Monday, September 29, 2003


A Poverty Row B-noir that can hold its own up against most any 40's B-film from Warners or RKO. In the opening, Dick Elliott plays a drunken conventioneer in a papier-mache lion's mask who carelessly throws around a lot of money at a hotel bar in Philadelphia. We see a man (from behind) chat up the drunk. Next morning, Elliott is found dead (in the lion mask) by the maid. Meanwhile, Kim Hunter, a young newlywed from Ohio, has arrived in New York City to meet her husband (Dean Jagger), a salesman who was supposed to show up there from Philadelphia. They married in a hurry, after only three dates, and when he doesn't show up, she confides in an old boyfriend (Robert Mitchum) who is coincidentally staying in the same hotel she's in. Jagger eventually shows up but is acting strange, like he's hiding something. The plot takes a few twists from there, some predictable, some not, to a satisfying ending.

For such a cheap and quickly made film, it looks pretty good, making the best of limited sets and a small cast. The single best set is of a Harlem dance club populated with many extras and a joyous dancing couple who get the spotlight for a minute, in a scene that really doesn't have much to do with the plot, but does add some interesting atmosphere. Noir conventions like jazzy music, dark streets, and blinking neon signs are present. The climax involves a Hitchcockian scene of a crucial letter stuck in a mail drop. The actors (who all went on to bigger things) are good, though the characterizations, especially of the two men, leave much to be desired, a problem of writing, not acting. In a nifty in-joke scene, Hunter uses a photo of the movie's director, William Castle, as a decoy for the cops. Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon on TV's "Batman") plays a cop; Elliott, the dead man, played the mayor of Mayberry on "The Andy Griffith Show." Not necessarily one to hunt down, but a pleasant surprise if you run across it on cable (as I did, on Encore Mystery).

Saturday, September 27, 2003


At the tail end of the pre-Code era came this interesting film (a little comedy, a lot of drama, and even some music) about a girl who seems to be bad but is really almost too good to be true. Joan Crawford is the daughter of a cook to a rich family; Franchot Tone is the rich son, a lawyer. Tone sees Crawford after a couple of years away and, in a plotline used years later in SABRINA, is swept off his feet. The light tone of their flirtation is shattered when Crawford, helping to serve dinner, overhears Tone badmouth her boyfriend (Gene Raymond) who was fired by the family because of suspicion of thievery. Crawford goes bananas and berates Tone at the dinner table, then storms out, heading to New York City with Raymond. They get a cheap apartment by saying that they're married, and in a scene that probably wouldn't have been possible a few months later when the Production Code was being enforced, we see Crawford and Raymond spending the night together--at the fadeout, she's in bed and he's in a chair, but still...

The next day, they both land nightclub jobs; Crawford is a dancer in town, but Raymond hooks up with Esther Ralston and goes on tour with her, leaving Crawford alone in the big city. She winds up marrying chronically drunk millionaire Edward Arnold in order to save his life, then some time later, discovers that Raymond has been dumped by Ralston and is languishing sick and alone. More sacrifice and melodrama is ahead for all, including Tone who reenters the picture. That's a lot of plot for a 90 minute movie but it all comes off pretty well. Crawford is very good, as is Arnold, though his drunk routine gets old fast. Leo G. Carroll has a nice bit as Arnold's butler, who is antagonistic toward Crawford because he thinks she's just a golddigger, and Jean Dixon is a kindly landlady. Basically, everyone winds up a good egg at heart. I'm not a big fan of the fair-haired, passive Raymond, but he's OK here, and he gets a very nice scene (the aforementioned bedroom scene) where he plays the ukelele and serenades Crawford by singing "All I Do Is Dream of You." Another song, "After You've Gone," is sung by a nighclub band to the drunken Arnold. Ralston is remarkably modern looking. Tone is his usual bland self, mostly standing around looking shocked and angry. Overall, very entertaining; an underrated gem.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003


