Thursday, February 27, 2020


This WWII adventure starts as an American dressed in Arabian clothing races through the streets of a town in Libya and enters a woman's room. She's startled but he begs her to hide a rifle he is carrying; he swiped it from Sheik David as proof that the Nazis are running guns in order to bring about unrest among the local tribes. She reluctantly agrees; he escapes through a window just before Sheik David enters. As the Sheik is friendly with the woman, Nancy Brooks (Joan Woodbury), he believes her when she claims that no one entered her room. The American, reporter Mike Malone (Walter Woolf King), goes to the British embassy to report what he knows to diplomat Phillip Graham, but is stonewalled by an older employee named Forbes (H.B. Warner). Mike drags Forbes to Nancy's apartment, but she denies the entire incident. In short order, we meet the rest of the characters: the diplomat Graham who in fact knows about the gunrunning and resents Mike's amateur attempts at spying; Sheik Ibrahim, second in command to Sheik David—while David has close ties to the British, Ibrahim in anxious to do the Nazis' bidding; a Czech businessman named Streyer; and an Arab street vendor named Parkyarkarkus (pronounced "park your carcass"—he befriends Mike and serves mostly as comic relief). As situations develop, we learn that not all these folks are quite what they seem, and the question is, will Mike be a help or a hindrance in quashing the local uprising aimed at destabilizing the region?

This Poverty Row film plays out a little more competently than others of its kind, partly due to lots of use of stock footage of crowds and action. However, the footage is mostly from the silent movie era—the movements are unnaturally sped up.  I didn't find it all that bothersome, but your mileage may vary. Otherwise, it's an average low-budget wartime thriller without much in the way of actual thrills, but packed with plot (and the requisite plot holes that come with a low budget). Walter Woolf King plays the mostly unlikable hero and Joan Woodbury fades into the woodwork as Nancy, who turns out to be a British agent. Warner, a big star in silent movies, is top-billed though he doesn't get all that much screen time, and he seems like he's sleepwalking through the role—though a few years later he gives a strong performance as the druggist in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. In an odd turn, Parkyarkarkus, the character, is played by Parkyarkarkus, the actor. He is an acquired taste; I don't find him all that funny but he doesn't offend or irritate me, either. In real life, he was Harry Parke, father to comic actors Albert Brooks and Bob Einstein. William Vaughn chews the scenery ineffectively as the Nazi villain. The best performances, partly due to their subtlety, are given by Duncan Renaldo as Sheik David and Howard Banks as Graham. Fans of Poverty Row films will enjoy this, but others can give this a pass. Pictured are King and Banks. [YouTube]

Tuesday, February 25, 2020


The rich Mrs. Eleanor Ramsey is stuck in an unhappy marriage with two grown stepchildren who don't like her; her lover Carl has left her for young Dorothy, one of the stepchildren, but is willing to leave the girl alone if Eleanor will pay him off. Now she's getting threatening letters which she suspects are from Carl, but she doesn't want to go to the police for fear of public scandal, so she calls private eye Michael Shayne to investigate. Shayne is smarting from a public spanking (verbal) from police chief Rafferty who uses him as a prime example of the unscrupulous detective, but he takes the job, with some help from his secretary Phyllis. Shayne immediately gets thrown a curve when Mr. Ramsey, in deep financial trouble, asks for Shayne's help to stage a robbery of his wife's jewels so he can get the insurance money on them. Joe, an ex-con pal of Shayne's, gets wind of the plan and, against Shayne's wishes, heads to the Ramsey mansion to pull off the fake robbery. Next morning, both Joe and Eleanor are dead; Mr. Ramsey shot Joe when it appeared he was attacking Eleanor. Rafferty assumes that Joe was working with Shayne and threatens to pin something on Shayne. Meanwhile, two sideline characters, ex-con Duell Renslow, now a night club manager, and Mona, a hostess at the club, become suspects (Duell is revealed as Eleanor's brother) as do the nasty stepkids, Dorothy and Ernest. When Phyllis insists on helping out more directly by working her way into the affections of the slimy playboy Carl (still a suspect), all hell breaks loose until Shayne gathers the suspects in one room for the unmasking of the killer.

