I can’t believe 24 Hours has never been on video.
It’s a Paramount release owned by Universal, which answers the question of why. That description probably fits 90% of my video wishlist. As for how to see this star-studded rarity, it’s yet another one that takes a more adventurous approach than simply heading over to Amazon.com and clicking the buy box.
The earliest Film Daily announcement about Paramount’s adaptation of Louis Bromfield’s bestselling 24 Hours tabbed Claudette Colbert for a leading role once she was done work on The Smiling Lieutenant (1931). Colbert does not appear in 24 Hours but her co-star from The Smiling Lieutenant, Miriam Hopkins, does. After multiple viewings over the past several months I couldn’t imagine anyone other than Hopkins in this role.
24 Hours was directed by Russian-born Marion Gering, a former Broadway producer/director whose short list of Hollywood credits is largely composed of other Paramount titles just as hard to find today as this one is. I believe only his Devil and the Deep (1931), Thirty Day Princess (1934) and Thunder in the City (1937) have had commercial video releases.In Hollywood Gering was primarily active for Paramount in the first half of the 1930’s until they made the mistake of offering him a contract. “And that’s when I left,” recalled Gering in 1967. “I wanted my individuality. I wanted to make what I wanted to make without worrying about the front office telling me what to do.” He had already directed the critically panned Madame Butterfly (1932) and an adaptation of Dreiser’s Jenny Gerhardt (1933) which took even harder knocks from critics, so I’m not sure how much choice Mr. Gering actually had in the matter.
Still, Gering has an intriguing biography which credits him as the man who introduced Archie Leach to B.P. Shulberg, who soon put him to work as Cary Grant. He also cast Bette Davis in her first Broadway show, Broken Dishes, a hit that paved the way to Hollywood for Davis.
Finally, in what would be Gering’s most prolific professional relationship, he cast Sylvia Sidney against type in Bad Girl on Broadway. Bad Girl led Sidney to a Hollywood career that included a string of movies directed by Gering in the 1930s such as the aforementioned Madame Butterfly, Jenny Gerhardt and Thirty Day Princess, that last one also starring old friend Cary Grant. Gering also directed Sidney in Ladies of the Big House (1931), Pick-Up (1933) with George Raft and Good Dame (1934) with Fredric March.
Gering’s film career was a short list and a mixed bag. Mixed was how journalist Mark Barron described Gering’s Broadway career when writing about him in 1953. Barron wrote that “some critics liked them and some did not,” about Gering’s shows on Broadway, “but they still ran for long engagements.” Longest of them all was his original production of Aurania Rouverol’s Skidding, the basis for MGM’s later Hardy family series of films. It played well over a year at the Bijou Theatre throughout 1928-29.
24 Hours can be chalked up on the plus side of any Gering ledger. A 66-minute slice of life puts the focus on four characters in particular, a pair of them from high society and a pair much further down that ladder, during the 24 hour period that gives this one its title.
Clive Brook plays alcoholic millionaire Jim Towner. Brook can lay claim being one of the all-time greatest stiffs on screen, but if ever a role were tailored to him it’s the unhappily soused Towner.
Towner is already moving slow when huge goblets of brandy are served at a party hosted by Hector Champion (George Barbier) in the opening scene of the movie. Kay Francis plays his fed up wife, Fanny, sitting uncomfortably across from Brook. Her lover David (Minor Watson) is across the room putting the moves on younger woman Miss Wintringham (Adrienne Ames).
The Towners try to sort out their problems over the brandy. After Fanny remarks about his drinking Jim replies, “When I drink I see deep down in the of red of things. Then it gets so horrible and I have to take another drink to blur it out.”
There is quite a bit of strong dialogue throughout 24 Hours. Brook gets to be the deep philosophical drunk, while Miriam Hopkins delivers several plain spoken gems that cut to the core of their problems.
Jim excuses himself to host Hector explaining that the brandy has hit him a bit quicker than expected.
Outside of the building Jim engages in small talk with Pat the doorman (Wade Boteler). Pat’s wife is expecting, news that earns a donation from Jim’s pocket. Pat adds that if it’s a girl they’re going to name her Rosie, after his sister who took the name Rosie Dugan for the stage.
“Rosie Dugan. No, Pat, I didn’t know she was your sister.”
Jim Towner is very familiar with Miss Rosie Dugan. She’s played with great exuberance by Miriam Hopkins who we meet in just a few moments belting out a tune amongst the nightclub patrons. But first Jim has to stop for a drink at the nearby speakeasy, Jake’s Place.
