Edward G. Robinson & James Cagney + Jean Harlow: Sex & Violence in Old Hollywood

Edward G. Robinson Little Caesar
Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar.

Turner Classic Movies' Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood continues this evening with “Brother, Can You Spare a Dream?” which takes us to the beginning of the talkie era and the Great Depression.

That was the time when most studios faced bankruptcy; directors, screenwriters, and actors formed unions; the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences found itself enmeshed in labor disputes; and Hollywood cranked out a mix of escapist fare and message movies, often with racy situations and even racier dialogue.

Accompanying “Brother, Can You Spare a Dream?” will be:

Lloyd Bacon's Footlight Parade (1933), one of the many Depression Era musicals with kaleidoscopic numbers directed by Busby Berkeley. James Cagney uses his tongue as a machine gun in this one, rat-a-tatting about 10,000 words per minute.

The crime dramas The Public Enemy (1931) and Little Caesar (1930), which made stars out of, respectively, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson. Directed by William A. Wellman, The Public Enemy, which also features Joan Blondell and Jean Harlow is the better movie, but Mervyn LeRoy's Little Caesar is remarkable chiefly because of Robinson's ability to turn a crime melo into a epic tragedy.

Victor Fleming's steamy Red Dust (1932), which paired Clark Gable with Jean Harlow and Mary Astor, left censors apoplectic. (It was remade as Mogambo in 1953, with Gable, Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly.)

Mervyn LeRoy's socially conscious I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), about inhumane conditions in a southern prison, stars Paul Muni as the “I” in the title. Muni, hardly the subtlest of actors, mugs his way through this one, but the final scene remains as haunting as it must have been 78 years ago.

And if you think I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is no longer relevant, think again.

Schedule (PT) and synopses from the TCM website:

4:00pm Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: Dream Merchants, The (2010)

5:00pm Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: Brother, Can You Spare a Dream? (2010)

6:00pm Footlight Parade (1933)
A producer fights labor problems, financiers and his greedy ex-wife to put on a show.
Cast: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell Dir: Lloyd Bacon BW-104 mins

8:00pm Moguls & Movie Stars, A History of Hollywood: Brother, Can You Spare a Dream? (2010)

9:00pm The Public Enemy (1931)
An Irish-American street punk tries to make it big in the world of organized crime.
Cast: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell Dir: William A. Wellman BW-84 mins

10:30pm Little Caesar (1930)
A small-time hood shoots his way to the top, but how long can he stay there?
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell, William Collier Jr. Dir.: Mervyn LeRoy BW-79 mins,

12:00am I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932)
A World War I veteran faces inhuman conditions when he's sentenced to hard labor.
Cast: Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson, Noel Francis Dir: Mervyn LeRoy BW-93 mins

2:00am [Romance] Red Dust (1932)
A plantation overseer in Indochina is torn between a married woman and a lady of the evening.
Cast: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Gene Raymond, Mary Astor Dir: Victor Fleming BW-83 mins

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