"Danger Lights," or Honey Choo Choo


Plotwise, the 1930 film "Danger Lights" is "The Broadway Melody" with locomotives -- a love triangle involving two people who hate to hurt the odd one out. But it also offers interesting location footage of trains and train yards, a glimpse of Jean Arthur early in her sound career, and one of the few talkie film performances of Louis Wolfheim, who died in 1931 of stomach cancer.
Off camera, Wolfheim had a reputation as a cultivated man -- he attended Cornell University and spoke several languages -- but his stocky, plug-ugly appearance meant a career in tough character roles, including a memorable turn as Stanislaus "Kat" Katczinsky in "All Quiet on the Western Front," made just before this film. Wolfheim's profile wasn't exactly Barrymore-ish -- it looks like two upside-down 7s on top of each other.

Here, Wolfheim is Dan Thorn, a hard-driving railroad yardmaster whose bark is worse than his bite. We know this because that's what everyone is always telling us, and because Dan has opened his home to his disabled railroad buddy Ryan (Frank Sheridan) and daughter Mary (Arthur). Mary is preparing to marry Dan out of obligation, but that changes when Doyle (Robert Armstrong) hits town. He's a tramp who's hitched a ride on a freight, but when Dan finds out he's a former engineer he gives the guy a job. And when Doyle gets a gander at Mary, he makes up his mind to stay:



Oblivious to the attraction between Doyle and Mary, Dan keeps pushing them to spend time together because he's too busy working on the railroad all the livelong day. And when they're walking home across a railroad trestle, Doyle and Mary act on their attraction:



By the time Dan finally finds out what's going on, the couple has made plans to leave town together. But a hitch develops while they're cutting across the rail yard:



Dan is badly injured, because the train in rain hits mainly on the brain.

The only hope is to get him to a Chicago brain specialist within five hours, but the fastest train on record can make it only in seven. A guilt-stricken Doyle takes the throttle, and Dan makes it to the Windy City in record time. To make everything hunky-dory, Dan realizes that he really loves the railroad, not Mary, and he gives the couple his blessing.

Much of "Danger Lights" was filmed in Montana, at the Miles City yards, and director George B. Seitz fills the movie with lots of hard-charging railroad action! Wolfheim is a winning presence as Dan, but occasionally he garbles his lines (at one point he says to someone, "How'd you like to have a new man for your suttapacka job?"). And it's always interesting to see Arthur; here she is just starting to demonstrate her familiar screen mannerisms.


Here is a full cast and credits list for "Danger Lights."


Awkward Early Talkie Theatre: "The Broadway Melody"

Star-struck sisters coming to New York, struggling songwriter, backstage drama, misguided love -- it's all there, and more, in the 1929 film "The Broadway Melody." It's like a cliche incubator. It also has those awkward little touches we love in early talkies -- hammy acting, stilted silences and a musical soundtrack that makes it sound like the orchestra's in the bathroom.

To the concrete canyons of Broadway, where there's a broken light for every heart, or something like that, come the something-something sisters, Queenie (Anita Page) and Hank (Bessie Love). Queenie is blonde and stauesque, if you know what I mean and I think you do, and Hank is a little pepperpot of personality. ("I'm gonna lay that dame like a roll of linoleum," she says of a rival at one point.)

Hank's boyfriend Eddie (Charles King) has just joined the Zanfield Follies, and he's promised Hank that she and Queenie can join the show. We first meet Eddie at the Ye Olde Gleason Music Publishing Company, overseen by character actor James Gleason, who also co-wrote the dialogue. Eddie has just put the finishing touches on the movie's title song: 



Eddie and the girls are reunited, and since he hasn't seen Queenie since she was a little princess, he's surprised, to put it mildly, that she's grown so tall -- and stuff.

