The Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn Blogathon…

20000 Years in Sing Sing

source: Warner Bros.

Although this may be the “Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn blogathon” I took the liberty of choosing a lesser known movie starring the former.

20,000 Years in Sing Sing is a pre-code (one of my favorite eras) drama set in the real-life Sing Sing penitentiary location in Ossining New York- a few miles outside of the 5 boroughs of New York City.

Tommy Conners is a cocky, brash loud-mouthed gangster who has been sentenced to 5 to 30 years in prison at Sing Sing for robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.

Despite Sing Sing’s notorious reputation, Tommy is sure that ‘his boys’ on the outside will be able to get him out of this. His lawyer, Joe Finn (played by Louis Calhern) attempts to sweet-talk the warden (played by Arthur Byron) with bribes, to no avail – Tommy Connors is out of luck.

Connors wants to be taken seriously at Sing Sing, so much so that he’s strutting around the prison like he bought it with his own money. This shtick of his gets shut down fairly swiftly (after multiple beatings and seven months in solitary confinement) and Tommy begins rapidly learns his place.

20000 Years in Sing Sing

source: Warner Bros

Beaten but not broken, fellow prison mate Bud Saunders (played by Lyle Talbot) recruits Connors and another prisoner named Hype (played by Warren Hymer) for a highly elaborate escape plan.

All sides of the party agree, but, when the night of the getaway falls on a Saturday, which Tommy regards as a day that’s always unlucky for him, he backs out of it leaving Bud to adjust his idea ‘on the fly’.

Bud’s plan continues without him and fails – spectacularly.

The warden was tipped off to this scheme and preemptively sends guards to spoil it, losing two of them and one prisoner in the process.

When prisoners aren’t trying to flee the steely gray walls of Sing Sing, Tommy’s girlfriend Fay Wilson (played by Bette Davis) visits him regularly every weekend.

In a desperate plea to get him out of jail, Fay admits to Connors that she’s been intimately meeting with Finn with the hope that he could do her a favor and get him released from jail.

Sing Sing

source: Warner Bros.

Enraged by the thought of Fay with another man, Tommy forbids her from seeing him again, even if that means staying in jail for permanently.

A couple of days after their meeting, Connors gets called to the warden’s office where he’s handed a telegram with tragic news:

Fay’s on her deathbed, with life-threatening injuries from a car accident.

Seeing as this has physically and emotionally affected him, the warden, incredibly – gives Tommy 24 hours to see her before she passes away, on the condition that he was to return as soon as possible.

Tommy gives the warden his word and jumps at this opportunity to leave his jail cell. When he gets Fay’s apartment he sees her wounds, he is understandably upset. Wanting to know who did this to his sweetheart, he presses Fay into giving him the answer.

Sing Sing 2

source: Warner Bros.

Fay confesses that it was Finn driving the car she was in.

The first rule of Gangster flicks is to NEVER mess with their girlfriends, or else they go crazy.

Oops.

After learning about this, Tommy grabs the nearest gun and is on a one-man mission to kill Finn. Before he could step out of the door, however, Finn shows up with a letter exonerating Connors for the crimes he committed in exchange for the $5000 dollars Fay was going to use to get him discharged from prison.

Tommy lunges at him, striking Finn in the head with a fallen telephone. Just as it seemed Connors was about to be murdered, Fay in her weakened state picks up the gun Tommy dropped and shoots Finn in the back – killing him instantly.

Tommy bolts from the scene taking the gun and – unknowingly thanks to Fay – the $5000 dollars. The police arrive at Fay’s apartment a few moments after Tommy leaves but with just enough time for Finn to name him as his killer.

His confession leads police on a national manhunt and lands the warden in hot water due to his decision to let Connors walk free.

Just as the warden is about to resign, Tommy returns to Sing Sing fully knowing that he’ll be charged with murder.

He’s sentenced to death by electric chair, accepting complete responsibility. Fay, fully recovered, tries to explain to the warden that she was the one who shot Finn, but her cries land on deaf ears. In the final scene of the movie, Tommy and Fay comfort each other, realizing that this would be the last time that they would be together.

Conclusion

Sing Sing 3

source: Warner Bros.

Though this film has no Katharine Hepburn, I still very much enjoyed it.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing was positively wonderful.

I went in expecting it to be a dross and dreary gangster film that I’ve so often seen in classic films but luckily for me, this wasn’t the case.

The directing was impeccable, the shadows, the black and white contrast, and the quirky camera angle gave this movie an extra kick. The chemistry between Bette Davis and Spencer Tracy was excellent.

The scene where Bette‘s character Fay is at Sing Sing for conjugal visits, whispering sweet nothings to Tracy‘s Connors like it was the last time they’ll meet is heartbreakingly adorable.

As for the supporting cast, they did just as good a job as the two leads and further deepened my sense of immersion during the movie.

All in all, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing is a wonderful pre-code film with great acting, directing and set design. Even though there’s no Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis made a more than capable substitution.

I hope that you’ll have the chance to see this film because I genuinely believed it’s one of the more underrated pictures in both Tracy‘s and Davis‘ filmography.  It deserves to be seen, and I implore you to watch it as soon as possible.

