ZOO IN BUDAPEST (1933)

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feaito

ZOO IN BUDAPEST (1933)

Post by feaito »

- Yet another “rediscovered” gem of the early 1930s -

My long association with the Classic Cinema as a “whole” really began with one the first film books I owned, a pictorial or illustrated encyclopaedia of Film Stars issued in Britain and written by Ken Wlaschin. I literally “devoured” that book endlessly and it was my main source of reference for many years. I remember reading in that book that the author thought that Loretta Young was a beautiful clothes-horse and tended to dismiss her as a fair actress. He had better critical appreciation of the films she made during the second half of the 1940s (considering that period the nadir of her acting talent) and only listed a few of her early 1930s movies as being good. One of them was "Zoo In Budapest".

Well I've seen many of her 1940s films and I've liked them, but after viewing such films of hers from the early ‘30s, like the one I am reviewing and “Midnight Mary”, I discovered a brand new Loretta. I think that when during this period, miss Young had good material and a competent director she gave very good performances, superior in my opinion, to those she gave later in her career, because there was a fresh, I might even say, “ethereal” quality about her when she was very young that increased her appeal and that she lost later on.

In this exquisite film she plays a “waif”, an orphaned girl who escapes from her caretakers during a visit to the zoo, aided by a very special zookeeper, skilfully played by Gene Raymond. O.P. Heggie plays a kindly veterinarian who is also the zoo’s Superintendent and Wally Albright a boy lost in the zoo.

The work of cameraman Lee Garmes is superb and the film looks like if it really had been filmed in a zoo. Some scenes have a bucolic quality and there’s much romantic rapport between the two leads. Since Miss Young was about 21 or 22 years old when this film was made, she’s totally credible as naïve 18 year old girl and conveys all the innocence of a young lady who’s discovering love for the first time; her eyes are so huge and so beautiful and her long blonde hair with tresses suits her perfectly. She truly looks gorgeous.

Gene Raymond gives the best performance I’ve seen of him, as a devil-may-care, good natured young man who’s grown and lived all his life in this zoo, loving animals above everything.

The film ends with a climactic scene that’s really riveting, although it might seem out of place with the general tone and pace of the rest of the film.

The print I watched, which I believe is the only available (my copy was taped off of Fox Movie Channel) is in fair condition, because it has many missing frames and part of the dialogue is abruptly cut off before the lines are finished. This film deserves a full-scale restoration, especially to appreciate its beautiful cinematography in all its glory.

Has anyone seen this forgotten classic? Any thoughts?
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Post by MissGoddess »

Isn't it a unique little film, Fernando? Nothing like the other Ruritanian fantasies of the period which were generally set squarely among the glittering upper classes. I can't compare it to anything, it's a fantasy and beautifully realised. I found the climax to be incredibly exciting!! I've never like Gene Raymond but I agree he's at his best here.

It deserves more attention, especially if everyone thinks of Loretta only in terms of swirling, clothes-horse entrances. :wink:

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Post by moira finnie »

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Loretta Young & Gene Raymond in Zoo in Budapest (1933).

A couple of thoughts on your always interesting comments, Fernando:

It's funny, but I had some difficulty when I first saw this, because I kept thinking, "What's this movie about? When is it going to get going?" Then I realized that this movie doesn't seem particularly American. It's not really plot-driven, though I suppose it could be categorized as a romance, (or even a proto-conservationist film, maybe). Maybe it could also be seen as a riff on the two Rousseaus, (painter Henri & philosopher Jean-Jacques)--there's the fabulist world and "the natural man" (and woman), eluding social conventions, zoo officials and existing in a world of nature and the imagination in the beautifully recreated zoo settings. Even though the origins of the story may not be Hungarian, the look and feel of the movie seems European to me--but then, given the fact that studios during this period often relied more heavily on foreign box office than they would later, perhaps this market was one of the ostensible goals of this film's production company, Fox, (which was floundering at the time, perhaps in part due to the lack of clear direction.).

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The delicacy of the romance between Loretta Young, (who looks just exquisite and very much like a waifish schoolgirl in her pigtails), and--for once--a likable & virile Gene Raymond in one of his first movies, also has a meandering quality that makes this movie intriguing--if one has the patience and time to let this "fable" unfold.

Zoo in Budapest (1933) is one of those early talkie movies that could've been made in the silent era. Maybe, given the quality of the sound in general, and the misty beauty of director Rowland Lee & cinematographer Lee Garmes' tracking shots through the dream-like zoo, it might better be viewed with the sound down?

In checking the date of this film's release, I came across a New York Times review from 1933 by Mordaunt Hall, in which he mentioned that sequences in the film reminded him of F.W. Murnau's films. I wonder if audiences viewing this in 1933, who probably had a more easy familiarity with silent film storytelling than we would, might have to related to this movie's quiet rhythm more readily? Do you think that audiences in the depths of the Depression might have found this film's idealism and escapism comforting? I suspect that some of us might still find it appealing.