It’s on our way to Jake’s Place with Clive Brook that 24 Hours first distinguishes itself as something more than a witty chat fest. Ambling through blizzard-like conditions Brook’s Jim Towner stops to hand some money over to a woman who had been foraging through the city trash cans. Then the screen is filled by a gun. A few shots are fired. A man collapses in the snow outside the door of what turns out to be Jake’s Place. Clive Brook is dead? A few men come outside and pull the body inside. Then another figure enters the scene and, no, Brook isn’t dead at all, he’s just arriving. His character takes special notice of the mess left on the snow.
“I stopped in at Jake’s Place tonight and I saw red snow,” he tells Rosie at his next stop.
“Red snow at Jake’s Place. You’ve had enough.”
Hopkins does nothing to mask her native Southern accent in this one. "Red" is pronounced "ray-ad" and later "postage stamp" to Regis Toomey is "postage stay-amp." It works well for her here, especially in contrast to Brook's slow and steady British intonations.
Towner and Rosie are two lost souls together.
“You’ve got everything people want. I’ve got everything I wanted to have. Both of us ain’t got nothing,” Rosie says.
“Rosie, isn’t it possible to love two people,” Jim asks her.
“Oh yeah, I guess so. But it’s like a woman sticking two husbands in one grave. You know, the one that gets there first. Well, he’s always first. Kind of what the heart is, ain’t it Jim. A grave full of dead things.”
Towner wonders what might have been had he and Rosie met each other first, but Rosie knows it wouldn’t have been any different: “I’m good leather, Jim. But I just ain’t polished.”
They’re interrupted when Rosie is alerted to a familiar visitor. Rosie finds Regis Toomey as Tony, her small time crook of a husband, waiting for her.
Tony begs for her to take him back, but he’s no good. A leisure time junkie and a criminal by trade, she has no use for him at all.
“You’re my wife, Rosie,” he tells her, causing Rosie to turn to him with a startled stare. “I’ve had other women, but it ain’t no use,” Tony says, in defense of that stare.
When searching Tony for the key to her apartment she only finds a gun on him. She mocks him: “You just wouldn’t be a man without it, would you?”
Confiscating the gun she threatens him. “Maybe I better get you shot up. This time it would be for good. I heard what happened at Jake’s Place tonight. I heard the snow was red there.”
It was Tony who shot the man outside of Jake’s Place. The victim was one of Dave the Slapper’s mob and now the Slapper (Bob Kortman) is after him.
One last plea by Tony not only goes unanswered, but Rosie has the bouncer toss him out before going into her second number. That one is a torch song with lyrics about how she’s done with her man but that “she knows she’s lying; there’s no use trying; to leave that man.”
Sure enough Tony is waiting outside as Rosie and Jim leave the club.
We move from scene to scene by traveling outside into the Manhattan winter and peering up to the clock that counts off those 24 hours of the title.
The characters seem almost to parade by us in order as we meet them. First Brook’s Jim then Francis sharing her scene with Minor Watson. Back to Brook with Hopkins before Toomey is introduced a full 26 minutes into the film. Only by the time we’ve nearly forgotten Kay Francis does she return.
The story revolves around Brook who links the high society of Hector Champion’s apartment with the down-and-dirty world of Jake’s Place, a speakeasy, and Rosie’s, a better scale Prohibition era nightclub.
Brook’s Towner has all but given up on life with Fanny, his wife, in favor of hitting the skids with Hopkins’ Rosie. But the criminal element Toomey brings to the story is a splash of cold water. It's a big splash: murder. Toomey takes it on the lamb hiding out under the roof of the extremely frightening Lucille La Verne, while Brook is arrested and brought in for questioning.
Towner was too drunk to even remember what had happened.
We know who did it, but Brook can’t be positive and even Francis, who arrives to give moral support to her husband, thinks that he committed the crime while blind drunk.
The resolution comes a bit quick and doesn’t play as well today as it probably did in 1931, but the crime story in 24 Hours takes a backseat to the affairs of Jim Towner’s heart and soul anyway.
In the end it all comes down to wise Rosie’s words--“The one that gets there first, is always first”--which Jim Towner repeats as a memory just before the movie ends.
24 Hours features top performances from all four of its stars plus fantastic support from the likes of George Barbier, Minor Watson and Lucille La Verne.
Hopkins stands out above all as the flamboyant Rosie Dugan who thrills the crowd while belting out a pair of songs and then gets to deliver many of the movies' best lines whether she is musing over doomed love with Brook or tearing Toomey down to size with heaps of insults.
