Wednesday, March 4, 2015

TCM Star of the Month March 2015: Ann Sothern

With 31 Days of Oscar over, we get back to normal things like a Star of the Month on TCM. The films of Ann Sothern will be running on TCM every Wednesday night in prime time. This month sees a bunch of her supporting roles from the 1930s, such as in Trade Winds, airing at 10:30 PM.

Sothern only being the second womna, she understandably doesn't get the opening scene. That belongs to Joan Bennett, who plays Kay Kerrigan, a San Francisco socialite. Her kid sister just committed suicide, and she thinks she knows who's to blame for it. So she goes to the man she considers responsible, who says to her, go ahead and shoot me. She shoots at the lower part of his body, and he drops dead! She's a murderess, she thinks! So she dyes her hair and goes on the run, making it look like she too has committed suicide. Detective Blodgett (Ralph Bellamy) is on the case, and the police figure that Kay is actually on the run when the Hawaiian police report a piece of jewelry he owned has been pawned there; obviously, Kay is in need of money to get somewhere else. The San Francisco police chief doesn't think Blodgett can handle the case alone, so he sends in private investigator Sam Wye (Fredric March).

So Wye and Blodgett both head off for the Far East, ultimately working in a sort of friendly rivalry to find Kay. What Sam doesn't know is that his trusty secretary Jean (Ann Sothern) has also come along. There's a big $100,000 reward (and this is 1938 dollars) available for Kay's return, and that would solve Sam's financial problems and allow Jean to get a regular paycheck, which is a nice little benefit of being a secretary. Blodgett finds Kay, except that it's not Kay, it's Jean. But she can help them find Kay. Kay may be in Japan. Or maybe China or Saigaon or Singapore or anywhere in the Far East, as she's constantly on the run and they're constantly chasing her.

Eventually they do find Kay, and in that most surprising of plot twists, Sam falls in love with her. Ooh, that's going to present a mighty big problem. And to make things more interesting, Blodgett is falling in love with Jean. Jean, meanwhile, is also becoming friendly with Kay to make certain she gets that reward, thinking that if Sam or Blodgett gets it, she won't see a penny of it. How are we going to get the requisite happy ending out of all of this?

That's one of the problems with Trade Winds. The Production Code kind of limits what a movie like this can do, and we know that if the Fredric March and Joan Bennett characters are going to end up together, as the script is leading us to believe, there's going to have to be some twist. The other problem is all those locations. Hollywood couldn't have done location shooting for a movie like this, as it would have been prohibitively expensive and inconvenient to boot. So they used rear-projection scenery, which wouldn't be that big a deal since all the movies did it back then. Except that this time the cast is going all over East and Southeast Asia, so we get a lot of rear projection that's extremely obvious.

Those criticisms having been said, Trade Winds is still pleasant enough, if a bit forgettable after you've watched it, since it seems so much like a bunch of other 1930s movies you've probably watched before. It is worth one watch, however, since the cast is so good. I don't think Trade Winds is available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch tonight's TCM airing.

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