Meanwhile, there is backstage drama aplenty. Queenie and Hank get jobs in the chorus, and Queenie ends up as the main visual attraction, if you know what I mean and I think you do, in a big production number. There she attracts the attention of oily rich guy Jacques (Kenneth Thomson), who, in a bid at regular-guy status, signs his calling card "Jock." Queenie is attracted to Eddie, but out of loyalty to her sister she starts hanging with Jock.

Time out for some backstage banter:

Gay designer on his outlandish costumes: I design the costumes for the show, not the doors to the theatre.

Chorus girl: I know that -- if you had, they'd be painted in lavender.

Then it's time for the big-time production of "Broadway Melody":




Hank is mystified by Queenie's behavior. Eddie, mixing his metaphors, says, "I guess the bright lights just got under her skin." Then Queenie and Eddie have an awkward scene all their own:


There's a lot to like in "Broadway Melody," and if you don't like you can pass the time by counting how many times Queenie and Hank undress and slip into skimpy costumes and/or underwear. We also see them performing their vaudeville act, "Two Harmony Babies From Melody Lane," which includes the line "We can do more with a vo-de-oh-doh/Than Mr. Rockefeller can do with his dough."

When it's all said and done, Hank realizes that Queenie loves Eddie, and she steps out of the picture. At the movie's end, she's ready to go on a vaudeville tour with a new partner, and with the advice of her stuttering agent (Jed Prouty):        
     



Here are the complete credits, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

 

Awkward Early Talkie Theatre: "Hollywood Revue of 1929"

"The Hollywood Revue of 1929," MGM's entry in the look-at-us-we're-talking sweepstakes, is a lot like Warner Bros.' "The Show of Shows," released later that year. It's a big-budget hodgepodge of skits and songs featuring almost every performer on the lot (a select few were exempt -- Al Jolson isn't in "The Show of Shows" and Greta Garbo isn't in "Hollywood Revue").

The budget is so big, the chorus ends up passing the hat.


Both films were designed to introduce audiences to the brave new world of talkie films -- the ironic thing is that early talkies, because of cumbersome cameras and sound recording equipment, were much less "free" than silent films. The setting that both studios use to showcase sound is very static -- a clearly defined stage, proscenium arch and all. ("Broadway Revue" even has a pit orchestra.)

Joan Crawford warms up for her big dance number. 


Still, this was a chance to see your favorite actors and actresses talk, dance and sing. MGM used to brag about having "more stars than there are in heaven," and at least a galaxy or two is accounted for here -- Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, John Gilbert, Marie Dressler, Bessie Love, Anita Page, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and many others.

Like "The Show of Shows," "Hollywood Revue" prides itself on being very up to date, with sketches that poke fun at quaint Victorian songs and melodramas. The opening number of "Hollywood Revue" and at least part of the proceedings take place in the context of a much more modern setting -- a, um, minstrel show.


The emcees here are Conrad Nagel and Jack Benny. Benny was a headliner in vaudeville by this point, but this is early in his career and he's just beginning to perfect the mannerisms and low-key style that he would utilize so successfully in radio and television. The emcee of "The Show of Shows" is Frank Fay, whose stage persona Benny freely admitted to appropriating, and in comparing the two, Fay comes off as more effective (at least to me). Here's Benny in a sketch with William Haines:



Here, by comparison, is Frank Fay in "The Show of Shows":



The other emcee, Conrad Nagel, is pleasing and polished -- like almost everybody else he sings a number, a song that sends lyrics of love right up into Anita Page's nostrils.

The two performers who are featured most prominently in "Hollywood Revue," however, are singers -- Charles King and Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards. King was the male lead in MGM's other big film of 1929, "The Broadway Melody," and gets far more attention here that he merits. (He sings the song "Your Mother and Mine," which is parodied in "The Show of Shows.")

Edwards, on the other hand, was never a big star, but he was a reliable second banana in several MGM films of the early 1930s. (And he was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in "Pinocchio.") His singing style is simple and appealing, and here he accompanies himself on the uke:



That is some art right there.
Comedy bits are offered by Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Marie Dressler, but they are minor stuff. There are also quite a few ensemble numbers with elaborate sets and costumes.