Maybe if you had to describe this ineffable movie to someone, comparing it to silent movies in tone might be somewhat accurate. If you can let this movie unfold without expecting too much resolution of problems in a straight-forward way, but settle for some exciting action sequences with the animals, (who are always treated with sympathy by hero Raymond & O.P. Heggie as the zoo's vet), perhaps you can simply enjoy the longing for beauty and some glimpses of a rather romanticized but still deeply felt glimpse of the natural world.

Fernando, I also saw Zoo in Budapest on FMC. I agree about the quality of the print, but I'm not sure if Fox would consider this film's restoration as potentially lucrative as other films from their library.
I don't know if there exists better prints or an original negative of this movie, but I hope that someday it might be restored too.

BTW, I agree about Midnight Mary, which is a pip of a movie, with a fine performance by Loretta Young, who's also effective under William Wellman's direction in Call of the Wild (1935), but that's another story, as I'm sure you know.

Has anyone seen & would they like to comment on these '30s Young movies?:
Platinum Blonde (1931), directed by Frank Capra, with Young & Jean Harlow vying for Robert Williams, (who died shortly after this movie was made).
Taxi (1932) with Young in an unlikely, but interesting & feisty pairing with James Cagney.
Man's Castle (1933), a seemingly "lost" film, with Spencer Tracy? The latter was directed, as I'm sure you know, by a mutual fave, Frank Borzage.
Born to Be Bad (1934), with Loretta as a sketchy single mother who becomes involved with straight arrow, Cary Grant. Guess who gets reformed in this one?
Last edited by moira finnie on September 14th, 2007, 11:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by MissGoddess »

Moira you should write a book based on your reviews, I'm in awe. I had to look up "fabulist" because I was unsure about it.

Regarding the other movies you listed, I cannot yet comment on A Man's Castle (which I'm DYING to see) and I'll have to watch Platinum Blonde again because it's been too long.

However, Taxi is one of my favorite Cagney movies, and may be Loretta's "feistiest" character. It's breathtakingly fast paced, as you might expect and the plot is pretty basic (indie cabbies vs. the monopoly) but there are plenty of opportunities for Cagney to be truculent and Loretta to put him in his place. Working class audiences would have eaten it up back then.

Born to be Bad was a real surprise and I'm still not sure if I like it or not. Loretta has a part I think of as being something Joan Crawford typically would be cast in, and she almost pulls it off. However, I don't think the same can be said of Cary Grant's character, which is self-righteous and completely without humor. That's the intention of the character as written, but I don't think it's a comfortable fit for Cary (he's too self-aware to play such myopic people, I think).
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Post by moira finnie »

Moira you should write a book based on your reviews, I'm in awe.
Nah, Miss G., 'we don't need no stinkin' books', (just kidding), we've got each other! Besides, it's the enthusiasm of you, Fernando and everyone else who pique my interest.

Miss G. and anyone else in the neighborhood, since you live in Manhattan, I was wondering...
I'd read somewhere that recently the Film Forum in Manhattan had planned to show Zoo in Budapest, but they couldn't get a print to show it on the big screen, drat! Know anything about it?

The only time that I've heard of Man's Castle showing up on screen anywhere within memory was at MOMA. Have you ever heard about the possibility of this film's emergence from the vaults again?

Your take on Born to Be Bad may reflect Ms. Young's own opinion. She went on suspension to try to get out of that one at the time that it was made, and in a John Kobal interview I read once in the book "People Will Talk", she still trashed it about 55 years later. I guess the memory of that movie stung!
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Post by MissGoddess »

It was my understanding that Zoo in Budapest and A Man's Castle were both a part of the Film Forum's recent spotlight on Fox Pre-Codes. I didn't get to see any of them, unfortunately, and so never heard about the fudge on Zoo's print.

If MoMA has Man's Castle, I will be looking ever more intently at their website for a possible future screening. I adore Spencer Tracy and this is one of his I most want to see.
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Post by MikeBSG »

I think there must be a print of "Zoo in Budapest" in circulation. The Cleveland Museum of Art showed "Zoo" once in the last seven years.
feaito

Post by feaito »

MissGoddess wrote:Isn't it a unique little film, Fernando? Nothing like the other Ruritanian fantasies of the period which were generally set squarely among the glittering upper classes. I can't compare it to anything, it's a fantasy and beautifully realised. I found the climax to be incredibly exciting!! I've never like Gene Raymond but I agree he's at his best here.

It deserves more attention, especially if everyone thinks of Loretta only in terms of swirling, clothes-horse entrances. :wink:

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Yes April, and that beautiful pix you posted of the scene in the forest/woods within the zoo is precisely the one I thought of when I talked about the film's bucolic quality.

