Tue 28 Apr 2009
CAPTAIN APPLEJACK. Warner Brothers, 1931. Mary Brian, John Halliday, Kay Strozzi, Alec B. Francis, Louise Closser Hale. Based on the play of the same title by Walter C. Hackett. Director: Hobart Henley.
As a play, Captain Applejack opened on Broadway at the Cort Theatre on December 30, 1921, and ran for 195 performances.
The story was soon thereafter the basis for a silent film, although why they changed the name to Strangers of the Night (Louis B. Meyer, 1923) I do not know. The main players in the cast were Matt Moore as Ambrose Applejohn, Enid Bennett as his ward Poppy, and Barbara La Marr as the vampish Anna Valeska, who in one evening gives Ambrose the thrill of several lifetimes.
None of the actorsí names in the paragraph above mean anything to me, I apologize for saying, and in fact, the first three names I’ve listed for this 1931 sound remake meant just about as little when I started watching this movie last night. Iíll get back to them shortly.
Itís one of those old British mansion movies, built upon the edge of the cliff Ė the mansion, that is Ė and the one night that the owner Ambrose Applejohn (John Halliday) will remember forever is a dark and stormy one.
It begins with Ambrose telling his Aunt Agatha (Louise Closser Hale) and his ward Poppy (Mary Brian) that heís selling the house and striking out on a tour of the world on a quest for adventure and excitement.
Little does he know … thereís a knock on the door. Enter the beautifully exotic Madame Anna Valeska (Kay Strozzi), seeking not only shelter from the storm, but from the villain of the piece, a chap by the name of Ivan Borolsky. Adventure has fallen into Ambroseís lap, and he doesnít even have to leave home.
Of course he is neither as brave and stalwart as he says he is, or would like to be, and if I havenít told you that this is a comedy, I am right now, and even alone in the room I was in, I laughed out loud several times.
Any movie with a butler named Lush (Alec B. Francis) has to be a comedy, wouldnít you agree? Nor is Madame Valeska the only one to knock on the door. Soon there is a whole household full of guests, some welcome, some not. Did I mention that Polly is jealous of Madame Valeska? I have now.
Without telling you more than I should, there is a reason for all of the guests and intruders, and the reason has to do with the fact that Ambrose Applejohn is a direct descendant of a cruel pirate named Captain Applejack. There is also a map of sorts.
This is a very entertaining film, albeit noticeably stagey, with a bit of advice that anyone younger than 40 or 50 will probably be bored to abstract fidgetry. That this is a pre-Code film should also be mentioned, with blouses cut lower than they might have been a few years later, and a pair of male hands that do not always stay out of bounds where they belong.
The photo of John Halliday may have come from the film. If not, itís very close. His career extended from 1911 to 1941, with perhaps his best-remembered role being that of Katharine Hepburnís father in The Philadelphia Story (1940).
Mary Brianís wholesome good looks once graced the cover of Picture Play, as you’ve already seen somewhere up above. She started her film-making days playing Wendy Darling in a 1924 silent version of Peter Pan; her final performances were as Corliss Archerís mother in the 1954 TV sitcom series.
As for Kay Strozzi, in spite of her beautifully exotic appearance (early 1930s style), she made only one other movie, a Bette Davis film called Ex-Wife (1933). Otherwise she seems to have been a Broadway performer, which I can understand, and a soap opera star on the radio, which I donít.