Friday, June 12, 2009


Look at that sky. Look at that train. Look at that guy flouncing into EATS. Look at EATS.

The opening scene of Other Men's Women (dir. William K. Wellman, 1931) is a beaut. This pre-Code film focuses on a love triangle involving trainmen Bill White (Grant Withers) and Jack Kulper (Regis Toomey) and Jack's wife Lily (Mary Astor). Great lunch-counter talk, great train scenes, great rain, and one remarkable moment of desire and guilt and more desire between Withers and Astor. Joan Blondell shows up as a fast-talking waitress named Marie (just Marie), and trainman Eddie Bailey (James Cagney) sheds his work clothes to dance in evening wear across a floor. (Could this bit have inspired the bit with the dancing maître d' in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo?)

Other Men's Women is available in Volume Three of the Forbidden Hollywood Collection (TCM Archives), a set of six Wellman films and two documentaries about this relatively neglected director. Elaine and I have been on a Wellman kick all week. His films are beautifully made, their stories told with great economy and visual imagination. They are now packaged as little scandals, but they are intensely moral films, with a consistent emphasis on figuring out and then doing the right thing — which means, always, self-sacrifice. Wellman's sturdy realism and social conscience seem made for our times. Watch the homeless vets in Heroes for Sale (1933) talking over FDR's Inaugural Address and their country's future, and you'll feel right at home.

As to what's happening in that opening scene: Bill, a hard-drinking joker, has dropped off the engine for a bite to eat. He will count cars while bantering with his waitress, leaving just in time to catch the caboose and run across the tops of cars back to the engine.

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