Monday, February 17, 2003


I'm sorry that more of the "poverty row" movies from studios like Monogram and PRC aren't readily available on cable. Many if not most of them are public domain and I think Turner Classic Movies could have some fun scheduling a few of these 60- to 70-minute movies in the middle of the night. Some are interesting for the presence of rising and, more often, falling stars. This one has Wallace Ford, rarely a leading man but always a pleasurable addition to a supporting cast in the 30's and 40's (EMPLOYEE'S ENTRANCE, SKYSCRAPER SOULS, ABSOLUTE QUIET, THE MUMMY'S HAND, and FREAKS, probably the closest he came to a "romantic" lead for a major studio). He sustained a career well into the early 60's--I've seen him fairly recently in two 50's films, THE RAINMAKER and THE MATCHMAKER. He has the lead in this, a comedy-thriller clearly made on the cheap but with some good performances. Relatives gather at the spooky old house of Aunt Cassie (Sarah Padden) who wants to determine the fitness of her family members as heirs. Murders begin happening right away. A complicating factor is that most of her family members have tried (but failed) to get Cassie judged insane. She's not, but she *is* eccentric, with an odd sense of humor (that comes with a strange stuttering chortle). Ford is a newspaperman who infiltrates the mansion and cracks the case. Marion Marsh is his love interest, oddly downplayed throughout. The real fun comes in a few self-referential moments. There are references to THE CAT AND THE CANARY and to the conventions of detective movies. At one point, Ford notes out loud that he is the "handsome juvenile," so no harm can come to him--and in this cast, despite being over 40, he *is* the juvenile. The last shot includes a mention of the Hayes office (enforcers of the Production Code). Enjoyable, as long as your expectations aren't too high.

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