Rod Steiger is the title character, the manager of a pawnshop in Harlem; he survived the Holocaust but he saw his family degraded and killed. He has become numb to both the joys and the suffering of the people around him (his family, his acquaintances, and his customers). People's sob stories, told as they dicker with him for more money, don't affect him, and neither do attempts by others to initiate friendly relationships. A neighborhood woman (Geraldine Fitzgerald) tries for something like a romance, but is rebuffed. Jaime Sanchez is a worker at the pawnshop who tries to approach him as a mentor, but Steiger is reluctant to be even that. Brock Peters is a gangster who owns the building and uses the shop as a money-laundering front. Peters' pimping brings back horrific memories to Stieger of seeing his wife raped by Nazis. In the end, Sanchez, who has been looking for a way out of the thuggish life he seems destined for, helps his pals rob the pawnshop, an event that leads to the inevitable tragic ending. Flashbacks to Steiger's past are done mostly in lightning-fast glimpses. The black and white cinematography enhances the bleak atmosphere, though the loud Quincy Jones score doesn't really fit. There is an interesting visual motif of fences and gates to reinforce Steiger's separation from humanity. Steiger is very good, but so is Jaime Sanchez, an appealing actor whose career didn't take off like it should have. A 60's classic of alienation that fits right in with movies like DARLING, THE COLLECTOR, and BLOW-UP.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

A YANK IN THE R.A.F. (1941)

One of several pre-war propaganda films set in England designed to promote our eventual entrance in the war. Ultimately, however, this one is more focused on characterization and romance. Tyrone Power is an American pilot who is paid to fly planes being "loaned" to Canada and flown to England (this was a way of technically remaining neutal before Pearl Harbor). Power has no particular stake in the war effort until he meets up with old flame Betty Grable over in London; to impress her, he joins the Royal Air Force. He winds up with a rival for Grable's affections (John Sutton). Power is cocky and impatient; when his first flying assignment culminates in dropping leaflets over Berlin instead of bombs, he decides to drop the leaflets by the box and manages to put out a few searchlights on the ground. Soon, the missions get more dangerous and a friend (Reginald Gardiner) dies heroically. This causes Power to gain more respect for his job and he winds up in a life-threatening position at Dunkirk. I like the fact that the movie has a little more to it than the typical propaganda piece of the time, and it's interesting that Power's character is mostly rather unlikeable, even in the end. He meets Grable when posing as a volunteer during an air raid drill and at the very end, he is still using subterfuge to get ahead romantically. Apparently, some of the airplane footage was shot under dangerous circumstances, though the nighttime scenes are patently artificial (but still effective). Not an important film, but entertaining.

Friday, September 19, 2003


A WWII propaganda film without much propaganda. In fact, it's barely a war movie at all--it's really a story of female bonding in the military that doesn't bother to make much of use its wartime background, perhaps because it came out fairly late in the war (spring of '45). Lana Turner is a rich playgirl who is in danger of losing her inheritance because of her decadent ways, so she joins the Womens Army Corps to prove her mettle, then plans on skipping out on her military obligation as soon as she gets the money. Laraine Day is the gung-ho daughter of a general (Henry O'Neill). Susan Peters is the quiet, seemingly more vulnerable one whose husband is at the front. The three bond, then fight, then bond, etc. Turner and Day spend most of the movie at each other's throats and Peters keeps trying to be loyal to both of them. The playgirl winds up finding that being a WAC is inspiring and gets serious about officer training, but Day isn't convinced that she's got the right stuff, leading to complications that affect all three of them. Agnes Moorehead has a small but important role as an officer who has to step in at a crucial point. There's an interesting supporting cast including June Lockhart, Lee Patrick, and Natalie Schafer (Mrs. Howell from "Gilligan's Island"). Naturally, Turner's high society pals are portrayed as unpatriotic, drunken fops. An amusing line, from Day to Turner: "I'll slap you right across that smirk that you call a smile!" Worth seeing mostly for Turner and Day.

