Monday, July 16, 2018

Nickel and dime

A movie that aired during Leslie Howard's turn as TCM Star of the Month that I don't think I'd seen before is Five and Ten. It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive, so I DVRed it and finally got around to watching it to do a post on it here.

John Rarick (Richard Bennett) is the owner of a chain of five-and-ten-cent stores based in Kansas City. He married into the business when he married Jenny (Irene Rich), but he's really the one who made the business what it is today (well, 1931 when the movie was released). It's become big enough and nearly national enough that Rarick has decided it's best that the company be headquartered in New York. So he's taken his wife and adult kids -- daughter Jennifer (Marion Davies) and son Avery (Douglass Montgomery credited as Kent Douglass) to New York. Avery is apparently supposed to take over the business at some point.

Needless to say, the family isn't entirely thrilled at the movie from Kansas City to New York. Avery isn't so certain he wants to take over the business, while Jenny and Jennifer have all their old friends and social circle back in Kansas City. Further, the snooty New York social set isn't about to let new money into their circle. Maybe in three generations from now. Jenny claims she's working with women's social groups, when in reality she's having a tryst with Ramon (who is barely seen; we just need to know she's taken a lover in the afternoon). Young Jennifer, for her part, tries harder, even taking a booth at a charity event, although all of the other rich people make fun of her for apparently trying to buy her way into their set.

It's at that charitable event, however, that Jennifer meets Bertram "Berry" Rhodes (Leslie Howard). He's engaged to Muriel (Mary Duncan), but almost immediately after meeting Jennifer, Berry and Jennifer fall for each other. To be fair, Berry has supposedly had a number of lovers, but Muriel plans to keep him. Berry is an aspiring architect, and Jennifer thinks that he would be just the man to design Dad's new corporate headquarters. It might also help the Raricks get into the old money set.

Of course, nothing will help, and Dad for his part doesn't even seem to care. All he does is care about the business. Mom keeps seeing Ramon; Avery starts drinking (despite Prohibition), and Jennifer continues to see Berry while crashing the rest of the social set, including Berry's wedding to Muriel, at which Berry and Jennifer have one last moment alone together. Well, they think it's going to be their last; Jennifer still thinks she can get Berry.

I think I've said before that the Susan Kane character in Citizen Kane is generally believed to be based on Marion Davies since she was William Randolph Hearst's mistress. That's colored the popular perception of Davies, rather unfairly in my opinion. Unfortunately, I don't know that Five and Ten would help raise that opinion much. It's not Davies' fault, or the fault of anybody else in the cast. It's really that there's something wrong with the script, which is slow before ending abruptly, and just makes the father character such a self-centered jerk that he doesn't see what he's doing to his family. (It's been a while since I've seen it, but if memory serves Sweepings handles the conflict between the generations in a family business rather better.) Even Howard doesn't come off well here.

If I were going to recommend Marion Davies to people, I'd recommend something lighter; either a silent like Show People, or a comedy like Page Miss Glory. It's not that Five and Ten is bad; it's more that it could be so much better.

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