Carole Lombard, Fredric March in a Nothing Sacred publicity shot.
Fredric March has his “Summer Under the Stars” day on Monday, Aug. 24.
Turner Classic Movies will present 13 Fredric March films, including the TCM premiere of Richard Boleslawski's Academy Award-nominated Les Miserables (1935), a handsome – if dramatically stale – adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel that pits March's bread-thief Jean Valjean against Charles Laughton's law-enforcing sociopath Inspector Javert.
Among the other Fredric March must-sees that day are:
Produced by David O. Selznick, William A. Wellman's 1937 version of A Star Is Born features Janet Gaynor the actress doing a delicious impersonation of Janet Gaynor the persona, here named Esther Blodgett (and later renamed Vicki Lester), an ambitious but naive country girl who goes Hollywood. Once there, she meets Adolphe Menjou's fatherly producer and dissolute movie star Fredric March, here doing another first-rate John Barrymore impersonation, this time named Norman Maine. (March had played Barrymore to perfection – named Tony Cavendish – in the 1931 comedy-drama The Royal Family of Broadway.)
Now, in my view Menjou's immaculately dressed, kind-hearted mogul comes across as slimier and less trustworthy than March's self-centered alcoholic. Surely that wasn't Menjou's, Wellman's, and certainly not Selznick's intention, but I believe it says a lot about both Menjou's and March's screen personae (and quite possibly, their off-screen personalities as well, even though – or perhaps because – March was reputedly an insatiable ladies' man). Anyhow, I find this 1937 version of the old rags-to-movie-riches tale to be the best one out there.
(I should add that A Star Is Born was unofficially based on the 1932 drama What Price Hollywood?, which in turn was based on a story by Adela Rogers St. Johns, a Hollywood insider since the 1910s. Segments from the 1937 film were taken from real-life characters such as actor John Bowers, who committed suicide by drowning in the Pacific Ocean in 1936; actress Colleen Moore, who – as the story goes – once referred to herself as Mrs. John McCormick after First National threatened to dump her difficult producer-husband from their payroll; and silent cinema superstar John Gilbert, a heavy drinker whose career was ruined after the coming of sound, and whose then-wife, Ina Claire, had a – however brief – taste of film stardom at the dawn of the talkie era, including the lead in the aforementioned The Royal Family of Broadway.)
Made that same year, and produced and directed by, respectively, the same Selznick and Wellman (and written by Ben Hecht), Nothing Sacred is considered one of the best screwball comedies of the '30s. I respectfully disagree. That said, this early color comedy does have its charms, especially Carole Lombard as the young woman who believes she doesn't have all that long to live. March, for his part, plays the reporter who turns the “dying” woman into a heroine of sorts so as to sell more papers. Needless to say, the public buys into the bullshit. (The ancient Greeks were right. History keeps repeating itself over and over – and over – again.)
The 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is the best version of Robert Louis Stevenson's tale about the scientist who allows his id to run loose – with tragic results. March, who shared an Academy Award with Wallace Beery (for The Champ) for his role in the film, is for the most part quite good, but the raw and real performance in this one comes courtesy of Miriam Hopkins (right), who brings erotic dignity (hey, those two qualities not only can but should go together) to her sex worker – who probably should have realized that her big-toothed, hirsute companion was not to be trusted.
Rouben Mamoulian directed, and apart from March's tendency here and there to (over)act as if he were on a Broadway stage, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde remains astonishingly modern. Rose Hobart, whose film career would be ruined by the Red Scare, plays March's sweet love interest.
I saw John Ford's Mary of Scotland (1936) quite a while back, but I do remember enjoying it at the time. March's off-screen wife, Florence Eldridge, plays a stern Queen Elizabeth I, while Katharine Hepburn is fine as the Mary of the title.
Eldridge also co-stars with her husband in the 1949 epic Christopher Columbus, which I haven't seen, yet. This historical biopic could be funny as hell, or it could be as mind-numbingly boring as, say, Captain of Castile. One thing is for certain: don't expect to find any semblance of historical accuracy in it.
Now, the Academy Award-nominated One Foot in Heaven will probably please those who like their movies filled with piety and devoid of honesty. Even capable performers like March and Martha Scott, as a protestant minister and his wife, sink under the weight of so much Hollywood goodness and religiosity.
