TRADE WINDS (1938)
Running Time: 93 mins. Rating: xx Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Tay Garnett
Distributor: United Artists
Cast: Frederic March, Joan Bennett, Ralph Bellamy, Ann Sothern, Sidney Blackmer, Thomas Mitchell, Robert Elliott, Joyce Compton, Richard Tucker, Dorothy Comingore, Mario Dwyer
This is an amusing little trifle. No more or no less. A charming cast, a fast pace, snappy dialog, charming players, a very silly story and a naked and unexplained denouement. The film started with the footage Tay Garnett made during a round-the-world sail. Or at least as far as Bombay sail. What to do with this footage? Dorothy Parker and sometime husband Alan Campbell, and Frank Adams, an ex-reporter and music composer who co-wrote “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now” concocted a story about a classy broad who thinks she shot and killed a man and escapes San Francisco by going west to Hawaii, Japan, China, etc. She is being chased by the World’s Greatest Detective, the dumbest flatfoot on the force who never-the-less is high ranking, and said detectives’ secretary. So you see the background shots are used as the backgrounds of all the places they go. Miss Parker is responsible for some mighty clever lines, lines that gave Ann Southern a whole career.
This was produced by independent producer Walter Wanger who released through United Artists. Wanger could do what he wanted and obtained the services of Frederic March who had previously acted in a Parker script A STAR IS BORN for independent producer David Selznick. March’s agent was David’s brother Myron. Joan Bennett was married to Walter Wanger and perhaps the most famous or even important aspect of this film is that Joan went brunette in this film and never went back. As they say. Ralph Bellamy was stuck in the middle of a career where he would get scripts to read in which characters were described as “Ralph Bellamy type”. His name in the film “Blodgett” was the same as the want to be star in A STAR IS BORN. Getting failed “B” actress Ann Southern from nowhere was brilliant. No doubt the 4′ 11″ Parker used the 5′ 1″ Southern as an avatar for her wit, especially her smart-woman-in-a-man’s-world be-bop. Blodgett is a direct rip off of Shakespeare’s Dogberry from Much Ado About Nothing (which might be a title suitable for this film). Sidney Blackmer is featured and appears in one scene and is out of there faster than you can say Janet Leigh. Tommy Mitchell is in two scenes, both shot on the same set, and is also featured. Wanger padding out the cast for the price of two days work.
The ending is maddening. The murder is revealed to prove Bennett’s innocence in the first ten minutes but the film just goes on as if nobody heard. Of course in those days people didn’t worry about such things as extradition or jurisdictions so our detectives go off in pursuit. The put-upon secretary goes on after them. March and Bennett fall in love and Bennett is betrayed and sent to trial. A trap is set for the real murderer based on the idea that they will be the people who don’t show up at a party. Only they do show up at the party or else there wouldn’t be a climax. The thing is the murderer, the backstory, the motive or even who these people are is never explained. I guess it’s not really important as the story skims along purely on the surface, sort of like the drama skims in front the back projections from Garnett’s journey. Everybody, that is moviegoers, knew the context of film conventions. They could connect the dots. At one point March buys a ticket from a cabin on a departing ship under the name Mr. & Mrs. Jones and Bellamy and Southern are tricked into taking it. So they decide to get married. A Dorothy Parker joke.
The sets are by Alexander Toluboff and a young Alexander Golitzen and the cinematography by the matchless Rudolph Maté. Garnett never made a stupid film or directed a bad scene so Wanger did his job correctly and hired the best people for his film.
I guess today the film from the journey is more valuable than the negative and rights to TRADE WINDS. It shows a world which no longer exists and that is priceless.
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