A ‘pre-Code’ film set in Havana, probably so lots of drinking could take place during Prohibition, and based on the Frankie and Johnny song about a prostitute who falls in love with a sailor and kills her pimp(see below). The roving camera in HER MAN challenges many of the pre-conceptions of cinema at the beginning of the sound period. Costs of the Havana footage were split with W. S. Van Dyke’s CUBAN LOVE SONG, with Havana street-scenes of the period remaining a major attraction. In the podcast we discuss the mobile camera, the subject-matter in relation to the Code, how music is mainly restricted to the diegetic, the opening titles, the connection of the comic gags to Garnett’s training with Hal Roach, and the performances of Phillips Holmes, Helen Twelvetrees and Marjorie Rambeau. Many thanks to the Film Foundation for once more offering an opportunity to see such a great restoration.
The podcast may be listened to here:
The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT
and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546
An interesting article on how the film ‘cracks the Code’: https://www.film-foundation.org/her-man
The article Richard references is from Film International and may be read here:
The Fim Foundation’s support materials may be seen here:
The New York Times article José mentions may be read here
This Louis Armstrong singing the song:
A version of the film may be seen here:
China Seas is big-budget, all-star orientalist tosh with exciting action sequences, well-directed by Tay Garnett. I don’t know that it’s much worth seeing today unless you love Jean Harlow (which I do) or want to see how movie star like Gable can sleepwalk through a performance and still be appealing or are curious as to just how bad Rosalind Russell was at playing English aristocrats early in her career. What I most loved about the movie was the way Robert Benchley was deployed as a kind of punctuation mark in the narrative. He’s got no role really. He’s just brought in to punch up the tired narrative, lift the tenor and add a laugh, all of which he succeeds magnificently in doing. It’s a lesson to performers in how to steal a movie in five minutes and to screenwriters in how a movie is not all story and meaning and how in the words of the immortal Lubitsch, one shouldn’t ‘sneeze at a laugh’; though one is at all times willing to drink to it.
The clip below is the entirety of his role, a collection of all his scenes in the film in chronological order; bits, lines and gags; all totalling just over five minutes; and, aside from a few cracks between Jean Harlow and Hattie McDaniel, the only scenes from the movie one is tempted to see again.