Monday, August 23, 2010


                             Irene as Hilda Bouverie                           

Release date 05.25.1934

"Even a bandit must respect English womanhood! Why, the very foundation of empire is virginity!"
"Chastity, Madame, chastity! No empire would get very far with virginity!"

Good news for Mrs. Clarkson (Mary Boland): the famous composer Sir Julian Kent (Conway Tearle) from London is going to arrive soon at her Australian home. Convinced that she is an opera singer disguised as the wife of a rich sheep farmer, the only thing she got to do now is to prevent that her maid Hilda Bouverie (Irene) gets the chance to audition too, because Hilda is the real opera singer in disguise. Slightly disturbing all those plans is the highway gentleman bandit Stingaree (Richard Dix) who kidnaps Sir Julian planning to pose for him and so getting entrance to the wealthy Clarkson's house. When Stingaree shows up there, the only person around is Hilda practicing her singing. Stingaree instantly falls for the girl's beautiful voice, promises her to help her with a musical career and fittingly has a song at hand. The bandit posing as composer is indeed a composer!

Tonight is mine...

Soon after the return of the Clarksons Stingaree's real identity is revealed and he has to leave in a hurry but not without grabbing Hilda. On horseback they disappear into the bushes - literally.

  Hi-Ho...there we go!

Dammit! Sir Julian managed to escape Stingaree's valet Howie (Andy Devine) thus raining on Stingaree's parade who had a nice, very private audition for Hilda in mind.
Well, Stingaree will find another chance for her to sing for Sir Julian but not before he has shown Hilda that her voice is not his only interest in her…

 learning to love you, learning all about you!
The great day is here: Mrs. Clarkson performs for Sir Julian but soon he and the other guests are rescued by Stingaree forcing them at gunpoint to listen to Hilda instead. At gunpoint or not, Hilda sings beautifully “Tonight Is Mine” and Sir Julian impressed by her voice promises to take her to London to train her. Exit Stingaree, but this time his luck is against him and he is shot and imprisoned. Hilda is reluctant to leave but Stingaree insists on her putting her career first and “taking everything in her stride".

 Success, flowers and Hilda...

In the following years Hilda achieves indeed everything an opera singer can dream about - the public at La Scala and Covent Garden at her feet, fame, wealth and last not least the heart of her mentor Sir Julian. Nevertheless, Hilda can't forget Stingaree and she turns back for a gala performance in Melbourne. Will Stingaree show up there - conveniently he just escaped -  and will it be into the bush again  for Hilda??

real luck is on a horse's back

This film is an oddity, though a very entertaining one. While re-watching it I laughed a lot wondering if this isn't Irene's first comedy - in disguise of course. If I ought to take this plot seriously I just don't know what there is left to laugh about!
Mary Boland gives an over the top performance as wannabe opera singer and her audition for Sir Julian is hilarious, furnishing proof why singers have to practice in front of a mirror from time to time. Something Miss Dunne obviously did.

Don't forget the mirror!

In an interview in the 70s Irene remembered “Stingaree” mainly because of the opera singing she did in it and because she liked the torch song “Tonight Is Mine”- exactly the things I would remember about this film maybe with the addition that I always have a special liking for Irene's looks in period costumes. That lady certainly had a well-educated and trained voice and gets the chance to sing two arias. One is a part of the “jewel song” from Gounod's opera “Faust”, which Irene surprisingly sings a halftone flat than the original score. I really don’t know why - Irene's high notes don't sound like the limit of her voice to me here, but maybe she simply felt more comfortable singing it a little bit lower. Anyway, in the final analysis, we are in Hollywood and not on the stage of the Met or La Scala. 

