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ONLY YESTERDAY (1933)

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Jezebel38
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ONLY YESTERDAY (1933)

Postby Jezebel38 » September 15th, 2012, 5:10 pm

Palo Alto’s Universal series opened this week with ONLY YESTERDAY (1933). All the films being screened are 35mm prints provided directly by Universal, according to The Stanford management. The print quality of ONLY YESTERDAY was very good – no scratches, skips and only slightly soft. This was my first viewing of this movie, although I had recalled seeing a clip that had been posted on Youtube of a critical moment in the plot. I had known that this was Margaret Sullavan’s film debut, but I had not been aware until recently that this screenplay was based upon the same novel that was the source for LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN. Starring opposite Sullavan is John Boles, secondary roles handled by the delightful Billie Burke and Reginald Denny, also with Benita Hume, Jimmy Butler. Edna May Oliver is listed high up in the credits, but I was disappointed in that she is only featured briefly in the opening party scene, as well as Franklin Pangborn, with Jane Darwell also in a short scene in the beginning of the film.

There is the most spectacular cocktail party in any movie I’ve seen which opens this film, on the very eve of the stock market crash of 1929. Wow, a stunning penthouse apartment with a two-story foyer with winding staircase accessed by a private elevator from which the most exquisitely attired party guests emerge. Every one of the women are just dripping in fur stoles, fur collars and muffs, diamond necklaces, broaches and multiple diamond bracelets galore! There is a dance orchestra playing in the background, and I hear the strains of Are You Lonesome Tonight (hey - I thought that tune was written for Elvis!). Enter John Boles who is returning from his office a financially ruined man, faintly greeting his indifferent, unfaithful society wife Benita Hume, and then retreats to his den to pull a revolver out of his desk, and starts composing a suicide note when he notices a letter lying in front of him marked “personal and urgent”. He opens it and starts to read a tale from a woman from his past...“it seems as if only yesterday”... flash back to 1917, and enter Margaret Sullavan.

I’ll not be giving a detailed plot review here - you can find the full story synopsis on TCM database, as well as on IMdB - I’ll just convey some personal musings. Margaret Sullavan displays all of her unique charms and qualities that we’ve seen in her later films in this, her very first film outing where she carries the picture on her shoulders. She came from Broadway, as did Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis, yet it seems to me those two other actresses took several film outings before solidating their screen personas. Co-star John Boles, whom I’ve always enjoyed, seems to be a one note actor? The character he plays here (James) is so much like his other roles in BACKSTREET and STELLA DALLAS - upperclass, sincerely romantic, yet open to hanky-panky at the drop of a pin. Here he has only met Sullavan’s character (Mary) at a dance less than 20 minutes ago, and they both adjourn to the distant garden outdoors to express their ardor. Is James a player, or a cad? I don’t think he comes across that way, but my goodness you don’t expect a man to show any hint of control do you, when Mary practically throws herself at him at the dance. She finagles her way into an introduction by way of a counterfeit dance card, snuggles herself at once deep into his arms and proceeds to tell him how she has had a fantasy romantic relationship with him for the past 2 years! And all so wistfully innocent the way you’d expect from Margaret Sullavan.

So my quibbles with this film have to do with the storytelling and not the acting. James has a one night stand with Mary, out in a garden in the middle of the night, and yet one year later can’t even recognize her when she goes up to meet him at a victory parade when he comes back from WWI? 10 years or so pass, they meet up at a nightclub, she lets herself be picked-up by him again, goes with him to his bachelor pad for ANOTHER one night stand, and he still cannot remember her?? I’ll just say I find this story treatment is conveyed much more plausibly (for me at least) in Ophul’s latter film.

I did want to mention how much I liked Billie Burke in this film, as Mary’s progressive thinking aunt Julia. She has just the right amount of effervescence and fluttery line delivery, without going over –the-top, as I find in her later screwball comedy performances. She was also quite touching in her supporting dramatic scenes. Reginald Denny (another favorite performer of mine) was her younger beaux, later husband in this film and I thought they made a cute couple.

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JackFavell
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Re: ONLY YESTERDAY (1933)

Postby JackFavell » September 16th, 2012, 12:05 pm

I didn't even know there was another version besides Ophuls'...

You really intrigue me with this movie, Jez! I am a big fan of all the secondary cast members, and especially Reginald Denny who is delightful in everything I've ever seen him in. I went looking for it, and found it on youtube for those interested in seeing it.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oglwkxNQFy8[/youtube]

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Jezebel38
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Re: ONLY YESTERDAY (1933)

Postby Jezebel38 » September 16th, 2012, 12:21 pm

Hey JF - Ya know, I was poking around on YTB yesterday after I posted here, and found this too! I had no idea this film has been up since 2009!? Oh well, I am really glad I saw it on the big screen, because as you can see, this copy is pretty washed out and almost unwatchable. Believe me, the party scene at the beginning knocked my socks off, and here you can barely see all the fab outfits the women are wearing. Oh, and also there are apparently a bunch of cameos in the party by older silent stars such as Marie Prevost that I didn't pick up on.