And then, toward the end, there is for me the most wince-able portion of "Hollywood Revue" -- a bit, shot in two-strip Technicolor, with Norma Shearer, John Gilbert and Lionel Barrymore.

You've probably heard of it if you haven't seen it -- Gilbert and Shearer perform the balcony scene from "Romeo and Juliet," and then director Barrymore tells them that, under studio orders, the dialogue must be updated.


Norma Shearer tries and fails to act like a regular person.
It's one of those ideas that has "cute" written all over it, and not in a good way. It also features what is supposed to be good-natured, natural bantering between the three, and it's truly squirm-worthy.

Soon enough comes the ending, also shot in two-strip Technicolor -- it's the movie's big hit song, "Singin' in the Rain," sung by the entire cast, in rain slickers, as they prepare to -- board Noah's Ark?



SEE Cliff Edwards in a rain hat! SEE Joan Crawford looking around for her camera! SEE Buster Keaton look like he wishes he was somewhere else!

SEE the complete credits for "The Hollywood Revue of 1929"!

 

Public Domain Theatre: "Lights of New York" (1928)




The opening exchange of the 1928 film "Lights of New York," a conversation between two gangsters in a hotel room, goes something like this:

Gangster 1: The bootleg rap against us has been dropped -- and we can go back to the big town tomorrow.

(Long pause, during which Lindbergh flies the Atlantic)

Gangster 2: Great! And what are we gonna use for money when we get there? Our bootleg joint is empty and we need dough!

(Long pause, during which Alexander Fleming invents penicillin)

Gangster 1: I've been taking care of that! You know that barber downstairs? He looks like a cinch to me. And after the talks we've been having, he thinks that joint of ours is a regular barber shop and not a speakeasy!

Billed as the first 100% all-talking film, "Lights of New York" should also get credit as a 100% all-pausing film. There are large cushions of air between every line of dialogue, and sometimes between words. And to include exclamation points in the dialogue is kind of misleading -- it implies that the actors deliver lines with some sort of emotion, and for the most part they don't.

But it didn't really matter. The film's novelty assured its financial success -- it was the second-highest grossing movie of 1928, beaten only by Al Jolson's "The Singing Fool." Still, even contemporary reviewers were less than impressed. Wrote Variety:


"It's that kind of a sappy mixture, the kind that recalls the mellers [melodramas] of ... ages ago. ... In a year from now everyone concerned in 'Lights of New York' will run for the river before looking at it again. ... [S]till, this talker will have pulling power, and the Warners' should get credit for nerve even if they didn't do it with a polish."

"Lights of New York" is the story of two small-town barbers -- Eddie (Cullen Landis) and Gene (Eugene Pallette). They are plying their trade in a hotel run by Eddie's mother. But they have dreams -- dreams of being big-time barbers in the Big Apple! Shearing scalps in the city that never sleeps! Scraping their straight razors across the mugs of Babe Ruth! Herbert Hoover! Fanny Brice! Here they discuss it, at length:



As illustrated above, people don't just say their lines in this movie -- they recite them. There's a lot of standing and proclaiming, and a lot of hooking of thumbs into vests. And there's music -- always music. In movies like this, a soundtrack is something to fill up, and music incessantly plays on the soundtrack whether or not it has any relation to the action.

Anyway, Eddie and Gene get a loan from Eddie's kindly mother and they set out for the concrete canyons. Six months pass, and Gene and Eddie realize they've been had. "About the only thing I shave around here are labels off bottles," sez Gene. (In fact, these guys never have any customers in the small town or in the big city. Maybe they're just lousy barbers!)

Eddie has rekindled a relationship with Kitty (Helene Costello), a girl from his hometown who works at a nightclub run by the evil bootlegger Hawk Miller (Wheeler Oakman). In a scene set in what we're told is "Central Park," Eddie and Kitty bemoan their fates. This clip has a little bit of everything -- cheesy sets, a line flub, bad acting and deadly pauses:




Then we hie to the nightclub, where we meet owner Hawk Miller and his mistress, Molly . They've been together a long time, and Hawk is starting to ogle the chorus girls, particularly Kitty.

