Friday, December 12, 2014

MOVIE OF THE DAY: "UPTOWN NEW YORK" (1932)

Uptown New York tells the well-worn of the story of a woman, Patricia Smith, in love with two men, Dr. Max Silver and gumball-machine entrepreneur Eddie Doyle. As its poster's tagline reads, A human story of a girl who was... just human! We all know what that means, don't we? Just to make it clearer, ViƱa Delmar, who wrote Uptown New York's scenario, was also the author of the novels Bad Girl, Loose Ladies and Kept Woman. No wonder she's the rare writer whose name was on the promotional materials.

With that pedigree, I was hoping for some drug use and a bastard child thrown into Uptown New York -- especially when Patricia and Max spend the night together. However, the only genuine pre-code moments could be counted on one hand:

1) Max's overtly-Jewish family. His proud father invites friends over to announce that Max has graduated from med school -- or, as he says in his sing-song Yiddish accent, "I got for you a big surprise. I'm going to make for you a speech!" That kind of overtly-ethnic portrayal, the only kind portrayed in early talkies, would soon disappear, making movies waspier than an entomologist's greenhouse.

2) Eddie meets Patricia by rescuing her from a ladies room whose door is stuck shut. (Yes, he came in through the bathroom window.) No way would this be approved once the Hays Office dropped the hammer. Nor would they go for Eddie demanding, "Whatcha in there for, anyway?" But at least it gives me a new way to annoy my wife.

3) When Patricia yells at a couple of juvenile delinquents, the older of the two gives her an angry thumbs-up, which appears to be the '30s equivalent of "Up yours!" This gesture is worth trying at your next business meeting -- they'll never know what you're really thinking.

Uptown New York gives some interesting insight on what men expected of women in 1932. When Patricia asks Eddie why he's fallen so hard for her, he replies, "You're clean and good." This was movie-speak for "virgin," something we know she isn't. And once Eddie learns that Max had been her "sweetheart" two years earlier, it almost kills their marriage. Man, if that's what's going to stop Eddie, it's a good thing he's not around today.

"Of course I love you...
up to a point."
And talk about old-fashioned. The only reason Max didn't marry Patricia was because his family paired him off with a rich man's daughter so he could start a practice in Vienna before returning two years later. Such a trade-off! (Max is played by Leon Waycoff, who would soon change his name to Leon Ames, promptly becoming another of those "Oh, that guy!" character actors for the next 60 years. Don't believe me? Go here.)

Being a release from the long-forgotten Sono Art-World Wide studio, Uptown New York's low budget is onscreen throughout. Authentic New York shots consist only of stock footage, mostly under the credits. A sloppy process shot through a diner window looks like Times Square in the middle of an earthquake. And the climax -- Eddie begging Max to perform surgery on Patricia after she's hit by a truck -- is right out of Al Jolson's abysmal Say it with Songs from 1929.

Still, the movie has a nice scrappy feel about it, thanks mainly to Jack Oakie as Eddie. On loan from Paramount, Oakie is extremely likable. His naivete concerning Patricia's sexual history, along with his pride at owning a string of gumball machines across the city, is actually kind of charming -- you root for the little guy with big dreams. And your heart breaks when he and Patricia have to spend their wedding night in a rundown hotel room next to a drunken, noisy party because it's all he can afford. Ordinary schmos just trying to get by undoubtedly identified with Oakie in a way impossible with, say, William Powell.

"Look at me when you're
talking to me!"
Oakie's performance -- all of his performances, in fact --  are that much more remarkable when you consider the after-effect of his childhood bout of scarlet fever. As Oakie's temperature rose, he could hear his eardrums pop -- and, he told a reporter, "that was the last thing I ever heard." Next time you read about an A-lister wrecking his dressing room trailer because he's been supplied with stale peanuts, just watch any Jack Oakie movie and remember: he's lip-reading his co-stars because he's deaf.


Most astonishing about Uptown New York, however, is Sono Art-World Wide's notorious pre-credit logo: a comely young woman strategically holding two spinning globes directly in front of her. The screenshot doesn't do it justice. You have to see it in action for the full effect. Supposedly dreamed up by studio investor (and one-time "king of comedy") Mack Sennett, it couldn't have been anything other than an outrageous in-joke meant to grab the audience's attention long enough for them to sit through an entire movie. 

What can I say? It worked for me.

                                                    *********************

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