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JackFavell
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Re: ONLY YESTERDAY (1933)

Postby JackFavell » September 16th, 2012, 12:25 pm

Dang! I need a neighborhood classic film theatre....

I almost mentioned how terrible this looks on youtube in comparison to how you described it. Now I have to go back and look at the beginning scene. :D ...

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Robert Regan
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Re: ONLY YESTERDAY (1933)

Postby Robert Regan » September 16th, 2012, 12:51 pm

Hi Jezebel, I have to agree with you about the relation between Only Yesterday and Letter from an Unknown Woman which for me is one of Ophuls' masterpieces, and he is hard to beat.

It has been many years since I saw this version, and I must confess that my strongest memory, in spite of the fact that I adore Margaret Sullavan, is the scene which I recall being the opening with Franklin Pangborn. He of course was a great comic character actor appearing in over 200 movies from the mid-twenties to the late fifties, just about always in extremely effeminate roles. In Only Yesterday, however, his manner is much less "swishy" than usual, and yet this is the clearest example I have ever seen that his character is gay, and he even has a boyfriend! It is certainly time for me to revisit this film to refresh my memory of the other players and the way John Stahl told this story.

I have come across six other film and tv adaptations of Zweig's tale plus two said to be now in the works in France and Germany. The only one of these I have seen is an excellent Chinese film from '04, also called Letter from an Unknown Woman, written and directed by Jinglei Xu who is also the leading woman. Set closer to our times, this is the only version which had a woman in charge.

Another version that I am eager to see is the 1943 Finnish production by Hannu Leminen called White Roses with Helena Kara. It has been suggested that this movie was a major influence on Ophuls. I don't know if it was released in the US where Ophuls was living at the time, but the studios did manage to obtain and view many movies from abroad that were not shown publicly. It may be a while before I can see this for myself, as the only dvd only has Swedish sub-titles!

Thank you, Jezebel, for bringing all this to my mind. I hope it is not more than anyone wants to know about Only Yesterday!

Bob

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Jezebel38
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Re: ONLY YESTERDAY (1933)

Postby Jezebel38 » September 16th, 2012, 3:59 pm

Robert Regan wrote:It has been many years since I saw this version, and I must confess that my strongest memory, in spite of the fact that I adore Margaret Sullavan, is the scene which I recall being the opening with Franklin Pangborn. He of course was a great comic character actor appearing in over 200 movies from the mid-twenties to the late fifties, just about always in extremely effeminate roles. In Only Yesterday, however, his manner is much less "swishy" than usual, and yet this is the clearest example I have ever seen that his character is gay, and he even has a boyfriend!
Bob


Hi Bob -

Franklin Pangborn is uncredited here, so when he makes his appearance I started to smile, and although he was gushing about the color blue in a painting viewed through a gallery window, I also thought he came across as less "swishy" and more refined. And he did have a younger "boyfriend" with him, whom I sensed he was about to introduce to his society swells at the cocktail party - It was refreshing to see Pangborn this way. I was expecting the two fellas to have more screen time, but they kind of disappeared into the crowd. I wish they could have chatted with Edna May Oliver - that would have been fun.

So the Chinese version you saw was set in more modern times - did you find that worked? Since Ophul's film was set at the turn of the century, I find the plot works better for me then. Lisa's girlhood infatuation is set up more thoroughly, and Stefan is clearly shown as being a womanizer. Also, since Stefan leaves for a concert tour after their brief encounter, it is more plausible for me that he does not return to Lisa. In ONLY YESTERDAY, James and Mary are both in the same city, it would have been much easier for them to have written each other, or even better pick up the phone! That even happens during their second one night stand on New Years Eve - Mary calls her little boy to wish him a happy new year, and she speaks to the telephone operator ( before dial phones) and says her exchange and number right in front of James. If he had been a smart cookie and really wished to see her again, he knew her phone number! Yeah, we ladies know men never call! :D

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Robert Regan
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Re: ONLY YESTERDAY (1933)

Postby Robert Regan » September 17th, 2012, 10:44 pm

C'mon, Jezebel. Sometimes the ladies let down the gents, too.

You're right that the turn of the century setting aids the story's credibility. I'm not very knowledgeable about Chinese history and society, but in that version it appears that their society was closer to the nineteenth century than ours was at that time.

Incidentally, Brian Camp, an excellent blogger on movies and a college friend of Cinemaven and me, once met a nephew of Franklin Pangborn. When asked if his uncle had had any children, young Mr. Pangborn replied that Uncle Frank "wasn't the sort of man to have children". Make of that what you will!


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