While Brook ambles stiffly about (I like Clive Brook, but he does remind me of a penguin at times) and Francis poses in fantastic gowns, Hopkins is throwing her body all over the screen.
From her singing directly to crowd members during her floor show to going limp as an emotionless rag doll in husband Toomey’s threatening arms, Miriam Hopkins is a revelation in this early role. 24 Hours is only her third film under her Paramount contract and it’s sandwiched between a pair of classics in The Smiling Lieutenant and, from late 1931, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Kay Francis has the more difficult role as the untrue society wife still in love with her alcoholic husband. She doesn’t get any songs or many opportunities for histrionics. She disappears from the entire middle of 24 Hours but manages to stand out at both the beginning and the end, not just because of her clothes, though they do draw attention.
Perhaps Kay’s best scene comes while riding with Minor Watson, her lover whom she is trying to explain her complicated marital situation to. As she writes their names into the condensation on the window she talks about how much her husband means to her. She adds his name to the window, under hers. Watson asks if she’ll go back to her husband and Francis says she won’t: “I’m damaged goods. I won’t hand bargains across the counter to my husband. As for you. That’s as finished as … as last year’s snow.”
After Fanny gives Watson's David the final brushoff, he returns to his car to find she had circled two names. Not his. David wipes Jim's name off the window and orders his driver home.
Regis Toomey is still riding the reputation he created from his 1929 film debut in the Oscar nominated Alibi by the time of 24 Hours. I’m mostly used to seeing Toomey in later lighthearted roles, though I’ve also seen him play his share of pre-Code cads as well. In 24 Hours he goes a step further than that and plays an almost completely remorseless criminal. A killer, with a drug habit to boot.
Dave the Slapper refers to Toomey’s Tony as a “hop head” and Tony himself greets Lucille La Verne by asking, “You got any stuff?” She does not, but just in case you think he may mean weaker stuff than I infer he then asks for a drink, an alternative which La Verne does have on hand for him. He’s a junkie and a mobster and a murderer and his days are running out. His wife wants nothing to do with him and he’s set on getting the “cake eater” who is cuckolding him.
Cake-eater, an insult with a wide range of definitions though likely meant in this case simply as a negative connotation towards the elite, may never have described anyone better than it does Clive Brook in most any role.
Brook’s movie career seemed to be slumping a bit by the time of 24 Hours but he’ll soon gain a brief and deserved reprieve to A-level status following his success opposite Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express (1932). Brook is just as upper crust, stiff and one note as usual in 24 Hours, but drown all that in alcoholism and suddenly he becomes a likable and sympathetic figure.
Each of the women in his life agree about Jim Towner’s main trait. When Watson asks Kay Francis why Brook left the party early, her Fanny says of her husband, “Because. In spite of everything, he’s a gentleman.” A little later Hopkins tells Brook directly, “Listen, Jim, I like you. Because even when you’re drunk you’re a gentleman.”
Clive Brook could always play the gentleman.
Perhaps that's why I usually like him, despite all the seemingly backhanded swipes throughout this piece. There's an air of dignity from a bygone age present in Brook at all times. Even if you disagree, I'll point any Brook hater towards On Approval (1944) which he not only starred in but directed and even had a hand in the adaptation.
Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times was pleased with 24 Hours, praising the three top-billed actors and writing that, “Aside from the fine acting ... It is also well directed and beautifully photographed.”
Hall credits Gering for inviting “one's attention to the passage of the hours with no little artistry. The camera soars over roofs and the skyline of a section of the city comes to the screen.” Film Daily had noted Gering’s use of the “space shot” which was simply the “turning away of the camera from the players at the end of each scene and then showing a panorama or traveling with the characters from one spot to another before picking up the next locations,” used to bring about “continuous action minus fade-ins and fade-outs.”
Film Daily itself called 24 Hours “a first-rate piece of entertainment,” and Photoplay rejoiced, “Miracle of miracles, here is a picture that is not only good but different.” Photoplay practically demands, “See this one! You’ll be sorry if you miss it.”
My recommendation as well and a good place to leave 24 Hours. Once more, I got my DVD-R copy HERE.
- Krieger, R.E. “Director Gering: Knew When to Walk Away.” The Knickerbocker News. 4 Oct 1967: 6C. Old Fulton NY Post Cards. Web. 11 Feb 2013.
- O’Brian, Jack. “The Voice of Broadway.” Bradford Era 28 May 1977: 13. Newspaper Archive. Web. 11 Feb 2013.