Monday, November 16, 2009

Barbary Coast

Barbary Coast, 1935
Dir: Howard Hawks
November 15, 2009

A pretty minor Hawks, certainly not the "must-see classic" that Netflix claims it is. However, it is surprisingly risque in its' details which surround a pretty standard story, which could have branched off into much more interesting things if it wanted to. Mary Rutlidge (Miriam Hopkins) arrives in San Francisco during the Gold Rush as a mail-order bride, expecting to become the wife of a wealthy rancher. He is dead by the time she arrives though, and her bitterness is apparent. From there she falls in with Loius Chimalis (Edward G. Robinson) a gangster casino owner who tussled with Mary's husband-to-be, and who has taken it upon himself to run the city. Mary's character is interesting in the fact that she is cleary the protagonist of the story, and yet she is immediately portrayed as someone who was getting married only for money, and then immediately got in with a gangster who could provide lavishly for her. Hopkins does an OK job, which is basically what all the acting is in this film. There can also be lots of enjoyment taken away just from the atmosphere of the film, which like I said, for a film that was released a year after the Production Code went into effect, has lots of touchy stuff. There are drugs, booze and prostitutes suggested and seen in the background, and tons of characters are either drunk or say racists things. The way the men on the docks react when they find out that a new white woman has come to the city is pretty hilarious. There is nothing remarkable about any of the supporting characters, pretty much all supplying a standard role (moralist, comic relief, crony). Mary soon starts to learn that her own moral failings aren't nearly as bad as Louis', who will do anything to keep power, and his attraction to her isn't helping things. The film starts to lose steam when Jim (Joel McCrea) is introduced, Mary's real love interest, who also just happens to be a lonely poet prospector. It doesn't play out exactly the way you'd think, but in the end it gets there. This film certainly never really gets a great Hawks feel to it, but it is at it's best in expressionist moments when the town's seemingly constant coating of fog lends it some Gothic atmosphere to elevate its conventional melodrama.

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