I just feel so lucky of having had the chance of watching this film. Thanks Mark!
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Post by feaito »

Dear Moira,

I concur with April, just as Larry should write his Memoirs based upon his rich experiences within the movie industry and his magnificent grandmother, you should gather all the wonderful essays you've written and publish them. You are a poet.

I agree that "Zoo in Budapest" is certainly European in its approach to the story and its rather expressionistic look. Thank God during great part of the 1930s there were many American films made to suit European sensibilities and tastes, due to the importance of that Market. If it hadn't been for that we wouldn't have had films such as this one or "Trouble in Paradise", "The Gay Deception", "The Merry Widow", "As You Desire Me" and many more. Moira, do you think that Borzage would have fared better if he had directed this sensitive, romantic film? It's just his type of movie, isn't it?

I've discovered through the years that this type of romantic, ethereal film moves me the most and it's not a coincidence that "Portrait of Jennie", "The Constant Nymph" and "Letter From an Unknown Woman" are among my top ten favorite movies. Maybe I'm a dreamer and an idealist :wink:

It would be grandiose to have the opportunity of seeing "Zoo..." on the big screen; a glorious, pristine, bright , brandly restored print...Dreams...

I think that this particular film could have done well at the box-office during those rough Depression years, although I'm not sure if patrons preferred vibrant movies with gorgeous musical numbers or plain comedies to laugh their hearts out. Maybe this kind of film fared better with more sophisticated audiences of big cities, just like Lubitsch's boudoir farces did.

And I agree with you Moira, this film would have been perfect as a Silent.

I have never seen "Call of the Wild", but I bet it is an amusing adventure yarn.

I did watch "Platinum Blonde" and I remember being quite impressed by Robert Williams performance and by the fact that Jean Harlow played the society girl and Loretta the newspaperwoman. Loretta did a better job in this movie, in my opinion.

I also liked "Born to be Bad", although I agree that Cary had a colorless role. Loretta was tough in it, but not as good as in "Midnight Mary", in which she is superb.

I have read that Loretta's roles during the second half of the thirties (when she became a 20th Century Fox star) were more routine and less interesting, although I'd especially like to see her in "Suez" and "Four Men and a Prayer". I feel that she became more self-conscious of being a star then, a thus, her performances lost the spontaneity and truth of her Pre-code films.

I am sure that "A Man's Castle" is not a lost film, since I know there are collectors who have complete copies of it. I'd love to see that one. I'd also like to watch the lesser known "Caravan" in which Loretta stars opposite Charles Boyer and "Employee's Entrance".

I must admit that Loretta has grown on me over the years... The first time I saw "The Crusades" I wrote a rather negative review dismissing her performance as being merely decorative....but then, I watched again a couple of years later and I sort of changed my mind and did not think she was bad at all....After all, when you watch a film, the particular mood in which you are is so pivotal to your perception of the feature. That's the reason why one should always give a film one has not liked a second chance.[/b]
Last edited by feaito on January 17th, 2008, 4:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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A Man's Castle

Post by Jezebel38 »

I saw A Man's Castle a few years ago; I'm pretty sure it was at The Castro in SF. Although I love precodes and enjoy seeking out early performances by major stars such as Tracy, this one was hard for me to take, due to the unsympathetic character he plays. IIRC, she is homeless, he picks her up in the park, takes her to a shanty town where they shack up. His charachter is very misogynistic, she lets him treat her like a doormat, he is always threatening to leave, yada, yada. Worth seeing, but for me, not on my favorite precode list. I have also seen Zoo in Budapest on FMC, and it is such a highly unusual film that I would seek it out to view again.
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Post by moira finnie »

I saw A Man's Castle a few years ago; I'm pretty sure it was at The Castro in SF. Although I love pre-codes and enjoy seeking out early performances by major stars such as Tracy, this one was hard for me to take, due to the unsympathetic character he plays. IIRC, she is homeless, he picks her up in the park, takes her to a shanty town where they shack up. His character is very misogynistic, she lets him treat her like a doormat, he is always threatening to leave, yada, yada. Worth seeing, but for me, not on my favorite precode list.
Jezebel, thanks so much for sharing your observations on Man's Castle. I'm so glad that you found some interesting threads to post to here recently.

I've also been disappointed by films that I've longed to see several times, but still hope that this one might be available someday as a recording. Chauvinism from a 21st century perspective can be pretty hard to take, I admit, but I try to see things in their own time and, since I don't believe that human nature changes substantially over time, perhaps there's some grain of truth to be found in this film.