Now, I can't think of who will be pleased with Anthony Adverse, a soporific period piece about a young man's adversities in both love and life, even though the film's cast is quite impressive. In addition to March (in the title role), there's Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Edmund Gwenn, Anita Louise, Louis Hayward, Akim Tamiroff, and the first best supporting actress Academy Award winner, Gale Sondergaard, playing (quite well, as usual) – are you ready? – a ruthless bitch.
We Live Again stars Samuel Goldwyn's Greta Garbo, Anna Sten, who was no Garbo and should never have been pushed as such. Perhaps then Sten would have had a chance to make her way in Hollywood. I haven't seen We Live Again – based on Tolstoy's novel Resurrection; it sounds a little scary – but Sten was fine in The Wedding Night the year after and she may be good in this one, too. Also, the film was directed by the reliable Rouben Mamoulian.
By the way, the real Garbo (above) can be seen in Anna Karenina, having an affair with a miscast March behind the back of husband Basil Rathbone. Garbo is fully believable in the part (which she had already played in the silent drama Love back in 1927), but Clarence Brown's direction is much too reverential. So much so, in fact, that the romance and the drama feel pretty unromantic and undramatic. (Considering what he did for Garbo with Queen Christina, Rouben Mamoulian would have been ideal for this one.) Personally, I much prefer the (usually panned) 1948 Julien Duvivier version starring Vivien Leigh as the unlucky-in-love Anna.
3:00 AM We Live Again (1934)
A Russian nobleman discovers the peasant girl he once seduced has turned to crime. Cast: Anna Sten, Fredric March, C. Aubrey Smith. Dir.: Rouben Mamoulian. Black and white. 82 min.
Adolphe Menjou, Lionel Stander, Fredric March, Janet Gaynor in A Star Is Born
4:30 AM Star Is Born, A (1937)
A fading matinee idol marries the young beginner he's shepherded to stardom. Cast: Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou. Dir.: William A. Wellman. Color. 111 min.
8:00 AM Mary of Scotland (1936)
Biography of the flighty Scottish queen who was brought down by love. Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Fredric March, Florence Eldridge. Dir.: John Ford. Black and white. 124 min.
10:30 AM One Foot In Heaven (1941)
A minister and his wife cope with the problems of church life in the 20th century. Cast: Fredric March, Martha Scott, Beulah Bondi. Dir.: Irving Rapper. Black and white. 108 min.
12:30 PM Christopher Columbus (1949)
The legendary explorer discovers the new world while searching for a route to Asia. Cast: Fredric March, Florence Eldridge, Francis L. Sullivan. Dir.: David McDonald. Color. 99 min.
2:15 PM Bedtime Story (1942)
A stage star's dreams of retirement conflict with her playwright husband's need for a hit – with her starring. Cast: Fredric March, Loretta Young, Robert Benchley. Dir.: Alexander Hall. Black and white. 85 min.
3:45 PM Nothing Sacred (1937)
When a small-town girl is diagnosed with a rare, deadly disease, an ambitious newspaper man turns her into a national heroine. Cast: Carole Lombard, Fredric March, Walter Connolly. Dir.: William A. Wellman. Color. 74 min.
5:00 PM Les Miserables (1935)
An obsessed policeman relentlessly pursues an escaped convict. Cast: Fredric March, Charles Laughton, Cedric Hardwicke. Dir.: Richard Boleslawski. Black and white. 107 min.
6:45 PM Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1932)
Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of a scientist who unleashes the beast within. Cast: Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart. Dir.: Rouben Mamoulian. Black and white. 96 min.
8:45 PM Anna Karenina (1935)
Adaptation of Tolstoy's classic tale of a woman who deserts her family for an illicit love. Cast: Greta Garbo, Fredric March, Basil Rathbone. Dir.: Clarence Brown. Black and white. 93 min.
10:30 PM Middle of the Night (1959)
A widowed businessman courts a younger woman who works for him. Cast: Fredric March, Kim Novak, Lee Grant. Dir.: Delbert Mann. Black and white. 117 min.
12:30 AM Anthony Adverse (1936)
An orphan runs off to a life of adventure, then returns to France in search of the girl he left behind. Cast: Fredric March, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains. Dir.: Mervyn LeRoy. Black and white. 141 min.