Monday, September 15, 2003


This weak follow-up (but not sequel) to TWO GUYS FROM MILWAUKEE has Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson as a vaudeville team who, while driving through Texas, are stranded at a dude ranch. Dorothy Malone, the owner, is a bit wary of putting the two up while the police look for their stolen car but Penny Edwards, an old friend and ex-partner of the team, vouches for them. Predictable romantic complications occur along with the particularly bizarre plot twist that Carson has a phobia of all animals. Fred Clark, a veterinarian who is hired by Morgan to get the roots of Carson's problems, decides it all stems from romantic insecurity. Forrest Tucker, looking quite young and fair, is a local cop who who is set to marry Malone. The car thieves show up and make even more trouble for the leading men before everything gets worked out for the best. The silly storyline is just an excuse for the frequent and fairly bland songs (except for one clever number, "I Wanna Be a Cowboy in the Movies") and comedy routines. Bugs Bunny has a cameo. Whatever appeal this movie has is solely due to the charms of Morgan and Carson, but I think even their fans will be glad to see this one end.

Saturday, September 13, 2003


In the post-war years, Warner Brothers tried to make Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson a comedy/musical team. The two are amiable enough and Morgan always makes a convincing romantic lead, but they mostly come off as a B-grade version of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Though they had appeared together in a few movies earlier in the 40's, this was the first of their lead pairings and it's their best (though THE TIME, THE PLACE, AND THE GIRL, reviewed Feb. 2002, is quite fun as well). Morgan plays a European prince (with absolutely no trace of an accent) who arrives in New York City on the eve of an important vote in his country on whether to keep a monarchy or go democratic. He wants to see life as a commoner and gets his guardian (S. Z. Sakall) to give him 24 hours of liberty (away from bodyguards and press) to experience America on his own. After he sneaks off his train, he meets up with a friendly cabbie (Carson); they get drunk and spend the night at Carson's house where he lives with his sister (Rosemary DeCamp) and her little daughter. The next morning Carson finds out Morgan's real identity (after having crashed in the same bed, Carson blurts out, "Me--sleeping with a prince!") and Carson agrees to keep Morgan's secret. Soon, Morgan winds up sweet on Carson's girl (Joan Leslie) and complications ensue. By a little past the halfway point, the plot machinations become a bit tedious but the actors keep it watchable. Janis Paige is another love interest, and John Ridgely and Franklin Pangborn have small roles. There are references to THE BIG SLEEP and GASLIGHT, and Lauren Bacall (whom Morgan has wanted to meet all along) and Humphrey Bogart have cameos in the last scene. The climax of the story involves a out-of-the-blue pro-democracy speech that Carson makes over the radio, in a sudden burst of post-war patriotism. Overall, the chemistry between Morgan and Carson makes the movie enjoyable.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003


A potentially interesting plotline is done in by a miscast star. Ginger Rogers plays a young working-class woman from the Bronx who saves up money to treat herself to a 2-week vacation at a mountain camp in the Catskills. She hopes to meet some smart and charming people, and she does fall in with some lively female friends, including Eve Arden (with a wildly broad accent) Lucille Ball, and Peggy Conklin, but she takes an instant dislike to the smartest and most charming male in the vicinity, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., a law school student working at the camp for the summer. Of course, since Rogers and Fairbanks are top-billed, we know they'll eventually get together, even though they never really seem like a good match. Red Skelton is Itchy, the slapstick social director, in his first movie role. Jack Carson has a couple of scenes as Rogers' neighborhood beau; Lee Bowman is Buzzy who becomes a romantic complication; Grady Sutton and Allan Lane are also in the cast, and apparently Ann Miller had a few scenes which were cut before release. For a short movie, it wears out its welcome rather quickly, after a breezy 20 minutes or so. Noteable for a character's use of the phrase "truckin'." The real problem with the movie may be that, in the original play, Rogers' character was Jewish (and I imagine, so was Fairbanks), but any ethnic humor or situations are missing from this version and it becomes simply an uninspired, run-of-the-mill romantic comedy.