From what I've read about the film, I thought that Spencer Tracy's character might've reflected the cynicism about all human relations that the Depression engendered, (not to mention the rippling effect of WWI that we are still experiencing unaware today). I also wonder if Loretta Young's passivity might've reflected the narrow social choices most women had during that bleak time. And of course, all of Borzage's films do interest me, even when I find them old-fashioned.

Additionally, I recently read Dick Moore's book about child actors called Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and he mentioned playing a scene with Tracy in Man's Castle in which the actor astounded the youngster by playing the scene with his eyes and attention riveted on the boy. Moore mentions that this quality was highly unusual in any of the myriad actors he worked with during that period.

Moore said that Tracy had an uncanny ability to be fully present in the scene as the character, while still maintaining a separate consciousness of his role as an actor. To Moore, the actor seemed to be tailoring his reactions to the boy's guilelessness while giving more weight & reality to the scene. When a cinematographer, wishing to create a perfect looking shot, asked Tracy to "cheat" by looking slightly away from the boy while maintaining a head position toward the lad, he refused and maintained his concentration being "with" Moore more completely. Btw, the other co-star who most entranced Dick Moore years later as a young teen, was--not really surprisingly--Gary Cooper in Sergeant York (1941). Cooper's fatherly solicitude appealed to Moore as much as a person as an actor worthy of respect.

Feaito,
Have you or anyone else seen one other pre-code William Wellman film with Loretta Young and Richard Barthelmess, called Heroes For Sale (1933), described in detail here? It's one of those movies that may only be around on vhs, but it also features the great character actress, Aline MacMahon. I've begun to be interested in Barthelmess' early talkie career, after seeing him in several provocative & moving silents.

Sorry to "yada, yada yada" too much, but this topic is pretty absorbing to me, as I hope it is to others. :wink:
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Post by feaito »

No Moira, sadly I have not seen "Heroes for Sale". It's on my Must-see list, along with "A Modern Hero" and "The Dawn Patrol".

Of Barthelmess' early talkies I have only seen "Weary River", "The Last Flight", "The Finger Points" and "Central Airport".
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Post by moira finnie »

I feel that [Loretta Young] became more self-conscious of being a star then, a thus, her performances lost the spontaneity and truth of her Pre-code films.~ feaito
Fernando's incisive comment made me think about the course of Young's long career. There is a distinctive vulnerability with a sometimes surprising stubborn streak to her work in the earliest part of her career in the late silent era & pre-code era that I find a revelation since I've stumbled across some of her spunkier pre-codes.

As Fernando mentioned in his earlier post, her work seemed to become much more external as her career progressed, traceable to her appearance in De Mille's tedious The Crusades (1935). Perhaps this is indicative of her private struggles, her career conflicts with Darryl Zanuck at 20th Century Fox and an almost inevitable self-consciousness when an actress has been photographed from the age of four!

It's interesting that "something" seemed to have happened to her work again around 1946, when Young, who by Hollywood standards, was entering the autumn of her career--though still a knockout, started to work in such good roles as those offered in The Stranger & Rachel and the Stranger, delightful crowd pleasers such as The Farmer's Daughter, and even did some truly engaging noirish films, The Accused (1949) & Cause for Alarm (1951).

I wonder if beneath the beautiful face, composed manner and clothes horse appearance, her intelligence didn't come to the fore as she became a bit more confident of her abilities, allowing her to adapt herself into new roles, genres and even new media as they developed?
Or did she simply get a better agent and become a "hot property" once again?

The remarkable span of her career seems to have paled next to that of Davis & Crawford. My growing awareness of her evolution makes her early work even more interesting to me. One other film that I've never seen from her pre-code period is They Call It Sin (1932). Has anyone else seen this one?
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Post by feaito »

Good analysis Moira. I agree with your assessments. Sadly, I haven't seen "They Call it Sin". I have "Weekend Marriage" "waiting" to be seen though, which I've heard is pretty good.
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Post by MissGoddess »

>>>I've discovered through the years that this type of romantic, ethereal film moves the most and it's not a coincidence that "Portrait of Jennie", "The Constant Nymph" and "Letter From an Unknown Woman" are among my top ten favorite movies. Maybe I'm a dreamer and an idealist <<<

Fernando---I love movies like that, too. Have you seen The Enchanted Cottage? I bet you have, it's right up there with those other titles in this type of film. Some of Val Lewton's films also possess ethereal qualities.

Moira---I'm enjoying this thread immensely. I haven't seen Heroes for Sale, either, but it's another to add to my "list". I wasn't surprised at Moore's comments about Tracy and Coop. :wink:

About Loretta---I wonder if her growing attachment to Catholicism ought not to be mentioned when considering her career. It didn't prevent her from straying from the path in her youth but she certainly seemed to immerse herself into it more and more over the years (hence her legendary "swear box", which would appear on each film set and anyone who swore or cursed had to pay a "fine"). It must have influenced her choices of roles.
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