Sir Julian, Annie and Hilda (Irene dressed in my favorite costume from this film)

The other one is an excerpt from Flotow's opera “Martha” and an original Irish song at the same time. Maybe Irene - mentioning her Irish origins frequently and obviously liking them - picked this one, but that's something we don't know. If I ramble on about Irene as singer and not so much about her as an actress, that's due to the fact that the outstanding part of this film for me is simply her excursion into opera. Beautiful enough - but Miss Dunne was where she belonged: in Hollywood. But of course I'm once again grateful that I decided on reviewing the films of an actress who offers me such diverse movies as “This Man Is Mine” and “Stingaree” in a row.
About Mr. Dix performance I want to quote the New York Post: “It is a preposterous tale, with Mr. Dix doing his best to prevent it from being even faintly credible.” (May 18. 1934) Couldn't have said it better - once again Miss Dunne is abandoned by her leading man. In the end,  Mr. Dix isn't much around anyway, only showing up in the beginning and the end of the film and in between pining away in some prison, unobserved by us though. To understand how the statuses of the two leads changed from their first enterprise together “Cimarron” (1931) to “Stingaree” one just has to look at the billing and how they are treated by the camera in their scenes together. Irene got first billing and a lot more attention from the photographer.

 Irene and the back of Mr. Dix's head

Don't ask me how director William Wellman - certainly worthwhile to know because of such films as “Public Enemy”, “Night Nurse” or “So Big” for instance - got involved in this project. But here he is, offering solid direction but having to handle an utterly unbelievable script. The funny moments are not unintentional -  just look what perspective Wellman selected for Mrs. Clarkson's audition for Sir Julian and you know that he wanted us to laugh. Similar are the performances of the supporting actors from the slightly drunk Inspector (George Barraud) till Hilda's maid Annie (Una O´Connor) prattling in a Cockney accent and Andy Devine in one of his typical sidekick roles.

once again  - tonight is mine....

“Stingaree” grew on me while re-watching it for this review, simply because I had so much fun - and I always
love when Irene sings. Additionally, I like the score from the “hi-ho we are riding bandit theme” to Mrs. Clarkson's ballad “The Fisherman” - with mermaids of course!

Here is the music!  

Friday, August 20, 2010

Detour - Miss Dunne and the Web, Irene on YouTube!

Hi folks!
(BTW that´s a publicity for "Lady In A Jam")
YouTube is such a lively place at the moment when it comes to Irene, that I want to say some words about this: there are the loveliest tributes to be found, and a clique regularly uploads Irene´s  films.
I´m really happy about this because it allows an easy, low-threshold access to Miss Dunne´s films  - and they are certainly something to discover! Though being busy with old Hollywood for many years, it took a long time before I found Miss Dunne, that´s partly due to the fact that she is really not known in Germany, but yet, that such a talented, versatile representative of the golden era of Hollywood slipped me for so long startled me. However, don´t let Miss Dunne pass you by! There are many films up on YouTube now, which weren´t there when I reviewed them: "Ann Vickers" and "The Great Lover" for instance. 
All I can say now: watch them, watch them! And a big thanks to the up loaders!!  

Saturday, August 7, 2010

This Man Is Mine

Irene and Ralph Bellamy

Release date 04.13.1934             
“Tony's pictures are exactly like her. You don't take much notice of them and all of a sudden you find they are having a terrific effect on you.” (Jim)
“She loves him for things like that!” (Bee)

An evening at the Dunlap's house: Tony (Irene) playing the piano - and it's a Steinway, folks - and her husband Jim (Ralph Bellamy) reading. Better trying to read if his wife would only let him instead of making noisy things or talking to him about the plans for their son's future, which is really an urgent topic considering the fact that Jeremy is already in the advanced age of two. 

 spending a cosy evening at home

This idyllic matrimonial banter is disturbed by the Dunlap's good friends Bee (Kay Johnson) and Jud McCrea (Charles Starrett) popping in for a drink and a word with Jim. A ghost from Jim's past is going to emerge - not from the grave but from Reno - in the person of Fran (Constance Cummings) Jim's former fiancee who eloped immediately before the wedding and happens to be Jud's sister. Man eater Fran on her way - that's certainly worth a warning for Jim and some kind of preparation for Tony...

