Tuesday, August 14, 2018

THE UNSUSPECTED (1947)

Convoluted film noir mystery? You’re soaking in it! I'm not 100% sure I have all the details correct, but this is how the movie played out to me. Victor (Claude Rains) is a radio personality whose specialty is true crime stories. He has two nieces. Matilda (Joan Caulfield) is his legal ward and the inheritor of lots of money which Victor has been handling for her—and some of which he has possibly been misusing. Althea (Audrey Totter, at left), the other niece, stole Matilda's boyfriend Oliver out of spite but now is stuck in a bad marriage as Oliver has taken to drink. Matilda, out of the country, has been reported dead in a ship accident. This is the situation as the movie begins with a shadowy and creepy scene showing Victor's secretary Rosalyn murdered and hung up from a chandelier to make it look like suicide, all while Victor is on the air relating a murder story. Althea knows it was murder because she was on the phone with her when she was attacked, but Althea isn't telling anyone what she knows—yet. While everyone feels bad for Victor's losses, a young man named Steven shows up out of the blue, claiming to have been married to Matilda. The thinking is that Steven has come in search of a chunk of her money, but it turns out that Steven is from a rich family himself. Before the family can get used to this new development, Matilda turns up alive, having survived the accident and spent time recovering in Brazil. But she doesn’t recognize Steven, and insists that they are not married. Obviously, amnesia from her traumatic experience secretary explains this, so Victor and the rest assume. The stage is now set for plot twists, betrayals, and more murders.

I did find this difficult to follow, though ultimately, once everyone's motives are made clear, it settles down into a traditional murder mystery template. But the primary reason to watch this is the shadowy film noir style from director Michael Curtiz and cinematographer Woody Bredell. Nothing quite matches the opening sequence of the murder of the secretary, but the visuals remain interesting throughout. Several times we see the faces of people reflected diamond-sharp in glass or mirrors or, most effectively, in a recording disc—Victor keep records of most of his radio shows, and recordings of conversations are crucial to the climax. There’s a LAURA vibe here due to the resurrection of a character thought dead, though it's handled almost too matter-of-factly here. Many reviews and summaries mention the killer's identity, but, even though it is revealed relatively early (about halfway through), I still think it shouldn't be spoiled. The acting is all over the place. Rains, of course, is very good, but Audrey Totter practically steals all her scenes with her portrayal of a jealous schemer; you can never quite figure out whose side she's on. At times she sounds like Bette Davis at her most devious. Michael North (credited earlier in his career as Ted North) is striking looking and in his first few scenes, he's effective as someone whose motives, as with Totter, are not clear, but as the movie goes on, he recedes into the background with not quite enough charisma to be on the level of Rains and Totter. Joan Caulfield is far too bland to make her character interesting, which is a shame because with another actress in the role, this might have been a truly first-rate noir. Hurd Hatfield does his usual effete male role as the weak Oliver. Constance Bennett is lots of fun as an Eve Arden-type of sidekick. When Rains feels sorry for her because he assumes since she's single that she's never really "vibrated" with the joy of living, she replies, referring to her past, "For six months, I vibrated like a musical saw!" The complicated plot bothered me for a while, but I'm glad I stuck with this. Pictured at right are Totter, Caulfield and Rains. [TCM]

Friday, August 10, 2018

NEVER THE TWAIN SHALL MEET (1931)

Dan Pritchard (Leslie Howard), the son in Pritchard and Pritchard, shipping magnates of San Francisco, has been engaged to Maisie Morrison (Karen Morley) for years but she shows no sign of setting a date, or even of becoming passionate—a friend comments that "her mother raised her in an ice box." An old sea captain arrives at the docks infected with leprosy and asks Dan to become guardian to his daughter Tamea (Conchita Montenegro), born of a Polynesian woman and raised on the islands. To the eyes of a city dweller, she's lovely but primitive, and the captain wants her educated and civilized.  As the captain leaves, Dan mutters to him, "I suppose you’ll be … going away," and, accompanied by the mournful singing of his crew, the captain jumps into the ocean, presumably to die. The childlike Tamea (referred to once as a "delightful little savage") is quite a handful for Dan. As he and Maisie attend to her socialization, Tamea is at first playful but quickly becomes knowingly flirtatious—she wants Dan to watch her as she tries on dresses, and then forces him to kiss her to do his bidding. He seems both amused and titillated by her behavior, and his friend Mark warns Maisie that she needs to step in to stop Dan from catching "tropical fever." But by then, it's too late: Dan's father sends Tamea back to the islands, but Dan follows and soon he and Tamea are living together. He is warned by Porter, a dissolute islander, that he'll come to no good, and indeed, their idyll is brief; Tamea begins keeping company with her former island boyfriend Tolongo, and Dan seems resigned to sharing her. Eventually, Maisie shows up, hoping to being Dan back home, but can she overcome his case of tropical fever?

