Monday, June 30, 2014

Other Men's Women

Mary Astor, Regis Toomey
US 1931. D: William Wellman. Story+SC: Maude Fulton. DP: Barney McGill. ED: Edward M. McDermott. C: Grant Withers (Bill), Mary Astor (Lily), Regis Toomey (Jack), James Cagney (Ed), Joan Blondell (Marie), Fred Kohler (Haley), J. Farrell MacDonald (Peg Leg), Lillian Worth (cameriera), Walter Long (Bixby). P: Warner Bros Pictures, Inc., The Vitaphone Corp. 35 mm. 70'. From: Filmoteca Eşpañola
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 30 June 2014

Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Daniel Kasman (for William A. Wellman: A Dossier) writes: "The films of William A. Wellman may be suffused with, live, and breath aviation - the director being an aviator himself - but the transport they most resemble isn't the airplane but the boxcar. Those railway cars, like the city apartments named after their spatial arrangement, are constructed like Wellman makes movies: a chain of discrete segments. In Wellman's cinema, each single scene is a car in each train-length feature, and it's even quite possible that each car could be rearranged and rigged to connect to whatever follows it". The opening scene of Other Men's Women perfectly encapsulates this metaphor for watching an entire Wellman feature: a train approaches a diner and a lively train operator named Bill (Grant Withers) jumps off and counts the cars as they pass. In the diner, Bill eats his lunch and flirts with a waitress (who knowingly and enthusiastically lobbies his lazy serves back at him) - when he goes to hop back on board he tosses her a piece of gum and a catchphrase: "Have a little chew on me". It's a deceptively breezy scene for a film that eventually pivots to focus on, like so many Wellman pictures, the hopelessness and bitterness of life. But despite this, or perhaps precisely because of it, Other Men's Women is full of the immediacy of experience, as Wellman frequently shifts the tone of the picture at will and highlights the physical. Labor bonds the characters together - as they dig holes to plant pea pods, fix buttons, and give each other haircuts - and tears them apart, as Regis Toomey's Jack sadly discovers after a fight with Bill, his coworker and best friend, aboard a moving train. At other points, Wellman simply observes the aftereffects of life lived hard, showcasing a neighbor's peg-leg or a landlady's stutter. The cast is pleasure personified, with incredible (and under-appreciated) turns by Withers, Toomey, and a radiant (and young) Mary Astor, plus early and striking appearances from James Cagney and Joan Blondell. The constantly evolving expression on Blondell's face, from pure joy to pure despair, in a scene where she and Withers drunkenly discuss their future, is reason enough to watch Other Men's Women over and over again." Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: Although William Wellman's signature vehicle was inevitably the airplane, trains are also prominent in his films (Beggars of Life, Other Men's Women, Wild Boys of the Road).
    In Other Men's Women Wellman enters La Bête humaine territory.
    It starts in comedy mode. There is a bravura introduction to Bill who has breakfast and a moment of flirt with a café waitress while his freight train is moving along by the station; he catches the last car and runs on the roof of the cars back to his engine.
    The relaxed, wisecracking approach goes on as he brings his drunken colleague Jack to his home. Jack has his hair cut (clumsily) by Bill's wife Lily (Mary Astor in a non-glamorous role).
    Jack and Lily kiss each other playfully (they do so because there is no conscious attraction between them), and suddenly they know it's no longer a play anymore. Lily bursts into tears. Something has been broken forever. Jack distances himself from the couple. Nothing is said, but from the awkward silences Bill senses that there is something wrong. Wellman and his actors show psychological insight in the handling of this development.
    The La Bête humaine territory starts when Bill is blinded by steam. There is a rainstorm, and the railway bridge is being battered by a flood. The blind Bill takes an engine with an urgent delivery. He hits Jack and throws him out of the engine. The bridge crashes, and Bill and his train fall into the river.
    Much later Jack and Lily meet briefly in a café scene similar to the opening. Catching the last car, Jack hops happily on the roofs to his engine.

A swiftly moving low budget Warner Bros. programmer. There is a gritty feeling of reality, there are several long takes, the camera is sometimes fumbling, there are rough edges which are part of this film's charm.

A brilliant print. The audience was startled by frames of melting film just before the train catastrophe; perhaps marks of print damage in a previous screening.

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