Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Millie (1931) **
Director: John Francis Dillon
Screenplay: Charles Kenyon and Ralph Murphy, from the novel by Donald Henderson Clarke
Cast: Helen Twelvetrees, John Halliday, James Hall, Lilyan Tashman, Joan Blondell, Robert Ames, Anita Louise, Edmund Breese, Frank McHugh, Cyril Ring
Cross-generational road to ruin barnstormer with quintessential pre-Code trappings, and a fine example of the lost art of screenplay condensation: turning a novel that spans decades and generations, and moves at a pretty zippy pace itself, into a 68 minute movie that somehow covers the main plot points and conveys the essence of all the characters.
My wife - surely one of the few people left alive that has both seen the film and read and loved the book - confirms that as well as a great movie in its own right, it's also a fine precis of its source, with felicitous casting and excellent backgrounds adding to its appeal.
Helen Twelvetrees is the eponymous Millie, unlucky in love, playing the field and suffering at the hands of wolves and cads (with John Halliday at the head of the pack). Whole generations pass, and when her daughter ends up getting the Halliday treatment, guns go off and court cases ensue.
The rest is a blur of nightclubs, cocktails, drunken parties, trips to Coney, sassy dialogue and pre-Code sauce from the gals: just wait till you get a load of Joan Blondell and Lilyan Tashman as co-habiting bed-sharers Angie and Helen!
All this plus a smashing song performed through bullhorns by a trio of crooners:
She isn't a blonde, she's not a brunette,
She's Millie the redhead and hard to forget!
Look out for your heart, look out for your nerves,
She's Millie the redhead with dangerous curves!
If you ever find yourself in danger of forgetting just why you love pre-Code, I prescribe this. It's got the lot.