Saturday, November 23, 2002

Two miscellaneous oddities:

DON'T BET ON BLONDES (1935)--A silly trifle. Warren William plays a bookie who goes legit running an business in which he charges lots of money to insure against improbable things (I assume this is based a little on the reputation of Lloyd's of London). He insures a male model's neckline (the model doesn't care about his belly, but his neck must be in good shape) and the bellowing voice of a woman who wins prizes in "husband calling" contests. One case involves a man who doesn't want his wife to have twins, which run in his family; she winds up delivering quintuplets, so William's company doesn't have to pay! The main plot involves Guy Kibbee as an eccentric man who lives off his daughter (Claire Dodd). He insures her against marriage so he can keep living off of her while he finishes writing a Civil War history book that will show that the South actually won. William steps in with his operatives and wrecks her romances (one with Errol Flynn in a small role), but William winds up falling for her himself. Complications ensue. Short but still a bit draggy, with tons of credibility problems. Mary Treen and William Gargan also appear. Not terribly notable except for a interesting use of split-screen during a horse race scene at the beginning.

UNDER SECRET ORDERS aka MADEMOISELLE DOCTEUR (1937)--I could find almost no references to this movie in my movie guides, and it ended up being more fun to track down info about this film than it was to watch it. Originally made as a French language film, it was remade with an English-speaking cast replacing everyone except leading lady Dita Parlo, as a Mata Hari-type spy in WWI (I think--the print I saw was very murky and choppy, and based on the running times I found for the movie, it must have been missing at least 10 minutes, so following the finer plot points was nearly impossible). Erich von Stroheim plays her boss, and he gives his usual somewhat wooden but sinister performance. Speaking of wooden, John Loder, a B-movie leading man, is the good guy here, who gets taken in by Parlo, but redeems himself at the end. The last shot, a stylized firing squad scene, is the best in the otherwise unimaginative and plothole-ridden movie.

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