After the strict enforcement of the Production Code began in 1934, the movies of the 1930s showed a marked change. They did not, however, lose their appeal. Sticking within the guidelines of the Production Code forced movie moguls to search for box office appeal in different ways. Sometimes this was accomplished by recreating the story of a popular book or biography. Another method was to capitalize on the popularity and glamour of the studio stars. Creativity was headed in new directions and gave birth to a new genre-- the Screwball Comedy. Film popularity did not decline with the new moral constraints, in fact it became stronger than ever.
Mutiny on the Bounty-
This film version of the famous book is generally regarded as the best. Charles Laughton is perfect as Captain Bligh, the man obsessed with enforcing discipline using the cat-o'-nine-tails. On his way to Tahiti, the Captain pushes the crew and first mate Fletcher Christian, played by Clark Gable, to the limit. Character actors in support include Donald Crisp, Dudley Digges and Herbert Mundin. Franchot Tone also performs well as a midshipman torn between his good friend (Gable) and his sense of duty to England.
Warners released Captain Blood only 1 month after MGM's Mutiny on the Bounty. Good timing. It was also fortunate that they were unable to negotiate Robert Donat for the lead and had to settle for a 26 year old contract player named Errol Flynn. This was Flynn's first starring role, and the first of his seven film pairings with Olivia de Havilland- a highly successful combination. Flynn makes the transition from Irish surgeon to swashbuckling pirate and throws in a little romance for good measure. The fencing duel between Flynn and Basil Rathbone is a classic.
Hands Across the Table-
Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray are priceless in this forgotten gem of a comedy. Lombard plays a manicurist who has decided that the only way to survive is to marry for money. When she initially meets MacMurray, who is playing hopscotch on the hotel floor tiles, she acts unimpressed. After discovering that he is supposedly from a rich family, her tune quickly changes. MacMurray is excellent playing an irresponsible and carefree high-society type whose family wealth disintigrated in the crash of '29. He too is out to marry for money but a prolonged stay at Lombard's apartment throws a wrench into both their plans.
Karl Freund directs another bizarre story with the help of a good cast. Peter Lorre plays a quirky Paris surgeon with an obsession for a beautiful theater actress played by Francis Drake. Colin Clive does well as the actress' husband, a concert pianist, who loses his skillful hands in a train wreck. Lorre helps surgically attach some new hands, those of a knife-throwing killer. As Lorre's obsession deepens, the story takes some odd twists.
The cast is what really makes this MGM film fun to watch. Clark Gable is his usual magnetic self as the Captain of a Singapore bound ship with a secret cargo of gold. Jean Harlow is a her zenith as a beautiful but unrefined glamour-doll who will go to any degree of conniving to get the Captain's attention. Wallace Beery plays an uncouth but treacherous machinator in search of the cargo of gold. Further characterizations are adeptly handled by Rosalind Russell, Lewis Stone, C. Aubrey Smith, Robert Benchley, and Hattie McDaniel.