Sunday, September 07, 2003


A very funny satire (fairly over-the-top for the early 50's, I would imagine) of TV game shows that remains relevant today. Ronald Colman is Beauregard Bottomley, an unemployed scholar and maybe the smartest man alive; he lives in a Hollywood bungalow with his sister, Barbara Britton. It's not clear why he doesn't have a job, but consistent characterization is not the film's strong suit. He applies for a job working on demographics for Milday Soap Company ("the soap that sanctifies") as they are beginning to test a new hand soap that doubles as a toothpaste. In his meeting with Milday's president, Burnbridge Waters (Vincent Price), Colman makes a joke about foaming at the mouth and Price refuses to hire him. To get revenge, Colman becomes a contestant on a TV quiz show that Milday sponsers. He knows all the answers and keep returning week after week, doubling his winnings and threatening to bankrupt the company. Price hires a very smart and lovely lady, Flame O'Neill (Celeste Holm), to probe him for his weakness. Meanwhile, Colman's sister falls for Art Linkletter, the host of the quiz show and soon, Colman is in love with Holm. Then things really start getting wild.

The whole cast is good here, but Price is the standout, being very funny in a way that he was never allowed to be again once he was typecast as a horror star. His character is a pretentious cad who slips into trances in the middle of casual conversations; his underlings say that he is "no longer on this plane." Linkletter is much better than I would have expected, considering his real-life TV host duties and the fact that this is his only movie acting job ever. The Milday headquarters is a surreal place with sculptures of human arms (a la Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) jutting from the walls, holding soap bubbles, and disembodied voices serving as receptionists. Ellye Marshall (later one of the CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON) is fun as Frosty, a bit player in the movies ("she does her work a little bit here, a little bit there...") who is a neighbor of Colman's. There is clear evidence of one major deleted scene toward the end with Price in a dripping wet suit--we have no idea how he got that way. Caesar is Colman's parrot, voiced by Mel Blanc, who is always asking for a drink. A very funny movie which doesn't crop up on cable much but is now available on DVD.

Friday, September 05, 2003


Another anti-feminist comedy-fable from the Production Code 30's. Barbara Stanwyck is making good money as a model but her boyfriend (Gene Raymond) wants her to quit her job and marry him, a poor and stuggling engineer. She doesn't want to quit but is eventually persuaded. Soon they are in debt and their furniture is repossessed on New Year's Eve, but a drunken playboy (Robert Young) who has admired Stanwyck for some time gets the furniture back before Raymond knows what has happened. Soon Stanwyck is back at work behind her husband's back; of course, he finds out, they split up, Young threatens to step in, Raymond wants her back, etc. Guess what? Raymond gets her back and she agrees not to work (despite many unpaid bills). The chemistry between Stanwyck and Young is good, which unfortunately highlights the relative lack of chemistry between Stanwyck and Raymond. Helen Broderick (in her usual role as the best friend, and the real reason to watch the movie) and Ned Sparks are quite good as a bickering couple. Billy Gilbert and Hattie McDaniel have small roles. One dialogue gem: Sparks: "You didn't have a rag on your back when I met you"; Broderick: "I've got plenty of them now!" Another one: Stanwyck: "Why did you get married?"; Broderick: "I dunno--it was raining, we were in Pittsburgh..."

Wednesday, September 03, 2003


An archetypal hard-boiled film noir, based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, which clearly was an influence on the Coen brothers when they made MILLER'S CROSSING. The convoluted plot doesn't matter as much as the character dynamics. Brian Donleavy is a big-shot political boss and Alan Ladd is his trusted right-hand man. Donleavy decides to support a judge (Moroni Olson) in an election and winds up sweet on the judge's daughter (Veronica Lake). Ladd isn't sure the whole thing is such a good idea as it sets up some bad blood with a gangster (Joseph Calleia). The judge's son, an effete wimp played by Richard Denning, ends up dead and Donleavy is implicated, partly because his sister (Bonita Granville) was dating Denning. Ladd, as his counterpart Gabriel Byrne does in MILLER'S CROSSING, seems to betray his boss but is actually sniffing around trying to clear Donleavy. There is more, but that's the crucial plotline.