Molly (to Hawk): You're a hound for chickens, ain't ya? You might get indigestion from too much chicken.

(Long pause during which wood turns to coal)


Hawk: Well, if I will, it won't be from an old hen.  

Hawk has killed a cop in the process of transporting illegal hooch, and he plans to frame Eddie for the murder. But when he confronts Eddie at the barber shop, a shot is fired! And the Hawk is grounded in one of the clumsiest death scenes you'll ever see.

And just when you think things can't any worse, enter Det. Crosby (Robert Elliott), whose slow cadences make everyone else seem like they're on cocaine. Molly the mistress confesses to the killing of Hawk, and Crosby stretches ten words into what seems like ten minutes:



The film careers of the romantic leads, Cullen Landis and Helene Costello, were kaput by 1930. Gladys Brockwell, who actually acts a little as Molly, was killed in a 1929 car crash. The only folks whose careers survived "Lights of New York" were Pallette; the cop, Robert Elliott (who went on to play dozens of cops); and Tom Dugan, who played comic bits in dozens of movies and, during World War II, found himself playing Hitler or Hitler surrogates in movies such as "Star Spangled Rhythm" and "To Be or Not to Be."

Podcast: The Stormy Success of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour"




In early 1967, folksinging comedians Tom and Dick Smothers kicked off their own variety show on CBS. Their competition was stiff -- NBC's "Bonanza," the one show that CBS could never seem to dislodge from its top-10 spot in the ratings. But the brothers beat "Bonanza" with a combination of topical comedy and musical guests like the Turtles, Buffalo Springfield and the Who. The only problem was that the show's anti-war humor and social satire often ran afoul of CBS censors -- and even prompted protests from the White House, leading to a series of conflicts between the Smothers Brothers and Big Brother.

Sources:

Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," by David Bianculli

"Smothered: The Censorship Struggles of 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour' "

"The Smothers Brothers Redux: A Bittersweet Reunion at CBS," Andy Meisler, The New York Times, January 31, 1988

 

Podcast: The Miracle of "A Charlie Brown Chirstmas"






"A Charlie Brown Christmas" wasn't intentionally created to be timeless, but because of its simplicity and sincerity, timeless it is. Miraculously, it avoids every cliche associated with children's animation and is a perfect blending of music, words and images that clearly conveys one man's vision and philosophy -- Charles Schulz, who drew "Peanuts" from 1950 until his death in 2000.


Sources:

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, by David Michaelis

A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles Schulz, by Stephen J. Lind

"How 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' Almost Wasn't," Jennings Brown, ny.com, November 16, 2016

"The 'Charlie Brown Christmas' Special Was the Flop That Wasn't," Carrie Hagen, smithsonian.com, December 9, 2015 

Podcast: The Rise and Fall of "Moonlighting"





When the Directors Guild of America announced its award nominations in 1986, history was made. For the very first time, one TV show was nominated for best direction in a comedy and best direction in a drama -- "Moonlighting." The combination detective series-screwball comedy thrived on romantic tension for three seasons in the mid-1980s -- until the lead characters finally got together and the show's creators weren't quite sure what to do next.

