Fox Cinema Archives First Wave (Part Four)

| August 16, 2012

In this article we will be looking at Fox Cinema Archives manufacture-on-demand (MOD) titles; Love is News (1937), Rings on Her Fingers (1942), and Dangerous Years (1947). The films while not pristine were in remarkably better condition than I expected. Each film is radically different displaying the triumphs and pitfalls of the rapid paced productions of the Hollywood Golden Age with Love is News being the most noteworthy because of the pairing of Tyrone Power and Loretta Young.

Love is News was the first of three very successful films that paired the delicate smolder of Power with the sharp beauty of Young. The film is also Power’s first example of top billing putting it as necessary watch for his dedicated fans. Like many classic romantic comedies of the era it has a slight screwball sensibility. Tony Gateson (Loretta Young) is a famed heiress who turns the tables on the underhanded reporter Steve Layton (Tyrone Power) by telling the press she’s engaged to him with a million dollar dowry to boot. Suddenly, he’s front page news dealing with preening fans, loudmouthed reporters and even nosy neighbors. The plot twists and turns to get these two together feels forced from a narrative respective at the end. Of course, they had to end up together just look at them.

Young is as bright and sweet as the fizz on top of soda pop. Her beauty is breathtaking. She’s all cheekbones, casual elegance, and long limbs. Her character is also rich in only the way a character in a classic film can be—ludicrously so. Decked out in furs and diamonds even while she languishes in jail at one point a servant prepares her tea from an ornate set. Her character is most interesting at the very beginning when she is witty, nonchalant and supremely fun to watch. Power is in the first stage of his career coasting on his delicate almost feminine beauty. But, honestly the script doesn’t give him much to work with. The pairing makes sense from an audience perspective but in the script it is paper thin. Also, Young despite all her beauty and sharp wit she begins the film with falls into a bit of a rut toward the end of the picture as her character starts to grate with her various attempts to make her co-star suffer then fall for her.

While the film doesn’t have the rich subtext of other romantic films of the era like It Happened One Night, it is a suitably fun ride. It is easy to see why audiences in the late 1930s couldn’t get enough of Power and Young together. They are beautiful cinematic ideals running through ridiculous adventures whose only consequence is true love.

Rings on Her Fingers has the slightly odd pairing of Gene Tierney and Henry Fonda. While these two stars don’t have the chemistry that Young and Power displayed, they are guided by a better script.

Tierney plays Susan Miller, a young woman working in a department store who was “born on the wrong side of the counter”. She’s obsessed with all the trappings of wealth and imagines herself in the beautiful dresses she sells to rich patrons. She’s introduced complaining with clever quips with a friend/fellow shopgirl by her side. They chew gum with the hearty abandon that signals in classic films girls on the up and up or guided only by their desires.

A stroke of luck and confusing plotting lands her with two confidence artists, Warren (Laird Cregar) and Maybelle Worthington (Spring Byington), who see her as a way to scam young millionaires. Which is exactly what happens. Susan then takes on the name Linda pretending to be Maybelle’s daughter. They travel the world in style, always on the lookout for a mark. A wrench is thrown in the con artist’s plans when Susan/Linda falls for one of their marks, John Wheeler (Henry Fonda). He is a mild-mannered accountant with dreams of his own that the trio confuses for a millionaire even after conning him out of $15,000.

A variety of madcap plot twists ensue which don’t always make sense but they come and go so fast you don’t have time to notice the issues. The film is charming and lighthearted with several sharp lines of dialogue. It also trades the melodramatic for the the surprisingly emotionally realistic in terms of how John and Susan fall in love. Her turn around and care for John doesn’t seem forced since she comes across as a genuinely good person who just wants more than life is giving to her.

The chemistry between Fonda and Tierney doesn’t always work but the two have a certain sweet, thoughtful charm together that keeps the film afloat making this a standout out of this wave of Fox Cinema Archives releases.

Dangerous Years is the most forgettable of this selection. It is a preachy drama aiming for some commentary on troubled youth that swan dives into an overheated after school special. One important thing to note is not to read the description on the back of the DVD. For whatever reason, the one sentence plot summary on the DVD case spoils the major plot twist that happens in the last 10 minutes or so of the film.

The film begins with an omniscient, almost God-like voice over that sets up the moralistic tale. At the center of the film is Danny (Billy Halop) a young troublemaker who starts a small-time gang of kids who like him are all in their teens. A planned robbery at a shipping yard goes awry and leads to Danny killing Jeff Carter (Donald Curtis), a shining example in the small community who was trying to help the wayward teens.

This is the kind of film where a jukebox joint is considered a place of rowdy madness where each new record played corrodes the soul of the young patrons and soda might as well be nicknamed Satan’s Nectar, if the elders of the community had their way. The cast has mostly no chemistry between each other. One curious pairing is Danny and Doris (Ann E. Todd), not that young love is odd but the actors look off together. Danny is supposed to be no more than a year or two older than Doris. But actor Billy Halop looks scandalous and awkward putting his arms around the fresh faced Anne E. Todd who was in reality 11 years his junior. The age difference between the actors is very apparent and adds to the lack of chemistry between the cast.

The film is forgettable despite its out of nowhere twist and sharp change in Danny’s previously no-good behavior. Marilyn Monroe fanatics may want to take a gander at the film since this is one of her earliest bit roles. Monroe plays a soda shop girl who appears early on with very few lines. Even then her “flesh impact” is apparent minus her studied voice and expertly crafted image. But she has a radiance and way with the camera that the other actors lack.

Dangerous Years is the worst out of these three films and easily the most forgettable. As Fox’s archive rolls out releases of these little seen films it is guaranteed that not every one will be a gem or even worth the hour or so it takes to watch it. Yet, Rings on Her Fingers and Love is News have a sort of frothy allure that is well worth a night home even if they aren’t exactly long forgotten masterpieces.

About the Author:

Angelica Jade Bastien is a freelance writer specializing in screenwriting and feminist pop culture criticism. When not writing she can be found reading comics or discussing why Elizabeth Taylor is her cinematic spirit sister. She lives in Chicago with her lovely cat, Professor Butch Cassidy. You can follow her on Twitter @viperslut.
Filed in: Film, Video and DVD

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