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Overlooked Arthur

Here’s another odd but welcome release from TCM’s Vault Collection — four also-ran titles from Jean Arthur’s Columbia years, presented under license from Sony in excellent transfers from the camera negatives held by the Library of Congress. “The Public Menace” is a gangster comedy — probably meant as a quick follow-up to Arthur’s star-making turn in John Ford’s 1935 “The Whole Town’s Talking” — that doesn’t do much to advance to case for Erle C. Kenton as an auteur (see “Are We Not Men?” below); “Adventure in Manhattan” finds the sporadically interesting Edward Ludwig (“Wake of the Red Witch”) grappling with an oddly conceived crime comedy that never regains its footing after a strange and sadistic opening act; “More than a Secretary” cries out for William A. Seiter (who really put Arthur on her feet with “If You Could Only Cook”) but gets Alfred E. Green instead; and “The Impatient Years,” which was Arthur’s last film under her Columbia contract, is a wobbly Irving Cummings effort that strains to recapture the wartime romantic urgency of “The More the Merrier,” with Lee Bowman standing in for Joel McCrea. My New York Times review of the set is here.

After a long, slow start in B westerns and serials, Arthur appeared in an amazing number of important and/or famous movies between 1935 and 1944, including Frank Borzage’s “History Is Made at Night,” Mitchell Leisen’s “Easy Living, Howard Hawks’s “Only Angels Have Wings,” and three major films by Frank Capra (“Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” “You Can’t Take It with You” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”). Yet she seems not to have enjoyed a minute of it, and her personal demons kept her out of the public eye for much of her later years. Here’s a touching profile of her by Guy Flatley, written for the Times in 1972 when she was teaching at Vassar.

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