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Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon…

Libeled Lady

source: MGM

Libel.

It’s a word that gets flung about carelessly, particularly in today’s heated political climate.

But, in this movie’s case, it’s used as a comedic plot device.

Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow and Spencer TracyLibeled Lady is a hilarious look at the newspaper industry and how they handle being sued for, you guessed it, libel.

The newspaper that has the unfortunate luck of being in this predicament belongs to a tough-talkin’, quick-witted editor named Warren Haggerty (played by Tracy) whose business is the focal point of the entire film.

Dubbed, “The New York Evening Star” the plot kicks off when a wealthy socialite named Connie Allenbury (played by Myrna Loy) sues the paper for running a story about her being a homewrecker. Asking for $5,000,000 dollars in damages, Mr. Haggerty spends day after day, tirelessly trying to get her to drop the charges.

libeled-lady-1936

source: MGM

Although Warren is exhausted from working his butt off to avoid being swindled for an absurd amount of money, he is more than content to continue to on this path he’s set for himself.

Why?

Well, the more he works, the more time he has to come up with an excuse to why he hasn’t proposed to his girlfriend Gladys Benton (played Jean Harlow.) Luckily for Gladys, Warren is running out of options – fast.

Desperately looking for a way out of this libel suit, he goes for the “nuclear option,” so to speak.

He phones the owner of the ‘Evening Star’ and requests to have him send in disgruntled former employee and ladies man Bill Chandler (played by William Powell) who could help him create a scheme so unbelievable that only a classic Hollywood movie can get away with.

Chandler’s plan is as follows:

  1. Marry someone in name only; Warren volunteers his girlfriend who, begrudgingly accepts, only on the condition that Haggerty marries her after the whole ordeal.
  2. Maneuver a way into Connie arms, where his “wife” would find them in a compromising position.
  3. Lastly, force Connie to drop the suit because, you know, she’s cheating with a married man – that wouldn’t look too good in the papers, now would it?
libeled-lady

source: MGM

After brainstorming for a couple of days, the plan is finally set in motion when Bill arranges to meet Connie and her father on an ocean liner returning to America, where he harasses them until he gets into their good graces, which ultimately sees Connie beginning to fall in love with him.

Taking a liking to this young man, Connie’s father J. B Allenbury (played Walter Connolly) invites Bill on a fishing trip for a little R&R.

“No big deal,” Bill says, “I can get through this.”

Except he doesn’t. His feelings for Connie grow – rapidly.

Oh, boy.

A conflict of interests has become apparent; what is a red-blooded male American supposed to do about this?

Call off the plan, of course!

Myrna-Loy-and-Spencer-Tracy-in-Libeled-Lady-1936

source: MGM

The pair return to New York where their relationship begins to flourish. Connie isn’t the only woman who has been wooed by Bill’s suave nature, however. Gladys takes their fake marriage and decides she wants to turn into a real one. Unfortunately for her, Connie and Bill have gotten married already, and have gone on their honeymoon.

Warren hears about this and is, understandably, livid.

He decides that he wants to end the scheme and painstakingly seeks out the hotel room that Bill and Connie are staying at.

Warren barges into the room, only to find Bill and Connie doing what newlyweds would normally do on their wedding day- talking.

In true comedic fashion, Bill confesses to Warren that he’s told Connie everything, and he means everything. He goes on to explain that Gladys’ divorce from her first husband wasn’t valid, therefore her “marriage” to him wasn’t real. Gladys, on the other hand, won’t take no for an answer.

Nope

Libeled Lady 1936

source: MGM

Gladys rebuts these claims, asserting that she got ANOTHER divorce later on in Reno and is truly married to Bill. Connie interjects herself into this conversation to tell Gladys that she only fell for Bill because he showed her a bit of kindness while her actual boyfriend didn’t.

Her words fall on deaf ears, and a fight breaks out between Bill and Warren.

During this commotion, Gladys realizes that Connie is right and rushes into the arms of Warren where they embrace.

The film ends when Connie’s father, Mr. Allenbury, finds his daughter in the hotel room and demands an explanation of what’s happening, wherein the four of them attempt to explain it to him all at once causing a massive uproar.

Conclusion

libeled-lady-end-title-still

source: MGM

This film is an absolute joy to watch, It plays like a cool sip of water.

The acting is superb, the dialog is phenomenal and the chemistry between the four leads is palpable. Not only that but, to see the inner workings of a daily newspaper was a joy to observe- even if this movie was a comedy.

Libeled Lady is, in a lot of ways, a great film to pick for this blogathon. It’s entertaining, interesting and gives the audience a great glimpse at a professional setting. Yes, it may be a rather light-hearted film, and maybe not as serious as some of the other movies in this blogathon, but, I still believe it gives you the essence of what it’s like to be a newspaperman.

All in all, this film is a really exceptional one to experience. Harlow, Tracy, Powell, and Loy make a hilarious team to watch.  If I have the chance to watch this picture again, I would! And I strongly suggest you do that same, you certainly won’t regret it.

 

If you want to read more entries in this blogathon, click: here.