Sources:

"Cybill Shepherd's Comeback: Dueling for Dollars," Bill Davidson, TV Guide, December 7, 1985


"Behind the Turmoil on 'Moonlighting': Cybill Won't Be Tamed," Michael Leahy, TV Guide, May 30, 1987


"The Madcap Behind 'Moonlighting,' " Joy Horowitz, The New York Times Magazine, March 30, 1986

" 'Moonlighting' Makes Light of 15 Emmy Losses: Mom Goes to Her Reward But TV Show Didn't," Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1986

"Writer of 'Moonlighting' Cast in a Different Glow," Steve Daley, The Chicago Tribune, March 11, 1986

"Glenn Gordon Caron Discusses Working with Cybill Shepherd on 'Moonlighting,' " emmytvlegends.org

"Glenn Gordon Caron Discusses the Tone of 'Moonlighting,' " emmytvlegends.org 

Screen Capture Theatre: "Torch Song," or the Lone Arranger

OK, I think we can all agree it's been a tough couple of months. But buck up and ditch those silly thoughts of impending fascism! If there's one thing we understand here at Screen Capture Theatre, it's that nothing puts a positive spin on the world like a ... Joan Crawford musical?

In this 1953 film, Joan Crawford plays Jenny Stewart ... 



... a Broadway star of such hit musicals as "Evening with
Jenny," "Another Evening with Jenny," "Yet Another Evening
with Jenny," "Oh My God It's Jenny Again" and
"Go Home, Jenny, You're Drunk." 



She is loved by all and is a big star -- so big that
her eyebrows have their own dressing room.




Jenny is a hard-driving pro onstage and off -- she even makes
sure her robe matches the pencils on her nightstand. 
    



But her hard exterior covers a yearning soul of
molten lava, cotton candy 
and unfinished Lisa Frank
coloring books.
 



The only person who can, you should excuse the expression,
penetrate Jenny is Ty, her blind arranger.  



They get along splendidly.



Jenny even starts trying to learn braille until she realizes
she's just turning the radio on and off.



But Ty turns his back on Jenny. He walks out during her
big blackface number, a toe-tapper called
"Staggering Multicultural Insensitivity." 



Still, Jenny can't stay away. She presents herself to Ty with
an outfit that's a stunning salute to autumn, which she
describes to him because he can't see. 



Even an eye massage doesn't help.



Neither does Jenny's attempt to clone herself as a
larger, easier-to-see person.



But in the end it doesn't matter, because as well all know,
love is differently abled. I mean blind.









 

Podcast: 1952 -- The 60-Second Election



In 1952, Republican Dwight Eisenhower squared off against Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the presidential election. Eisenhower, who had been commander of allied forces in Europe during World War II, was enormously popular but not much of a public speaker. So a combination of talents from America’s largest advertising agencies, including the man upon whom the “Mad Men” character Don Draper was roughly based, convinced Eisenhower and his advisers that the best way to reach American voters was the same way they received selling propositions about what soap to use, what car to drive, what cigarette to smoke — by a TV commercial. Eisenhower reluctantly agreed — and political campaigns were changed forever.
Sources:
“Political Advertising,” adage.com, September 15, 2003
“Eisenhower, an Unlikely Pioneer of TV Ads,” Michael Beschloss, The New York Times, October 30, 2015

"Below the Sea," or Love and Depth

Ronald Reagan is credited with a great line about his days of making B-movies: "They didn't want them good, they wanted them Thursday."

And that's the standard rap -- they were projector fodder destined to belong at the bottom of double features with forgettable actors, mediocre scripts, blah blah blah blah.

But the thing is, despite low budgets and tight shooting schedules, the Hollywood assembly system in the 1930s was still capable of cranking out movies that were better than they had any right to be. "Below the Sea" is a good example. This 1933 film boasts a script by Frank Capra collaborator Jo Swerling, creative direction by Al Rogell and vivid performances by Ralph Bellamy, Fay Wray and Frederick Vogeding.

Frederick Vogeding?


Vogeding appeared in several dozen movies between 1933-42, usually in small parts as doctors or military men. Beginning with 1939's "Confessions of a Nazi Spy" he made frequent appearances as Gestapo officers. "Below the Sea" features one of his rare leading roles.

We open during the final days of World War I, in a German sub commanded by Vogeding's character. The men converse in their native tongue, with no subtitles. And right around the time one of them says something that sounds like "I want a Zima," there's an explosion.