Ladd ends up in the hands of Calleia's goons and suffers an extensive and brutal beating (more precisely, a series of beatings) from brawny William Benedix. Many critics find homoeroticism in this relationship, as Benedix keeps calling Ladd "sweetheart" and seems unduly excited about dishing out the beatings. Ladd's make-up after he's been worked over is unusually realistic for the era; his face is pulped and he's almost unrecognizable. He escapes in a great sequence involving a fire, an awning, and a kitchen. There is a subplot with a shady newspaper editor and his wife, with whom Ladd flirts. Dane Clark has a small role as a thug who gets thrown through a plate glass window in an early scene, then gets more punishment later on. Lillian Randolph, the Bailey's maid in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, is a nightclub singer. The happy ending is rather improbable (and apparently quite different from the novel's outcome), but it doesn't ruin what's come before. The most interesting scene is the one where Benedix catches up with Ladd and takes him up to his squalid little room to finish the beating (to the death, perhaps)--the tension is high, but the violence, when it comes, winds up aimed at a surprising target. I'm not really a big Alan Ladd fan, but he's very good here; Lake doesn't have a lot to do. Quite good, and a must see for fans of film noir and/or the Coen Brothers.

Monday, September 01, 2003

End of Summer Catch-Up

The first English-language sound version of Dumas' novel, and a very drab and low-spirited movie. Walter Abel, a solid supporting actor who I liked very much as the manager in HOLIDAY INN, is totally miscast as the youthful, romantic D'Artagnan. Paul Lukas, another actor I usually like, seems a bit too old to play Athos, leader of the Musketeers. He's clearly a pro, however, which is more than can be said for much of the rest of the cast. The whole thing comes off like a bunch of amateurs found some cool sets, costumes, and movie cameras lying around an abandoned studio and decided to have at it. A stage actress named Rosamond Pinchot does a nice job as the queen; this is the only movie she ever made. Heather Angel is OK as Constance, Abel's love interest. The swordplay is unconvincing and the cinematography uninspired. Stick with the glossy MGM version with Gene Kelly.

A romantic farce that set off quite a stir among the censors. It's all about what happens when a young unmarried couple (Priscilla Lane and Jeffrey Lynn) head off for a weekend together at a private cabin in the woods. Fay Bainter plays Lane's mother, a woman who in the past had been a Greenwich Village bohemian feminist but who now holds more solidly middle-class suburban values. Lynn is about to leave for three years overseas and he and Lane decide a last weekend together is in order. Even though we're pretty sure nothing untoward will happen, their plans still send the family into conniptions. A strong supporting cast includes Ian Hunter as the father and May Robson as the lively grandmother, who is the catalyst for the story's last act (in which almost everyone spend the night in jail). Roland Young is his usual fine self as a former friend (and, we are to assume, lover) of Bainter's from the old days who happens to show up for the weekend. Things work out in the end, though only through the sacrifice of character consistency and a sense of reality. Fun if seen as a period piece (the central premise would hardly cause a stir today).

Silly B-movie fluff which wastes completely the potential of its two adult stars. Mary Astor plays a widow who impulsively marries a rather stuffy professor (Herbert Marshall). Her kids (Susan Peters and Elliot Reid) plot to get them to divorce so they can leave their boring college town and move back to New York City. Astor is reliable as always, but the plot never rises above Brady Bunch-type sitcom shenanigans. Richard Carlson is a young academic who Peters secretly marries. George Dolenz, father of Monkee Mickey Dolenz, is in the cast, and supposedly Ava Gardner has a bit part, though I didn't see her.