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Edmund Goulding

January 20, 2010

by John Farr

John Farr recommends three unforgettable movies directed by Edmund Goulding.

Grand Hotel (1932)


Stars Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery and John and Lionel Barrymore play out several interwoven stories, mixing drama, romance and murder, all occurring among the various guests at Berlin’s posh Grand Hotel.


MGM – the most prestigious studio from Hollywood’s golden age – paints on the gloss for this first class ensemble production. Garbo and John Barrymore stand out as the doomed lovers, as does his brother, Lionel, who plays a timid and terminally ill clerk on his last spree. Grand Hotel was among the first MGM sound dramas to showcase two things: first, the studios’ unmatched ability to adapt serious literary material to motion pictures; and second, to attract and retain star talent. The movie still dazzles nearly seventy-five years after its release.

The Dawn Patrol (1938)


At the French headquarters of the British Royal Flying Corps, squadron commander Major Brand (Rathbone) is berated by WWI flying ace Capt. Courtney (Errol Flynn) for sending young, inexperienced pilots to their deaths over enemy lines in rickety planes. But after Courtney is reassigned to Brands position, he begins to realize the brutal, agonizing realities of deciding who will fly those dailyand almost always deadlyearly-morning missions.


A scene-for-scene remake of Howard Hawks’s 1930 film of the same name, “Patrol” is an anguished World War I flier drama starring the dashing, seemingly unflappable Flynn, who inhabits his role with heroic gusto. Goulding wrenches great emotion out of the massacre-of-innocents scenario, dropping in on the doomed men as they quaff scotch and listen to the melancholy sound of the airmen’s gramophone before hopping into their jerry-built “crates.” Rathbone is excellent as the tortured desk commander accused of the gravest cynicism, and real-life Flynn bosom buddy David Niven supplies an additional punch as Courtney’s best man, Lt. Scott. See “Dawn Patrol,” a high-flying combat adventure with a conscience.

Nightmare Alley (1947)


Stanton Carlisle is a carnival employee who over-reaches in his quest for fame and fortune. He picks up a mind-reading technique (which boils down to a bunch of sophisticated code) from trusting colleague Zeena (Blondell), then discards her for a younger woman and appropriates the code for himself. Now hitting the big-time in night-clubs, Stanton feels he can’t lose, but the higher he gets, the farther he’s bound to fall.


Edmund Goulding creates one of the screen’s most indelible noirs, with the seamy carnival world providing an ideal setting. Power excels against type as the sleazy Stanton (a role he loved playing), and Blondell brings the perfect cheap, faded quality to small-timer Zeena. Jules Furthman’s hard-boiled script keeps us guessing just how Stanton will eventually tumble. Dripping with a deliciously dark mood and atmosphere, mystery fans will find “Nightmare” right up their alleys.

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