Sunday, July 27, 2003

Three totally unrelated films:

LARCENY INC. (1942)--A humorous take on the gangster film with Edward G. Robinson as a con man just out of jail who decides to pull one last big heist before fulfilling a promise he made to his niece (Jane Wyman) to go straight. He buys a luggage store because he and his pals can dig through the cellar to the bank next door; they keep the store open as a front, but it becomes a money maker even as the dig stretches out in time due to various slapsticky delays. Woody Allen basically stole the idea and even specific situations for the first half of SMALL TIME CROOKS (except he replaces the luggage with donuts), most noticeably the scene where the crooks dig into the water pipes. Robinson is good as always and he gets strong support from Broderick Crawford, Edward Brophy, Harry Davenport, John Qualen, and a young Jackie Gleason. Jack Carson is Wyman's boyfriend and Anthony Quinn is the *bad* bad guy. The funniest scenes (aside from the spraying water) involve watching the gang adjust to retail success. There's also a nice Christmas Eve ending.

CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935)--This launched Errol Flynn as a swashbuckling superstar, and he is fine in the title role (literally, as his name is Peter Blood), but the movie is surprisingly slow and bland. With PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN such a big summer hit, it's interesting to note that this is probably the movie that is the archetype for all movies about "good" pirates. Flynn is a doctor in England who is thrown in prison for tending to the wounds of a rebel. He eventually winds up in Jamaica, sold in slavery to Olivia De Havilland, and put to work on her father's plantation. Eventually, of course, love springs up between De Havilland and Flynn, much to the disapproval of her father (Lionel Atwill). As the slaves plan to rebel, the Spanish attack Jamaica; in the confusion, Flynn and his pals escape and become pirates (indeed, of the Caribbean...). Basil Rathbone is a "bad" rival pirate, Guy Kibbee is one of the good pirates. All those who should, get their comeuppances. Parts of this are OK, but much of it comes off as lackluster, perhaps in unfair comparison to later films like ROBIN HOOD or THE BLACK SWAN.

THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG (1939)--Boris Karloff plays the first of his "mad scientist" roles as Dr. Saavard who has created an artificial heart system that can revive the dead heart of a human being. He tries to test it on a willing subject but is stopped by the police; because the subject dies, Karloff is charged with murder. After his hanging, he is revived by his assistant using the artificial heart and decides to get revenge on the judge and jury that convicted him. Some interesting philosophical ideas about the concept of life after death are brought up but don't go anywhere. Charles Trowbridge is the judge and Lorna Gray (who later changed her name to Adrian Booth and appeared in lots of B-westerns) is Karloff's daughter. Aside from Karloff's usual good performance, this is a standard grade-B thriller with nothing special plotwise or stylewise.

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