Monday 2 February 2009

The Girl from 10th Avenue (1935)

Director: Alfred E Green
Stars: Bette Davis and Ian Hunter

Welcome to 1935 where girls who live on 10th Avenue are from the poorer end of society. This is another early Bette Davis, which sees her in yet another routine programmer but still holding down the title role. She's Miriam Brady, just a shop girl who's about to lose her job, when she stumbles on a drunk making a serious attempt to drown his sorrows after his fiancee dumps him at the altar. He's Geoff Sherwood, a lawyer played by Ian Hunter, and he's in a right state. He can't do anything but pine after his Valentine, even to the degree of turning up to her wedding to a landed gentleman played by Colin Clive and causing a mild scene outside the church.

And this is where he finds his way into her life, because she overhears a couple of plainclothesmen talking and doesn't want a stranger to get locked up for disturbing the peace while he's down. She takes him to a cafe to keep him out of the way, but circumstances keep them together. She ends up as his chaperone for the week, and by that time they're in New York State married at the end of a drunk evening. Of course at this point, none of this was really intended: he's still pining after Valentine and she's just trying to help. However it doesn't take long for them to start growing together, though they do so on the basis that she can leave whenever the time calls for it.

Now there's not much of a story here, but the kick is still to come. Back in New York, sober and grounded, Sherwood builds a new business and everything seems to be going fine. This temporary drunken arrangement seems like it's going to become a permanent fixture, but then back from honeymoon in Europe comes Valentine, unhappy with her rich husband and all set on stealing Sherwood back. So Miriam starts to fight back, regardless of whatever class she might be fighting from. And there's the story, which gets the pair of them on the front page of the paper in a completely different way to the way Bette Davis did it in Front Page Woman.

Bette Davis is great here, though she's outshone by Alison Skipworth as her landlady, a devious old Floradora girl called Mrs Martin who knows the ways of the world far better than she does. Ian Hunter is decent too but there are a number of supporting actors sitting behind him in the credits that bear watching as well. People like John Eldredge and Philip Reed are reliable character actors who I've seen a number of times without knowing or remembering what their names are. However the best of the bunch is Colin Clive.

Like most, I first watched the old Universal horrors as a kid and I saw the monsters. Dracula was about Bela Lugosi; Frankenstein was about Boris Karloff. Obviously there were other people in the films but they didn't really matter. Later on I started noticing people like Dwight Frye and Una O'Connor. Nowadays I'm focusing on the people who seemed to be the least noticeable in those films and finding that I'm noticing their talent more and more as time goes by in films that have precisely nothing to do with the horror genre: David Manners, Helen Chandler and Colin Clive. Admittedly here he's playing an alcoholic here two years before he died of tuberculosis made worse by severe alcoholism so he may have been playing himself, but whoever he's playing he's more and more watchable as time goes by.

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