Then, in battle footage thrillingly borrowed from the RKO movie "Suicide Fleet" (and who knows where else), the sub, she is sunk. There are only two survivors -- the captain and some other guy. Both of them are aware that the sub was carrying a load of gold bricks, and while they dry off on a desert island the other guy draws up a map of the location, which gives the captain nasty ideas:




(By the way, in a post-code movie the guy just would have fallen off the cliff; only in a pre-code movie would you see the body go all the way down, bouncing off outcroppings along the way.)

Fast forward twelve years, and the captain has changed his name to Schlemmer. He's been waiting all this time to retrieve the precious stash, and he's talked a waterfront bar owner/floozy (Esther Howard) into financing the trip in exchange for a cut. He's also hired a deep sea diver, Mac, played by snarling Ralph Bellamy.

Their first trip out to get the treasure is doomed because there's a big storm, and because Schlemmer keeps the destination a secret, so the crew doesn't know where to go. This doesn't quite make sense to me, but it gives Bellamy a chance to wear a rain slicker and hat like the Gorton fisherman on those old TV commercials.


Another three years pass, and Schlemmer has signed on as the captain of a scientific expedition, and he's bringing Mac with him. They're aboard the good ship Adventure, funded by socialite Diana Templeton (Fay Wray in full-blown hottie mode). Templeton is sincere about science, but she also knows the power of public relations, so she does things like pose for photos in Mac's diving suit.

Mac in turn is so nasty to her that there's really no doubt how he really feels, especially since Diana gives as good as she gets:




The byplay between Wray and Bellamy is one of the highlights of "Under the Sea." He scowls and puffs his pipe as she runs around the boat wearing anchor-accented outfits. And she kisses other guys in front of him just to get him hot. But when she puts on Mac's diving outfit and goes down without his permission, that's a bridge too far. He purposely takes his time rescuing her and she passes out. He gets in trouble for it, but she shows her mettle by apologizing to him. And he finds himself torn between Diana and the loot in the sub:



Meanwhile, Schlemmer and his floozy are ready to bring the gold to the surface and cheat Mac out of his cut. They drug him and take off to collect the booty. Mac awakens just in time to discover that Diana is down in the diving bell again and it's being attacked by an amorous octopus, so instead of heading off Schlemmer he changes into his suit and dives in to rescue her:





This also seems like a good time to mention that the diving bell looks just like the isolation booth on the 1950s quiz show "The $64,000 Question," except that the diving bell doesn't have a giant lipstick on each side of the window (the show's sponsor was Revlon).

In the end, the captain's nefarious scheme comes to naught, and Diana and Mac end up together. As a couple they generate actual heat -- it's nice to see Bellamy playing something other than the milquetoast role he essayed in romantic comedies, and Wray's character is tough and likable. Their clinches seem unusually enthusiastic -- makes you wonder if something was going on in real life between them, as well.

Here are full credits for "Below the Sea."


Podcast: The Quiz Show Scandals -- "Twenty-One"


We end our two-part look at the quiz show scandals with the most infamous example of all -- the NBC program "Twenty-One." Contestants on the show were deliberately given answers to questions, directed to lose games and were even coached on how, for maximum dramatic effect, to hesitate when answering a question. The show's most popular contestant, Charles Van Doren, was celebrated for his intellect and humility and rewarded with a job on NBC-TV. But he ended up revealing his role in the hoax during a dramatic congressional hearing, and his reputation was forever tarnished.


Pre-Code vs Post-Code: "The Crowd Roars" and "Indianapolis Speedway"

Pre-code versus post-code is the difference between a Duesenberg and a Hummer, between cafe au lait and chocolate milk, between a camisole and a union suit.

Take the differences, for instance, between the 1932 film "The Crowd Roars" and the 1939 film "Indianapolis Speedway." Same story (by Howard Hawks, who also directed the first film), same setting, same characters (with different names, in some cases), even much of the same racetrack footage. By the way, want to know how to switch up your stock footage of a crowd? Just flip the image, like this:












And, since these are Warner Bros. films made in the 1930s, naturally both of them feature Frank McHugh -- playing the same character, and even with the same name. Spud. (Frank McHugh was born to play guys named Spud.)

