Thursday, October 1, 2009

Min and Bill (George W. Hill) ***

George W. Hill

Cast: Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, Dorothy Jordan, Marjorie Rambeau, Don Dillaway

Background: Marie Dressler was in a diner contemplating suicide when she was rediscovered by a producer that recommended her to King Vidor, who cast her in 1928's The Patsy. The role reignited her career, which was still strong enough to land her a lead role here. Veteran character actor Beery teamed up with director Hill earlier the same year in The Big House.

Story: Min (Dressler) runs a dockside hotel and has been raising Nancy (Jordan) since she took her in as a young child. Min is forced to make difficult decisions when a truant officer and the return of Nancy's mother (Rambeau) threaten the mother-daughter relationship she has developed. Min is supported by Bill (Beery), the captain of a fishing boat who lives in the hotel.

Thoughts: On the surface, this is the story of a woman who will do anything to protect the girl she raised from childhood. But the movie itself is so much more interesting than that. what really makes the movie work so well is the awkward, sad, carefully studied relationship between the two title characters. This works so well because of the nuanced performances of veterans Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery. Dressler, free from the one note drunk caricature that doomed her in Anna Christie, creates a fascinating character, torn between her desire to be a mother to this girl and the desire to protect the girl at all costs. Beery has been a pleasant surprise in both of his talkies I've seen to date. I felt he ruined the Louise Brooks silent vehicle Beggars of Life, but his cheerfully gruff performance here is a delight. No matter how many insults Bill throws Min's way, he is there to support her in the end. It's a touching and insightful relationship. There are a few flaws in the film, including uneven performances in the supporting cast and a poorly done scene on a runaway boat, but for the most part this is a solid character study.

Postscript: Marie Dressler would win the Oscar for this role and Wallace Beery would go on to win an Oscar hismelf for his role in King Vidor's The Champ.

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