#98 The Story of a Cheat (1936)

Ever had a weakness that you were trying to be free of but you realize it’s easier said than done? That’s what the character of The Cheat (yes, that’s what he’s called) goes through in this unconventionally funny French film. The Story of a Cheat is when an old man writes his memoir about his early days as a thief and how his impulsive instinct to steal defines moments in his life.

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When you watch this film, it seems as if it’s questioning everything that would appear common sense to us such as stealing being wrong and how gambling is a horrible habit when done too often. Well, apparently not to The Cheat. Being a master thief from a young age actually saved his life from eating poisonous mushrooms and being able to get a handful of cash when gambling. Even when he tries to be an honest man like he knows he should, it doesn’t work out that way. He gets himself in awkward situations like trying to hide from those he cheated from and his many methods to getting away with thievery. This film reminded me a lot of ones like 21, Catch Me If You Can, and Focus that show the art of gambling and conning your way to what you want. The brilliance of this film though is in the innocence of it how The Cheat may be a criminal but he’s not evil. He’s just making use of a skill he never asked for and can’t control.

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The Story of a Cheat is known for being the first film to use voiceover narration. What makes this film different from the rest of films with voiceover narrations is that it takes over the ENTIRE film. It’s not like one or two sentences and then the scene goes on like in your average narrative. It’s like The Cheat really is telling the viewing audience a story exactly the way he’s writing it in the beginning of the film and we hear the whole thing including the character descriptions, actions, and dialogue all from the voice of The Cheat. The only time we hear dialogue straight from the characters is in the scenes taking place in the present. Well, I’ll definitely say that this technique makes it much more fun reading the subtitles out loud! I absolutely loved the hilarious conclusion of the film as well. I guarantee you it will be a moment you face-palm yourself with a big smile. This is a recommended see.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this film online but there’s a copy of the film on Hulu. Here’s a clip from the film. Hopefully you can understand French. Basically in the clip, The Cheat is explaining the real tragedy in having so much money is when you never spend it but still keep making more. Agree or disagree? Please comment what you think:

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#97 My Man Godfrey (1936)

Here’s another screwball romantic comedy that shows a distinction between the poor and the bourgeois society- the rich are cooky and the poor are sweethearts. A very relatable film for those growing up during the Great Depression. Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey is when a poor man living literally in the dumps gets a job as a butler for a rich family and hits the heart-strings of their daughter.  

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The character of Godfrey is selected to show up in a scavenger hunt by a rich woman in which she is supposed to bring a “forgotten man” to a party who then decides to give him a job as their butler. We see the distinction in how people can view a poor man. Either like the character of Cynthia in which she sees him as a potential thief and someone to look down on. Or like her sister Irene who finds him charming and lovestruck around him- feeling he deserves more than to live in the dumps. Of course in screwball comedies, things don’t turn out the way you plan with a bunch of twists and turns to keep things entertaining such as being accused of being married with kids or as a thief. This film kind of reminded me of our previous film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in which we see a good-natured man use his power for the good of those around him. The only complaint I had with this film was I wish they went more into his occupation as a butler and more hilarious situations that could come from the job.

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It’s funny how Carole Lombard looks so cute and innocent as she’s chasing after Godfrey and is dazzled by his every quirk and habit. Yet in real life, it’s a different story. She would be constantly cursing and adding those foul words in the dialogue, causing a lot of reshoots. Also interesting is how William Powell (The Thin Man) agreed to only take part in the film if his ex-wife of three years (Lombard) would be casted as well. Guess that meant they were on good terms! My Man Godfrey is known for being the first and only film to be nominated for all of the acting awards but not for Best Picture until American Hustle came around 77 years later. You can watch this film anywhere now because of failure to renew the copyright, making it appear as public domain.

Watch this classic screwball comedy and write in your reactions:

#96 Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

Want to see a movie that will just lift your spirits? One that makes you smile and make you tear at that happy ending? The best dose of medicine I can recommend for you is a Frank Capra film (It Happened One Night). In this feel-good romantic comedy in which Capra won his second Best Director award, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is when a gift card poet/tuba player inherits a million dollars overnight with people making him look incompetent for such a prosperous gift including a beautiful reporter.

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Cary Grant does an excellent job at portraying the innocence that comes to the character of Mr. Deeds. He inherits a huge sum of money but doesn’t let that change him. When he’s happy, we’re happy. When he’s in pain, so are we. When he decides to give most of it away to charity, he is declared insane by those that wish to take him down. Jean Arthur‘s character Babe originally wanted to destroy his reputation for the sake of the newspaper she works at until she gets to know him. Did you know that the role of Babe was originally for Carole Lombard? She dropped out at last minute in order to be in My Man Godfrey (a film that’s coincidentally to come next on our list). What I don’t understand is why Columbia Pictures didn’t think Jean Arthur was pretty enough for the role? Frank Capra had to tell them to focus on her voice instead of her face. Seems pretty shallow to me.

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I’ve noticed similarities in the main characters in this film and Capra’s other major film It’s a Wonderful Life where life goes downhill for these characters and their innocence makes us want to root for them to succeed in the end. We can also relate to the character of Babe in which everything she sees in Mr. Deeds we as an audience see- a genuinely caring man just wanting to help in any way he can. As she falls in love with him, so do we. Since this film was released during the time of The Great Depression, audiences would like to see a character willing to donate his money towards the greater good. The film pretty much shows us a realistic portrayal of society in which someone can do something good for someone and ask why. The real question should be “Why not?” Other than seeing this film, here’s another request I have for you: PLEASE DON’T WATCH THE ADAM SANDLER REMAKE!

Watch Frank Capra’s heartwarming film and comment on your reactions: