Here’s a wonderful, atmospheric clip from a 1932 pre-code movie called ‘Hot Saturday’ . The film was drected by William Seiter and starred Cary Grant, Nancy Carroll and Randolph Scott (possibly making this the first time Grant met Scott which lead to them becoming mysterious ‘housemates’–you’ve seen those photos in Anger’s ‘Hollywood Babylon’ I’m sure). This was Grant’s first role as a leading man, but you won’t see him in this clip. Instead, we’re seeing a number called ‘I’m Burning For You’ performed in what’s supposed to be a roadhouse. I’m very taken with Seiter’s choices in shots, truly giving us the sense of what it felt like to be in a small, informal club in the early 30s (and 20s for that matter). The opening long take establishing shot runs almost one minute and travels from a Gin bottle hidden under a table (remember, this is still prohibition), past empty tables finally landing on the dance floor. And then comes the singer. Boy, what a dame! (A real hotsy-totsy, as the period slang went). Alas she is uncredited and thus lost to history–unless someone out there is lonely enough to have done the research necessary to identify her. One of my favorite pieces of this comes at 1:42 where the camera seems to go on a long lens and pan the faces of the happy dancing couples. The lens gives it a cinema verite feel, a moment of documentary realism that I find evocative and unexpectedly moving–we’re watching people now, not actors, frozen in time–almost one-hundred years ago.
Though little known or remembered, Seiter’s directing credits are strong–Laurel & Hardy’s ‘Sons Of The Desert’ (probably their best feature), the excellent Astaire/Hayworth vehicle ‘You Were Never Lovelier’, ‘Roberta’ (early Astaire/Rogers with Irene Dunne), The Marx Brothers ‘Room Service’ (okay, not their best but certainly a big notch up from the three MGMs that followed) and literally dozens more. In fact, his first directing credit is from 1915 and his last is for a television show in 1959. Jesus!