" Tony, what do you know about me?"
"You'd be surprised!"

Soon we learn that Tony knows everything about Fran, town's gossip took care of that in the last years, and that she is sure of her and Jim's love. A love Tony appreciates even more because she had a very uneasy childhood as kid of a painter and a Prima Donna who not only playing the femme fatale on stage at last eloped with the tenor and thus ruined Tony's father's career. Tony is herself a painter whose landscape paintings reflect her wish for nothing more than her calm life with Jim and Jeremy.

Fran (Constance Cummings) is back in town!

Of course this very settled life is soon disturbed by Fran who with a dubious man in tow not only dazes Jim but almost every man around. Poor, stupid Jim can't help it and falls for Fran again, seriously enough - at least from his side - to ask Tony for a divorce. But, well, Tony isn't the person to give up so easily and if there is going to be a divorce it's going to be on her terms with naming Fran as correspondent and suing her for a million dollars for alienation. Not exactly what Fran had in mind starting that little fling with Jim…

the triangle

Up for a conversation piece of a film? True to its definition of depending chiefly on its wit of dialogue, taking place in upper-class circles and getting the action started through occurrences from without? “This Man Is Mine” made me laugh, touched me sometimes (Miss Dunne took care of that) and made me smile about the stupidity of mankind. If we are not confronted with real problems - some existential ones for instance - we are all good at inventing some trouble on our own. The film touches with a light hand the question if real happiness is contentment - or let's say the kind of happiness which offers some lasting quality - and shows how quickly human relationships change and leave us on a very slippery ground. 

 losing a life and trying to be brave about it...

Certainly the characters are well-known ones: the husband not really appreciating the beautiful, painting, singing, piano playing, heart of gold wife of his - which REALLY makes you wonder what men are looking for - the all enduring wife fighting for her little niche of the world, and of course femme fatale Fran. She is a cliché on legs - manipulative and phony as can be, but she meets her male match - someone she thinks even she may not be able to handle - in the end, which is one of the nice tidbits of the film. However, the whole thing is really entertaining with some great lines of dialogue and an in its entirety very well picked cast.

no crisis without a friend (Kay Johnson) 

I especially like Kay Johnson as Irene's sidekick soberly commenting the happenings and at the same time being true to her friend Tony. I have always a weakness for these kind of characters so wonderfully represented by actresses like Kay Johnson, Jean Dixon and Eve Arden of course - just to name a few. This is the first time that Ralph Bellamy and Irene shared the screen and for once he is her leading man and not the third part of a triangle and the second male lead. Bellamy does a good job but simply isn't in Irene's league of acting, he just doesn't move around in that range of capabilities of expression, which brings me once again back to Miss Dunne. 

 At last Tony is losing her temper...

There is a lot more about Tony than just being the “little wife” though she is initially presented like that, and Irene squeezes out of that role what there is to squeeze. From a restraint reaction to Jim's wish for a divorce - Irene plays that consequently at the brink of a breakdown which is really touching - to the end when Tony hits Jim with one of her paintings over the head - about time for that and the prelude to their reconciliation. In hindsight and with the knowledge of the comedies to come this scene gets a quality of its own.
“This Man Is Mine” teams Irene the third time with director John Cromwell and once again I admire the way how he handles the close ups, finds interesting camera angles and keeps the whole film in a fine balance.
This is not a great, "must see" film but if you are in the mood for a rather talkative, stagy movie, with great acting , some  comic dialogue and touching lightly some serious topics, this could be the choice for the evening. But if you are a Dunne enthusiast, this film is simply a must.

and another close up...

Leaves my Irene tidbit: there is a very, very short scene in which Irene chews gum - a habit normally reserved for dubious girls in that film era. If I needed a hint that Tony has some “tough cookie” qualities there it is - not solely about roses and lavender that lady!