Bogart, my favorite actor, with a friend of mine when he asked, “Did you see that one where he was in the KKK?” I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I looked it up and found this film, which Bogart did really early in his career, before reaching superstardom. Also, it’s not the actual KKK but it is a group based on them called “the Black Legion”.

This film is rather short but it’s definitely got a lot packed into a small package. It’s a true thriller and very noir-esque before film-noir was a thing.

The gist of the story surrounds a hard working man that is looked over for a promotion that he was pretty sure he was going to get. It weighs heavily on him and eventually, some bad seeds take advantage of that and influence him into joining their cause. That cause, sees them dressing up in black hoods, similar to the KKK’s white hoods, where they go out at night in an effort to chase off the foreigners who are coming in and taking their jobs. So the Klan (or “Black Legion”) in this isn’t so much racist, as they are xenophobic.

In his heart, Bogart’s Frank Taylor was opposed to the madness he found himself entangled in but he was already in over his head and couldn’t leave the group for fear of what they might do to him and his family. It all comes crashing down when Frank murders his best friend that was trying his damnedest to save him. Regretful and remorseful, will Frank work to bring down the Black Legion or is the fear of his family’s safety too great?

The film is intense and it moves swiftly. It was hard for me to turn away from it and the acting of Bogart, as well as his best bud, Dick Foran, was superb and kept me glued to the screen.

While this isn’t Bogart or Foran’s best picture or performance, it really goes to show that both men were definitely capable of something greater. Luckily, for us, both men would have busy careers, especially in the noir style of the ’40s and ’50s.

Black Legion is certainly worth a watch. While most movie sites don’t list this as a thriller, it definitely is… and a pretty effective one from start to finish.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Bogart films before he became a big star: High Sierra, They Drive by Night and Crime School.

Film Review: Modern Times (1936)

Also known as: The Masses (working title)
Release Date: February 5th, 1936 (Rivoli Theatre, New York City premiere)
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin
Written by: Charlie Chaplin
Music by: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford, Chester Conklin

United Artists, 87 Minutes

Review:

“[from the Telescreen in the restroom to the factory worker] Hey! Quit stalling, get back to work! Go on!” – President of the Electro Steel Corp.

I’m going to start this by saying that Modern Times is one of my two favorite Charlie Chaplin films. The other is City Lights and it’s hard to put one of these over the other. But this may have a bit of an edge, as I think the factory worker sequences are Chaplin’s best.

This film covers a lot of ground, narratively speaking, for something that’s less than 90 minutes. But in the time that this came out, it’s much longer than most of the Chaplin films before it.

It starts with the Tramp character working in a factory, as the film rolls on, we see him start to break down and eventually go a bit crazy. He’s institutionalized, gets cured and then hits the streets trying to rebuild his life. Along the way, he meets Paulette Goodard’s Ellen, a bit of a troublemaker but her shenanigans are because she’s trying to feed her hungry siblings.

A romance develops and the chemistry between Chaplin and Goddard is pretty natural but maybe we were seeing them actually fall in love, as the two were married for a few years after this picture.

Chaplin really does give one of his best performances here and the stunts were some of the most creative and impressive. While it seems to be going for more of a straight comedy route with the gags than trying to wow us with Chaplin’s resilient physicality, it doesn’t feel like that stuff is lacking. And his routines here are still impressive.

For instance, the balcony roller skating scene is more nerve wracking than physically impressive. But stuff like this isn’t less effective or more effective than Chaplin’s more physical slapstick. I guess that he proved that he didn’t need to beat himself up to still get audiences to love him. Plus, by 1936, that stuff may have been taking a real toll on his body.

Modern Times is a sweet movie that features one of the most beloved film characters of all-time. What’s not to love? This is one of Chaplin’s greatest films and for good reason.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Chaplin’s greatest works: City LightsThe Great Dictator and A King In New York.

Film Review: Bluebeard (1936)

Also known as: Barbe-Bleue (original French title)
Release Date: December 31st, 1936 (France)
Directed by: René Bertrand, Jean Painlevé
Written by: Charles Perrault
Music by: Jean Vincent-Bréchignac

13 Minutes

Review:

Barbe-Bleue or Bluebeard is an animated short film from France that uses claymation to tell its story.

It’s not an exciting story and it is told more like a musical than a regular dramatic film but it is at least pleasant to look at. The art is beautiful, the colors are very vibrant and vivid. I’m assuming though that the original version of the film was done in black and white and the colorized versions was made later.

The stop motion is well executed and everything looks as smooth as it can for being made in the 1930s.

This is subtitled, as it is French, but with just about all of the dialogue coming through in song form, it almost even isn’t necessary to need the translation. Plus, the emotions and actions that are referenced in the music are pretty apparent on screen.

This isn’t an easy to track down short. I luckily found it on FIlmStruck and gave it a watch there, as I was looking for something short to kill 15 minutes or so. This did the trick.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other shorts by Jean Painlevé: Le VampireSea UrchinsLiquid Crystals and The Fourth Dimension.

*Sadly, no trailer or other videos I can post for this.

Film Review: The Public Enemy (1931)

Also known as: Beer and Blood (working title), Enemies of the Public (UK)
Release Date: April 23rd, 1931 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: William A. Wellman
Written by: Kubec Glasmon, John Bright
Based on: Beer and Blood by John Bright, Kubec Glasmon
Music by: David Mendoza, Vitaphone Orchestra
Cast: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Donald Cook

Warner Bros., 83 Minutes

Review:

“You are different, Tommy. Very different. And I’ve discovered it isn’t only a difference in manner and outward appearances. It’s a difference in basic character. The men I know – and I’ve known dozens of them – oh, they’re so nice, so polished, so considerate. Most women like that type. I guess they’re afraid of the other kind. I thought I was too, but you’re so strong. You don’t give, you take. Oh, Tommy, I could love you to death.” – Gwen Allen

As much as I love Edward G. Robinson, I still can’t deny that James Cagney was the king of the classic gangster movie. The Public Enemy is hands down, one of the most well-known gangster films of all-time and for very good reason.

What’s actually most interesting about this film, is it is based on an unpublished book by two former Chicago street thugs that actually personally witnessed some of Al Capone’s violent actions against rival gangs. For a 1930s film, it did have a real feeling of authenticity and a grittiness that set it apart from some of the other gangster films of the time.

James Cagney is exceptional in this and in several key scenes, you don’t even need dialogue, you just read his face and see where he is going and it usually isn’t anywhere good.

The cinematography of Devereaux Jennings was really good and it made this feel more refined than similar pictures. That scene towards the end of Cagney’s Tom Powers crawling through the rain is amazing and conveyed more emotion than the scene would have had otherwise.

I also like the ending a lot. It leaves you thinking that this guy has reformed and he may have but what seems like a happy ending comes with a twist, as Tom Powers is kidnapped from the hospital and then found murdered.

This ending almost defied the old school morality code but at the same time, this was a pre-code film. Anyway, Powers had to pay for his crimes in some form and he does, despite his apparent change of heart after reconciling with his family.

The Public Enemy really made James Cagney’s career and he would do a slew of similar films but if you’ve got a niche, exploit it and make money. That’s what Cagney did and it was off of the back of this film’s massive success.

Without this, the gangster genre might have died out more quickly and it also might not have lead to the film-noir of the 1940s. We also probably wouldn’t have gotten the classic crime picture White Heat or at the very least, that film would have been drastically different.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: White HeatLittle Caesar, the original Scarface and Smart Money.