But there's a distinct difference in the way the film's romantic relationships are portrayed, and, by extension, in the relationship between the brothers at the center of the story.

The brothers are Joe and Eddie Greer, played by James Cagney and Eric Linden in "The Crowd Roars" and Pat O'Brien and John Payne in "Indianapolis Speedway." Joe is a world-famous racing driver who drinks and carouses a little too much, tilting slightly but not totally into arrogance. Eddie is his hero-worshiping brother, who also wants to race.


In the 1939 version, Joe's reluctance to work with Eddie has a noble basis -- he wants Eddie to finish college, at Joe's expense. But after Joe leaves his hometown and his visit with Eddie to return to Los Angeles, he finds an unexpected stowaway.

In the 1932 version, Joe's reluctant to work with Eddie for two reasons -- one is because of Eddie's inexperience, but the other is that Joe doesn't want Eddie to know that he's shacking up with longtime frail Lee (Ann Dvorak). Once Eddie enters Joe's life, Joe starts giving the cold shoulder to the bewildered Lee. In "Indianapolis Speedway," by contrast, Joe and Lee (Gale Page) are already engaged, which makes their coupling a little more legitimate. When Joe gives Lee the brushoff in "Indianapolis," he makes it clear it's because he wants to tutor Eddie. In "The Crowd Roars," Lee grins and bears it, but in "Indianapolis Speedway" she gets rightfully honked off. Here are the two scenes:







But the real woman trouble in both movies comes from Lee's friend. In "The Crowd Roars," her name is Ann (Joan Blondell) and in "Indianapolis Speedway" her name is Frankie (Ann Sheridan). In both movies, she's first portrayed as bad news, and Joe doesn't want her "corrupting" his pure younger brother. In "The Crowd Roars," when Ann meets Eddie and starts showing some leg, Joe sneers, "Why don't you stand on your head while you're at it?" -- a line that's as likely to show up in "Indianapolis Speedway" as I am to grow a tail. In "Indianapolis Speedway," Frankie -- who's the roommate of Ann -- is known for feminine wiles that have driven at least one racer track wacky. (Sheridan, at the peak of her reign as Warner's "Oomph Girl," is top billed here -- and like Blondell, she is shown in the skimpiest post-code outfits possible.)

Here's how Cagney and O'Brien handle the problem of the other woman:







Even by Cagney standards, the character of Joe is wound unusually tight. His obsession with keeping Eddie from sinful entanglements and what he perceives as loose women -- playing around for me, but not for thee -- goes beyond brotherly concern and makes him seem like a hypocrite.

O'Brien portrays Joe as a little wearier -- the movie is telling us that what he needs is to settle down with a good woman, but it'll take him about 65 minutes to figure that out.

All around, in fact, the Joe in "Indianapolis Speedway" seems more human and more vulnerable. The relationship between the brothers is much warmer -- in the 1932 film, Joe dominates Eddie the way that Cagney naturally dominates the more diffident Linden. Payne, by contrast, has a stronger screen presence and makes more of an impression opposite O'Brien.

In both versions, Joe's downfall comes when, out of anger at Eddie's romance, he causes a fiery crash that kills Spud (Twice!). Joe is spooked and can't bring himself to race again, but he gravitates toward Indianapolis on the day of the 500. Eddie is racing, and when he is injured, Joe jumps back behind the wheel with Eddie as his co-driver. Guess who wins?

In the 1932 film, the reunion between the brothers isn't even played out -- Joe just jumps in the car and takes off. But in the 1939 version, there's a spoken rapprochement between the brothers, capped off when Eddie gives Joe his trademark cigar to chomp on for good luck. Guess who wins?

Here are the full credits for "The Crowd Roars" (which also features several real-life drivers as themselves) and "Indianapolis Speedway."