Saturday, July 07, 2007

36 HOURS TO KILL (1936)

A peppy little B-movie of the "crime, reporters, and romance" type, set on a train (and just a bit reminiscent of BY WHOSE HAND?) and filled with familiar character actors. Douglas Fowley is a bank robber, hiding out with his wife, Isabel Jewell in a quiet suburb. Just as playing the friendly neighbor is getting to him, he discovers that he has a winning sweepstakes ticket and, incognito with his buddy Warren Hymer, hops a train to Kansas City to claim it. Also on the train: reporter Brian Donlevy, who is trying to get an interview with a scientist (who keeps insisting that he's not the person Donlevy thinks he is), and cute blonde Gloria Stuart, who hops on the train to avoid being served a subpoena. Naturally, Donlevy and Stuart hit it off, and just as naturally, neither one is quite whom they appear to be. When Jewell shows up at the Albuquerque stop, she thinks Fowley is sweet on Stuart and gets jealous. In Topeka, Fowley discovers that his compartment has been bugged by the law and he escapes, taking Stuart as a hostage and hiding out at a sanitarium run by a friend (Julius Tannen). Fowley has one last plan to claim the winning ticket, which climaxes in Donlevy’s return and some gunplay before a happy ending for Donlevy and Stuart. The film moves briskly and benefits from good performances, especially from Stuart and Fowley, and from some nice plot twists, a couple of which I didn't see coming. You'll recognize Charles Lane, Jonathan Hale, and Stepin Fetchit, who does his slacker/porter thing to a tee; it seems offensive at first, but here I could see the subversion that Fetchit's defenders have said is often a part of his performance. The film is based on a novel by W. R. Burnett, the author of Scarface and High Sierra, and it is occasionally referred to as 36 HOURS TO LIVE, though that title doesn’t seem as appropriate. This must have been out of circulation for a while, as it's difficult to find any critical comment on it, and the print that Fox Movie Channel aired is pristine. [FMC]

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