This kind of exotic hothouse melodrama was common in the 1930s and this is among the better ones. Being pre-Code, it doesn't have to pussyfoot around the fact that Dan and Tamea have a sexual relationship (unlike later films like WHITE CARGO in which marriage has to happen first). The dispassionate Leslie Howard is a surprising choice for this role, but he does play lust-addled better than you might expect. His decline is charted partly by his wardrobe, which goes from crisp and clean in the States to grungy and sweaty on the island. Montenegro is fine, though she left Hollywood behind fairly quickly and made a career in Spanish-language movies. Morley does well in a hard role—she has to be unlikable (we understand Dan's frustration with her coldness) but sympathetic (we have to be on her side when she tries to save him). I must admit that, despite Dan's supposed ruin as he becomes the weak third point of a tropical triangle, I was sort of rooting for him to stay on the island. Also with Hale Hamilton who seems to be doing a Robert Benchley imitation as Mark, and C. Aubrey Smith as Dan's father. Bob Gilbert, in his only film role, makes a sexy Tolongo (pictured at right). The things that made this risque in 1931 (premarital sex, interracial romance, a menage-a-trois situation) no longer resonate so much, so fans of the era and the genre will like this, but others may have little patience. Pictured at top are Howard and Montenegro. [TCM]

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

MAHOGANY (1975)

Tracy (Diana Ross) is a single working woman living in the slums of Chicago. She's a secretary at a department store but aspires to design her own line of clothes. Brian (Billy Dee Williams) is a political activist running for alderman and provoking trouble wherever he holds rallies. The two meet cute when she pranks him by pouring milk in his bullhorn, accidentally precipitating a brawl. She gets him out of jail and they start dating, though their differing ambitions cause friction. When renowned fashion photographer Sean McAvoy (Anthony Perkins) comes to Chicago for a shoot, he appropriates Tracy as a model and tells her he could make her a star. She leaves Brian and goes to Paris to work with Sean who does indeed make her famous, under the name Mahogany.  At first they're quite happy as a platonic couple, but after he is unable to sexually consummate their relationship, he becomes cold and bitter. Eventually he snaps and drives off with her in a car, taking pictures of her, in fear for her life, as he goes faster and faster until they crash. He dies and she, suffering several injuries, is taken care of by the wealthy Christian (Jean-Pierre Aumont) who agrees to finance her design house in exchange (eventually) for sex. But even though her line is a success, she can’t quite give herself to Christian. He's an understanding sort, and he sends her back to Chicago where she decides to go back to Brian, now running for Congress.

Let there be no doubt—this is a hot mess of a movie. Not a moment of it rings true. The Harlequin romance plotline is only one problem. Berry Gordy, head of Motown Records, directed this himself with no previous film experience. In the realm of music, he is an undisputed genius, but in movies, he's strictly an amateur. Diana Ross has presence to burn, but despite her earlier solid performance as Billie Holiday in LADY SINGS THE BLUES, she is unable to carry a single scene in which she is called upon to act—though her beauty and charisma get her through a fashion shoot montage which is a high point of the film, and tellingly, not supervised by Gordy but by Jack Cole. The more she tries to emote, the shriller her voice gets and the emptier her character becomes. Billy Dee Williams is a pro, but he is stifled here, especially in his outdoor scenes, shot in winter, where he seems to be too realistically cold, delivering his lines in a hurry so he get inside and warm up. Still, there is something to be said for good looks in a romance like this, and Ross and Williams both look darn good, even if their chemistry falters. Aumont is fine in a throwaway role. Perkins gives the best performance here, but sadly it's another in his long line of neurotic and/or psychotic gay characters which began with Norman Bates. The character is not presented as openly gay, but we're slapped in the face with subtext, especially in the bizarre scene in which Perkins and Williams wrestle on the floor with a gun, which ends up in Perkins' mouth. I'm serious.

But really, this film is a guilty pleasure for me because of the music. Specifically, the one song that is played over and over throughout, known on the pop charts as "Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)." I liked the song well enough when it was on radio back in the 70s, and Ross' vocal version is played in the movie at least twice, but it's the constant repetition of the theme instrumentally that made me able to stick with this movie, and even watch it a second time. Just as a scene goes off the rails and you want to turn the movie off, the theme swells up and the melancholy yearning in the melody turns you (well, me) to jelly and you (I) have to stick with it to see what happens next to Tracy. It's difficult for me to recommend this to a general audience, but if you love bad campy movies or "Do You Know Where You're Going To," this is a must-see, even a must-own. [DVD]

Friday, August 03, 2018

RETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND (1954)

I have never read Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, nor have I seen any movie version, but as a responsible pop culture consumer, I know about Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins, and hidden treasure on an island. But the opening of this movie confused me, as the narrator conflates truth and fiction right off the bat by talking about Stevenson's classic tale, but also implying that these characters and events were real. We see a brief sequence showing the wicked pirate Flint hiding a treasure chest in a cave on a small Caribbean island, then killing all those who helped him hide it. 200 years later, we are at the Admiral Benbow Inn, made famous by Treasure Island, where an original map of that island is on display. One night, a man breaks in and tries to steal the map; suddenly, another man breaks in wanting the map for himself. They fight and escape, but neither one gets the map. An academic named Clive Stone (Porter Hall) shows up doing research on Stevenson's story, and Jamie Hawkins (Dawn Addams), descendent of Treasure Island's hero Jim, tells him about a bible with some coded words in it which, together with the map, might lead to the treasure. When Willy, the old caretaker, is shot and killed in another break-in, Stone tells Jamie that he thinks a certain Felix Newman is behind it, and she agrees to accompany Stone to the island to find the treasure. But on the way, she discovers that Stone is actually Maxie Harris, a scoundrel who is competing with Newman to find the treasure. Once on the island, she manages to escape and finds the real Clive Stone (Tab Hunter), a young, bearded and shirtless archeology student who had gotten involved with both Newman and Harris and was left for dead on the island. The rest of the story has the three factions battling to survive each other and to get the treasure.

This rarely-shown film was aired on TCM as part of salute to Tab Hunter a few days after his death in July. Clive was an early role for Hunter and as he himself has said, neither the movie nor his performance is very good. Actually, he's not terrible, though he and the movie as a whole are hurt by weak direction from E.A. Dupont. Hunter brings some much needed energy to the movie (though his narration style is terrible) and his eye-candy presence made the film worth watching for me—he never wears a shirt, and his bedraggled and patently phony beard gets shaved off fairly quickly, the better to display his blond cleancut good looks. Dawn Addams is fine and they share a decent B-movie chemistry. Hall, a very familiar supporting face (the store psychologist in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET) makes an effective villain, and the action, such as it is, of the last half is reasonably entertaining. Still, there's not a lot to recommend this for today's young viewers. [TCM]

Thursday, August 02, 2018

COMMON LAW WIFE (1963)

Not far from a Louisiana swamp, ornery old Shugfoot has been living in his mansion for the past five years with the younger (but no spring chicken) Linda, but now he's gotten tired of her, and as she sits still while he throws darts at her, he tells her that he's kicking her out so he can start shacking up with his considerably younger niece, Jonelle (known by most as Baby Doll—yes, think Lolita), now a stripper, who is returning to town after being driven away a few years ago for her wanton behavior. But even though Shugfoot has promised to "take care" of Linda, he's changed his will so Jonelle is in line for his estate. Linda goes to a lawyer and finds that, even though she and Shugfoot never married, they are common-law spouses and he'll have to get a legal divorce, so when Jonelle shows up, Linda sends her away. Jonelle trots her smokin' body down Main Street where she attracts lots of attention and heads off to stay with her sister Brenda, whose husband Jody, the town sheriff, happens to be who Jonelle was caught with years ago when she got booted out of town. Of course, old feelings surface and soon Jonelle and Jody are spending an illicit day together, skinny-dipping and making out, ending up getting a little soused in the back room of the local tavern. When Jody declines to continue their frolic, Jonelle does a striptease in front of the raucous crowd and a fat horny moonshiner named Bull gets all excited, whoops Jody's ass, and carts Jonelle off to his shack in the swamp. When she finds out that Bull makes regular deliveries of moonshine whisky to Shugfoot, she gets Bull to lace one of the bottles with arsenic, the plan being to kill off the old bastard and get his house and money for herself. But Linda has her own plan.

I've been watching a fair number of low-rent flicks lately, but this is about as low as they go. It's actually a mash-up of two batches of footage. The credited director is Eric Sayers, but most of the footage that involves Bull was shot separately by cheapie cult director Larry Buchanan. This footage also has a noticeably different actress playing Jonelle and no one seems to know for sure who's who. Lacey Kelly gets screen and IMDb credit, so I assume she's the main Jonelle, and she, in the words of Bette Davis in ALL ABOUT EVE, looks like she might burn down a plantation, or a bayou mansion—though to be clear, nothing burns here except Jonelle, and she's the main reason to stick with the movie. The other is the ending, which is oddly downbeat for a 60s drive-in exploitation movie. Annabelle Winnick is fine as Linda, and George Edgley is, well, effective as the old slimeball Shugfoot. Max Anderson as Jody does a nice job of seeming constantly befuddled by being caught between two sisters. Bull is uncredited, but frankly all he has to do is look disgusting and that he achieves. The sets are practically cardboard, and the mansion interior is worthy of Ed Wood. Some dialogue, mostly Bull's is awkwardly post-dubbed. There is a grungy, unwholesome feel to this film that actually adds to the viewing experience, even if never builds to the heights that the phrase "backwater soap opera" might engender. Best line is Jonelle to Bull as he indulges in his caveman-like seduction in his poorly lit shack: "A girl can learn a lotta lessons in the dark." (That's Jonelle pictured up right and Jody pictured above) [YouTube]

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

THE UNDERWATER CITY (1962)

The Institute of Oceanography is building the first permanent human settlement on the bottom of the sea and Dr. Halstead approaches renowned engineer Bob Gage (William Lundigan) to help design it. Gage is more interested in outer space efforts, but Halstead explains the importance of his project, to do research on how ocean circulation affects climate and to try and predict tidal waves—not to mention that below the ocean might be the only safe place to live if nuclear war breaks out. Gage signs on, but never really gets enthusiastic about his job until he starts flirting with Halstead's lovely niece Monica Powers (Julie Adams), a psychologist who will be studying human behavior under the sea. Gage designs and oversees production of a series of prefabricated buildings which are then lowered to the ocean floor and lived in, under the name Amphibia City, as the team prepares for a visit from government men. Other members of the team include a former cowboy and Navy frogman, a geologist, a nutritionist who prepares their meals—and who begins a flirtation with the cowboy—and a newlywed couple who spend their honeymoon underwater, and soon are expecting a child. Marlow, the cowboy, sneaks off occasionally to get a nip of whisky he found in a nearby wrecked ship (see photo at right), not realizing that a huge octopus is living just under the ship. When Monica follows him one day to see what he's up to, she gets caught in a sinkhole and is almost octopus food, though a moray eel distracts the octopus long enough for Monica to be rescued. But the sinkhole is a bad portent, and just after the government men arrive, it's discovered that the city is resting on an "undercutting" fault that could give way at any time.

This film has an intriguing storyline but too much time is spent on tedious exposition (some of it narrated) and not enough time is allowed to develop the characters or the situations. The cold war worry about atomic war could have been a fruitful subplot but takes up exactly one line of dialogue. Likewise, the married couple could have provided some melodramatic interest—living in such isolated conditions might cause tension, and worry over the birth might have given us a few minutes of concern, but plotwise, the two of them are kept on a back burner, though the wife does get to make a joke about the possibility of the baby having gills. The low budget is also a problem. The underwater city sets are OK, but the scenes of people in the water were filmed on a soundstage in slow motion with air bubbles added later, which is occasionally problematic. And finally, there's the so-so acting, starting with Lundigan—I like him in his 40s and early 50s movies, but he always did have a tendency to be a bit wooden, and that seems to have increased with age; a younger actor might have brought more energy to the role. Adams is bland but likeable; Chet Douglas is a standout as the cowboy. The climactic destruction scene is well done. Overall, watchable but not memorable. [Amazon streaming]

Friday, July 27, 2018

THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON (1958)

During an experiment, scientist Robert Clarke gets a large dose of radiation and falls ill. One doctor suspects the problem is mostly Clarke's well-known thirst for alcohol (fellow scientist Patrick Whyte tells lab assistant Patricia Manning—who seems to have a little crush on Clarke—that "whiskey and soda mix, not whiskey and science"). Clarke generally seems OK but he's kept in a hospital for observation. While on the roof therapeutically soaking in the rays of the sun, he falls asleep and when he awakens, he has transformed into a scaly monster with a, yes, hideous face. Getting out the sun returns him to normal. A doctor theorizes that the combination of the radioactivity and the sun's rays has somehow triggered a backwards evolution to our reptilian past. Facing a future as a kind of reverse werewolf, Clarke becomes depressed, quits his job, and stays at home and drinks. One night he winds up in a bar where he hits it off with singer (and wholesome sex kitten, if that makes sense) Nan Peterson. One night, she leaves with him and they have a midnight beach frolic, but when he wakes up at dawn, his transformation hits again and he flees in his car, leaving her stranded. The next time he meets up with her, some shady thugs decide to kick his ass for the way he treated her, but she takes him home for some more frolicking. Soon, however, one of the thugs returns for revenge, but when Clarke becomes the Sun Demon, he kills the thug and goes on the run. We know from other sci-fi films of the era that no good can come to him now.

This has a reputation, maybe based on the title, as an especially bad example of grade-Z moviemaking, but actually if you accept the low budget, it's not terrible—I know, faint praise. The story is full of holes and the sets are cheap looking, and the acting, aside from that of Clarke, who also directed, isn't stellar. But the general situation is as plausible as any other 50s tale of atomic fears, and the makeup for the Sun Demon is pretty effective. Clarke comes off as somewhat sympathetic but also to some degree a maker of his own problems—almost a film noir anti-hero—and is de facto a more interesting character than most 50s monster movie leads. I also enjoyed the full-figured Nan Peterson (whose chief acting credit seems to have been the title role in a 50s exploitation movie called LOUISIANA HUSSY) who tries hard to give her character a multi-dimensional—or at least, two-dimensional—feel. Patrick Whyte bore a passing resemblance to an older Helmut Griem, the decadent Maximilian in CABARET. This is no gem, but it's better than its rep, and is worth a watch. [Streaming]

Thursday, July 26, 2018

MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA (1948)

In New England at the end of the Civil War, Lavinia Mannon (Rosalind Russell) looks forward to the arrival of her father Ezra (Raymond Massey) and brother Orin (Michael Redgrave) from the war. She's been living with her mother Christine (Katina Paxinou) in the family mansion, and both women have a secret: Christine is in love with seaman Adam Brant; so is Lavinia. And the topper is that Adam is the illegitimate son of Ezra's brother. But incest seems to run in the family: when Ezra returns, we discover that Lavinia has an unhealthy obsession with him. (And as we'll soon discover, Orin seems almost equally obsessed with his mother.)  Erza wants to start over with the unhappy Christine, but when he has a heart attack, she gives him poison—which Adam helped her obtain—instead of medicine and he dies, and Lavinia figures out what happened. When the wounded and passive Orin returns home, Lavinia tells him of her suspicions and Orin kills Adam which leads Christine to kill herself. Brother and sister go off on a South Seas vacation and return to try and resume normal lives, but this proves impossible, in part because Orin is ashamed that Lavinia had a torrid affair with an islander, or so he thinks. When young Peter (Kirk Douglas) comes to court Lavinia, his sister Hazel sets her cap for Orin. Absolutely nothing good will come of these passions.

This almost three-hour film is an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill's play which is itself a modern version of the Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus. Little attempt is made to open the play up cinematically, and although this movie is generally disparaged by critics, it actually manages to sustain interest in the fashion of a soap opera. Russell (pictured with Redgrave) is too old for the Electra part, but once you get used to her, she holds with screen well opposite the commanding Massey (in the Agamemnon role) and Redgrave (Orestes). Paxinou looks the part but her strong Greek accent and her over-the-top histrionics work against her. However, it can be said—and has been—that all the actors go over-the-top in different ways, as that's what the material calls for. Redgrave comes off the best, though his character is not especially likable. Of course, it seems silly to talk about any O'Neill characters as likable; perhaps they can only be judged as more or less sympathetic. The young Kirk Douglas is not memorable, but that may partly be the weakness of his character. I'd avoided watching this for years, but I'm glad I overcame my prejudices based on critical perception and gave it a shot. [TCM]

Monday, July 23, 2018

BRIGHT LIGHTS (1930)

We meet Dorothy Mackaill on the last night of her hit musical, prancing about in her scanties and chatting with fellow performer and close friend Frank Fay about leaving her career to marry the rich, older, stuffy Philip Strange. In a scene that was copied later for SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, we hear Mackaill tell a reporter about her idyllic high-class past but what we see is how she really gained her performing experience, in rough-and-tumble bars in Africa where one night after her racy show, a drunken Portuguese smuggler (Noah Beery) assaults her in her dressing room; Fay comes to her rescue but when it looks like Berry gets the upper hand, Mackaill smashes a lamp against Berry's face and the two run for it. She tells the reporter about attending a fashionable girls school, but in reality she gets a job in a carnival as a hula dancer called Princess Lulu, accompanied by Fay who remains her protector. After Mackaill goes back onstage, we discover that Noah Berry, his face scarred by Mackaill's attack, is in the audience and seeking revenge. Will Fay, who's clearly been carrying a lifelong torch for Mackaill, be able to save her one more time, from both the dangerous Berry and from a loveless marriage?

Mackaill is largely forgotten today, perhaps partly because she left the business in the late 30s, but she was very active in the pre-Code era. Because of her vivid performance in the gloomy melodrama SAFE IN HELL, I think of her as a tragic type, but she's quite bubbly in THE FLIRTING WIDOW and she pulls off the carefree dancing girl role here quite well. If Fay is remembered today, it’s mostly as Barbara Stanwyck's troubled alcoholic husband, but he's quite good as well, pulling off a cocky yet vulnerable persona for the part of a pining lover. Frank McHugh steals most of his scenes as a drunken reporter who plays an important role in the climax of the film. Despite a murder in the last half, the movie retains a light tone, helped by a couple of fun production numbers. One, "I'm Crazy for Cannibal Love," is a wild comically exotic dance; in "Man About Town," Mackaill enters dressed in a tux and top hat, and then, surrounded by a gaggle of boy dancers, she changes into more a traditional female dance outfit. Recommended for fans of pre-Code musicals. Pictured are Mackaill and Fay. [TCM]

Friday, July 20, 2018

THE DESERT SONG (1943)

In 1939 French Morocco, a railroad is being built that will go from the north coast of Africa to the west coast, and the people of the tribe known as the Riffs are being rounded up and used as slave labor to build the railroad. But a mysterious figure known as El Khobar leads a band of rebel Riffs and successfully attacks work sites, freeing some of the enslaved. We soon discover that El Khobar is actually an American piano player named Paul Hudson (Dennis Morgan, at right) who shares an apartment with a war correspondent named Johnny. The movie is at pains to make us know that the villain here is not France itself but the local hotshot Youseff (Victor Francen) who is in league with the Nazis, secretly providing major financing for the railroad to use it for military purposes once they conquer the area. Other characters caught up in the action include night club singer Margot (Irene Manning), shady dealer Fan-Fan (Gene Lockhart), and a French colonel (Bruce Cabot) who is on the hunt for El Khobar but who might be persuaded to switch sides if he only knew the truth about the Nazis.

This is the second of three movie versions made of the Sigmund Romberg operetta, vaguely inspired by the activities of Lawrence of Arabia. The 1953 version is apparently relatively faithful to the play, but this version, by making the Nazis the bad guys, becomes something like a musical version of CASABLANCA, with Morgan in the Bogart role, Manning as a poor man's Ilsa, Francen as the Major Strasser figure, Cabot as Claude Rains' Capt. Renault, and even a Sydney Greenstreet stand-in with Gene Lockhart—and two actors from CASABLANCA, Marcel Dalio (the croupier) and Curt Bois (pickpocket) have small roles here. You can tell the two movies even shared some Moroccan street sets on the Warner Brothers lot.  The film begins well as it sets up the characters, and it always looks great in glorious Technicolor with impressive shots of the Riffs riding en masse through the desert (actually New Mexico), but the atmosphere of exotic mystery and adventure dissipates quickly and we get bogged down in, among other things, ineffective comic relief from Lynne Overman as Morgan's buddy Johnny (this element worked no better in the 1953 version) and lackluster acting from Manning as the leading lady. Even the songs feel weak, with most of them, set in a night club, stopping the action dead. Still, on balance, I enjoyed the film; Morgan makes a sturdy and handsome hero and Bruce Cabot is fine as the colonel who might eventually join Morgan's side. And did I mention the wonderful color (pictured at left)? [TCM]