Saturday, August 24, 2002

More End-of-Summer Catching Up

MR. MOTO'S LAST WARNING (1939)--It's difficult not to compare Moto to Charlie Chan (in fact, there's a cute little self-referential joke when we see a partially-obscured poster for a Chan movie). I can't speak with authority about the whole series since I've only seen this one Moto movie, but this was certainly more exciting than your typical Chan flick, less a mystery than a spy thriller; it was quite atmospheric and Lorre made a fine Moto (unlike Oland & Toler, he seemed a little less locked into a cultural stereotype). George Sanders was quite good (and very young looking) as one of the bad guys, and John Carradine, looking exactly like John Carradine, has a part as a relatively disposable good guy. Not great, but good.

PANAMA HATTIE (1942) was ridiculous and very hard to get through. I don't like Red Skelton, but he wasn't even the worst thing about this movie. Skelton, Ben Blue, and Rags Ragland are sailors who frequent a club in Panama where Ann Sothern sings and dances. Eventually, they all get mixed up with spies, and there's a subplot involving Dan Dailey, as Sothern's fiance, and his young daughter, who doesn't get along with Sothern. The spy plot has so many loopholes, even the director seems to know it, and it all just falls apart about 10 minutes before the end. But the musical numbers kept my interest: Lena Horne does "Just One of Those Things" and Ann Sothern does "I've Still Got My Health." Best of all is one of my favorite novelty singers, Virginia O'Brien, who specialized in stand-still, deadpan singing; she's very funny. She didn't do a lot of movies, but she's always worth watching.

MILLION DOLLAR LEGS (1932)--One of the most tedious comedies I've ever subjected myself to, worth it only for some prime bits by W. C. Fields. Apparently, Fields hadn't yet worked out his familiar screen persona yet--this was the first of his Paramount movies, before he was given free rein--but he still steals every scene he's in. Playing the president of Klopstockia, he reminded me of a cross between Groucho Marx in DUCK SOUP and Mel Brooks in BLAZING SADDLES. The plot is ridiculous; the Marxes could get away with this kind of stuff because they were geniuses, but with a lumbering cast led by the very unfunny Jack Oakie, the whole thing falls flat. Aside from Fields, the only other notable appearance is by Hugh Herbert, before he made that strange, wheezing, "woo-woo" laugh his trademark.

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