- The Awful Truth
- Grand Illusion
- Shall We Dance
- Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs
- A Day At The Races
- In Old Chicago
- Lost Horizon
- Captains Courageous
- Stage Door
- Wee Willie Winkie
There has rarely been as impressive a display of masculinity on screen as Jean Gabin; a hard but handsome face, a stern but tender manner, a blocked sense of emotion that barely hides a layer of vulnerability, he was a wonder of complexity and tension in just about every film he made. One of his earliest, notable lead roles was in Julien Duvivier’s Pepe Le Moko, an enjoyable potboiler that would hardly be remembered if it wasn’t for Gabin’s solid performance (it was later remade with Charles Boyer as Algiers).
Irene Dunne was always the very picture of beauty and sophistication in her movies (not to mention preservation: she was 39 at the time she made the film and hardly looked it). As a woman dealing with a divorce from her immature husband, followed by the inevitable jealousy and frustration that leads to them getting back together (since the censors must be pleased), she barely bats a wrong eyelash throughout The Awful Truth, instantly sexy and silly, and always a lady. In a career of fine performances, this one ranks as my favourite of hers.
Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion is probably one of the greatest films ever made about the questions of morality that arise in wartime. At its heart is a gorgeous romance between Jean Gabin and Dita Parlo, but stealing scenes from them whenever he gets the chance is a frighteningly stoic but secretly passionate Erich von Stroheim; his sympathetic portrayal of a German officer who regrets that politics must get in the way of his friendships with his political enemies makes it quite clear why the film was banned when the world found itself gearing for battle yet again a few years later.
Old biddy roles were a common staple in 30s dramas, and May Whitty pretty much played all of them, twice being nominated for Academy Awards for her combination of benign delight and shrewdness. I enjoy her most as Robert Montgomery’s intended victim in the thriller Night Must Fall, where she gradually comes to realize that the lovely young man who has been entertaining her as a visitor is quite certainly out to murder her!
Leo McCarey, The Awful Truth
Honour Roll: Alfred Hitchcock, Young and Innocent