1930's Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Wilder: Mauvise Graine (aka Bad Seed) (1934)

In the 30's, in Paris, the playboy Henri Pasquier (Pierre Mingand) is supported by his father, Dr. Pasquier, with money and a brand new car. When Dr. Pasquier decides to suspend the allowance and sell the car to force Henri to get a job, Henri leaves home and associates to a gang of car thieves. Henri falls in love for the thief Jeannette (Danielle Darrieux), and when they are betrayed by their boss, they decide to move to Casablanca and straighten out their lives.

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Mauvise Graine is a light... something. It kind of dances between light comedy and light drama and left me without much more than light boredom. Most of the film concerns itself with the joyrides of the car thieves and their activities-- the gang even has a picnic down at the beach!-- moreso than heavy moralizing or emotions. Billy Wilder's desires as a screenwriter/director are typical of his early work, in that the light, playful tone bleeds through more of the heavy moments.

There are two main themes that Mauvise circles around, the first being, obviously, how cars function as an extension of masculinity. Henri is driven into a hypnotic obsession when his father takes his car from him, especially since he'd planned to use it to woo a pretty girl he met at the auto shop earlier in the day. He is on uneven ground until he becomes a car thief; now more powerful than a mere car owner, he can woo a female car thief. She's uses car owners as toys, but finds Henri the car thief to be irresistible and charming.

This leads directly into the other, more subtle theme about the exploitation of power by those who have it, and how that eventually destroys and injures when it deflates. Henri craves power as he sees himself above office work despite not having a job in his life. The criminal thrill that enraptures him when he finally sees the money floating in is almost silly; while his friend, Jean (Raymond Galle), makes a tearful goodbye to Henri's father, Henri was downstairs stealing a car that simply looked appealing to him.

Worse still, Henri decides after his first heist that he's underpaid and starts needling the head of the ring for more dough. This results in a battle of the wills, one which spills out into a fist fight and car chase. Henri can't handle authority, and his inability to deal with that is what eventually forces him to meet a downbeat ending.

All this nonsense about Henri doesn't tell you one important thing about him though: he's a deeply unappealing character. Headstrong and flirty with a leading man's smile, but so deeply broken by his obsession with power and his penis that the film never manages to get you to root for him. Ryan: do you think Wilder wanted us to hate privileged Henri so much? Or am I just turning into a bitter old hag?


The Lawless Frontier (1934)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Most Western films, those aimed and made at a base level, are intensely boring. I mean no offense by this, but when there's a genre that's popular solely for its tropes, it becomes saturated with a number of like minded film to the point of tedium. Go to your local videostore and count the number of hitmen/strippers with a heart of gold fighting the mob movies you can count. My guess is that you'll give up before the movies do.

But, Westerns. White hats, black hats, and maybe some Indians for good measure. While the Western genre says a lot about the American consciousness, most Western movies don't mean much outside of some gun play unless the attached director is named Ford, Mann, Leone, or Eastwood.

When a genre is sufficiently insular, its tropes go past cliched to become dependable. The hero of The Lawless Frontier is a good man seeking revenge on the man who killed his father. The squadron of bandidos who did it are bad. He defeats them, gets the girl, saves the day. Huzzah.


Danny’s Picks: Best Movies I Saw in ’10

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Danny COMMENTARYHey everyone. I'm kind of late to the 2010 farewell gala, and, frankly, I have my reasons, as silly as they may be. Andrew and Ryan do much more with modern films than I do, and even though I spent the last two weeks hunting down Oscar bait like crazy, very few of the films I saw in '10 left me with much impression.

Since current films aren't really my bag, I thought I'd get more mileage by sharing with you the top 25  films I saw for the first time in 2010. A few are from the year itself, a number are leftovers from 2009 that I'd missed, and some were just a handful of gems that I hadn't seen before. These are in alphabetical order, but all movies that I wholeheartedly recommend: