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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I, THE AUDIENCE: The Squall 

IN WHICH WE DISCOVER WHAT MYRNA LOY WAS DOING BEFORE SHE BECAME NORA CHARLES (And we also discover why there are so few few movies about gypsies)

I saw a 1929 movie called "The Squall" today. It was very entertaining. And very funny. And truly TERRIBLE.

Maybe it was just a case of Hollywood still having a little trouble figuring out what would work (and what wouldn't work) in a talkie. The technology was still new, and it was also a new thing from an artistic standpoint. A lot of those early sound film are based on stage plays, and some of them ("Private Lives") are quite good. Some of them, like "The Squall," are not in the good category.

Actually, I've never seen ANYTHING like "The Squall." It's a laugh-a-minute, but it has good actors, and a decent budget. The director went on to make quite a few great movies. But it's still TERRIBLE as it achieves a very memorable bad-movie greatness.

It all takes place on a farm in Hungary. The wealthy family is happy. The peasants are happy. The master is fair. The harvest is good. Loretta Young is going to marry the master's son, who is studying to be an engineer (or maybe an architect). So Loretta Young is happy. ZaSu Pitts is the servant who is engaged to be married. She's happy. Grandpa always has a smoke on his very long pipe. He's happy. Everybody's happy. Even the ducks and the horses and the cows seem to be happy.

I was just about to throw up.

Then a storm bears down upon them and in blows ... Myrna Loy!

She's a gypsy girl named Nubi. (And you will never forget that name if you watch this movie because she refers to herself in the first person and is always in trouble, so somebody is always yelling, "Nubi stole my savings!" or "Nubi, come here!" or "Nubi, why don't you put on some clothes?" or "Nubi hates America!") She's on the run from her abusive gypsy lover.

Well, they hide her in the wine cellar, and when the gypsies leave, Nubi goes into a ranting and raving speech about the gypsies that lets you know that you are entering Coo Coo Crazy Movie Land and you do not want to miss what comes next!

She really hates the gypsies because they were mean to her, and now, Nubi is free to find someone to love! Everybody looks terrified at her speech, but they let her stay anyway. And everybody is DOOMED!

One title card later, and everybody is miserable. Nubi flirts with pretty much all the men on the farm, and promises them kisses for rings and bracelets. Tempers flare, jealousy raises its ugly head, the servant is dismissed, ZaSu Pitts' money is stolen and her engagement is broken up, the master's son flunks his examinations, the master of the house gives into temptation and ends up lying to his wife. Loretta Young is sad. (Which I hate to see. It's almost as bad as seeing Donna Reed get sad in a movie. I really hate that Jimmy Stewart when he yells at Donna Reed in "It's a Wonderful Life"! It could never get that bad that you can yell at Donna Reed!) Even the animals are sad.

And it's all acted in the most weepy, ludicrous, melodramatic way possible. I hurt myself laughing a bunch of times.

Myrna is great. I think this movie would be as unwatchable as it sounds if it weren't for Myrna Loy. She's terrible. (She is GREAT and TERRIBLE. She is Myrna Grozny!) But I'm not sure she wasn't in on the joke. Maybe she realized it was a STINKER and just kind of went with it. You can tell she has a great sense of humor from later films, especially the Thin Man films and movies like "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House." So maybe she knew.

Or maybe it's just natural talent shining through no matter how awful the picture is.

Next time I have a drink, I will be drinking a toast to Myrna Loy.

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