Saturday, May 31, 2008

20th Century Pictures

I've mentioned before that 20th Century-Fox wasn't formed until 1935, when Fox Films merged with 20th Century Pictures. The Fox Movie Channel have aired some of the movies from Fox Films, but movies from 20th Century Pictures show up very rarely (largely because the studio existed in that incarnation for only about three years), but one of those rarities will be airing on June 1 at 10:00 AM ET: Blood Money. You'll note from the very beginning of the movie that there's a historical curiousity: it was 20th Century Pictures that had what we now think of as the iconic Fox logo, and the "Fox Fanfare". However, there's much more interesting in this movie than just some studio history.

Blood Money is a pre-Code movie not only in time, but in spirit. When we think of pre-Codes today, we think of movies with sexual innuendo, or other adult topics that couldn't be discussed after 1934 when the enforcement of the Production Code became rigorous -- and Blood Money packs quite a bit of pre-Codeness into its brief 66 minute runtime. George Bancroft stars as Bill Bailey, a bail bondsman, a man who's clearly playing both sides against the middle, having one foot in the underworld, and the other in the offices at City Hall. His girlfriend Ruby, played by Judith Anderson, is the sister of a two-time loser. However, the relationship begins to go sour when shoplifter "Jane Smith" (played by Frances Dee who was clearly playing against type here, and seemingly loving it) walks in to his office. Bill, having bugged the phones in his office, listens to her phone call and finds out that "Jane Smith" is actually Elaine Talbart, daughter of a wealthy businessman. Not only is she a rich girl who likes shoplifting, she intimates that she's got a thing for some S&M, too. (Just try imagining Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in S&M Finds Andy Hardy.) Needless to say, Bill falls head over heels for Elaine. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, as the saying goes, and Ruby immediately tries to bankrput Bill by having all his clients jump bail. Meanwhile, her brother has robbed another bank and faces life imprisonment, and Ruby tries to get Elaine to run off with him.

The end of the movie is a bit silly, involving a loaded eight-ball, so I'd rather mention more of the pre-Code goodies to watch out for. I mentioned above how Frances Dee's Elaine is not above some S&M; she gets another opportunity at the end of the movie to let us know this: a woman comes running out of an office building telling Elaine she had gone in do some modelling photos, but that the man really just wanted to grope her. Elaine's response is to want to know where the man is -- and it's made fairly clear she's not going to see the guy to give him a piece of her mind. Ruby has a scene where she's on the phone to Bill, and angrily tells him to "go to [hangs up phone as she's about to finish the sentence]". We know fully well where she's telling him to go, of course. And Bill gets in on the action too; when he first goes to visit Ruby at the speakeasy she runs, he meets at the bar a tuxedo-wearing woman who has a thing for cigars. There's a nice bit of gender-bending and sexual imagery. Also, watch for a sequence at a greyhound track. Allegedly, the blond who says she's been offered five bucks to be an escort for one of Bill's friends is a young Lucille Ball. Ball isn't in the actual movie credits, and I didn't think the voice sounded like her. But judge for yourself.

Blood Money, being a 75-year-old movie with a cast of actors who aren't so well-known today, isn't available on DVD. With any luck, Fox can figure out a way to package Blood Money with some of their early-1930s material. After all, they've got a bunch of Spencer Tracy movies.

1 comment:

Aquatic Escape said...

Thanks for letting me know about this airing soon. I didn't get around to it the first time, so I'm going to try to this time.