Michael Shayne had been played in a series of B-mysteries by stalwart supporting actor Lloyd Nolan. When the series went to Poverty Row studio PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation, not Poverty Row Company, though that name would fit, too), Hugh Beaumont, who had been appearing in mostly uncredited roles in films since 1940, took over for a short run in the role and, though it didn’t raise his profile much in movies, he did go on to fame as the dad in TV's Leave It to Beaver. He doesn't really set Shayne apart from other B-movie detectives, but he is breezy and pleasant, and knows how to take a beating—he gets his ass kicked about four times in the movie but never gives up. The overall tone is light, not noir, and the one hour running time keeps things moving. The supporting cast is undistinguished but not without its high points. Cheryl Walker, who had only a few credited roles in 40s B-movies, retired not long after this, though she's fine as the buttinsky secretary. Well-established character actor Lyle Talbot isn't given enough to do in the red herring role of Eleanor's brother. George Meeker makes Carl nicely slimy, and Julia McMilan and David Reed are promising as the stepchildren but don't get enough screen time to develop their characters beyond their initial impression as unlikeable. Not exactly a buried gem, but I'll probably watch more of these now that they are available on DVD as a set from Classic Flix. [DVD]

Thursday, February 20, 2020


The Earl is returning to his home after several years away, having been stationed in the tropics as governor of the Coconut Islands. The servants, happy to have him back, have put up a big "Welcome Home" banner, but stuffy Lady Mary, the Earl's sister, and the even stuffier Gerald, the Earl\'s grandson, think it’s just too vulgar and make them take it down. When the Earl arrives, with his faithful butler Bembridge, he is sad that there is no banner. Right off the bat, we know how the alliances will go here: the relatively down-to-earth Earl and his butler will stand opposed to the sister and the grandson, with Elaine, the pleasant granddaughter, trying to bridge the gap. The Earl tells the family stories of his adventures which they are quite bored by, but one of them involves a native girl named Lapis, daughter of a tribal king, who fell in love with the butler. That night, Bembridge discovers that Lapis packed herself in one of the Earl's trunks and has accompanied them home. He tries to keep her scantily-clad presence secret, but when she is caught taking a bath in the kitchen sink, the secret is out. That night, at a welcome home party, Lapis is introduced to the guests, but she enters the room stark naked, scandalizing and pleasing people in equal measure. When reports reach the Earl that Lapis' father thinks she’s been kidnapped and has started a local war, he realizes something must be done.

This British B-comedy from the pre-horror Hammer studios is fun enough, though the acting and direction are just about par for this kind of lower-budget film. Edward Rigby as the Earl is fine if colorless; Henry Mollison as the butler is a bit better, keeping a stoic face while hinting at hidden depths that might attract the uninhibited Lapis; the most fun seems to be had by the actors playing the villains—Eleanor Hallam as Lady Mary and, especially, Michael Ward as Gerald, whose strained and high-pitched voice is hilariously obnoxious. Mercy Haystead as Lapis is sexy and whimsical but not very exotic, looking looking as pale as the Earl's family. Good support is offered by Peter Burton as a reporter who falls for Elaine, and Tonie MacMillan as Mrs. Thimble, the cook. The dialogue is amusing without really being witty, so its effectiveness is mostly due to the delivery (the strengths of Hallam and Ward). The ending is particularly satisfying. Pictured are Haystead and Mollison. [YouTube]

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


Model Marsha Mitchell (Ginger Rogers) has taken a detour on her way to her latest job to the small town of Rock Point to visit her sister Lucy (Doris Day) whom she hasn't seen since Lucy got married more than a year ago. She arrives in the evening and finds it unusual that most of the town near the bus depot has already shut down; even the taxi driver claims he can't take another fare. As Marsha walks to Lucy's house, she witnesses a gang of men dressed in robes and hoods bring a tied-up prisoner out of the courthouse and beat him. As the prisoner runs away, one of the hooded men shoots him dead. He pulls off his hood and Marsha, hiding in the shadows, gets a good look at him. In a daze, Marsha walks to Lucy's home where their happy reunion is short-circuited when Lucy's husband Hank (Steve Cochran) comes home and Marsha recognizes him as the killer. She can't hide her knowledge and Hank breaks down and admits it, claiming it was a terrible accident—the reporter had been snooping around writing an exposé of the town as a center of Ku Klux Klan activity, and the Klansmen had just wanted to scare him away, but things got out of hand. Marsha buys his story—though we see that Cochran actually feels no remorse—and plans to leave the next morning, but when prosecutor Burt Rainey (Ronald Reagan) finds out she was a witness, he tries to convince her to stay and speak out at the inquest. Marsha is put under pressure and pulled in different directions by the law, the KKK, and Lucy and Hank; with the very real danger of revenge weighing on her mind, she feels trapped.

This is a somewhat unusual social issue movie in that we are never shown exactly why the Klansmen are bad people. Of course, an audience in 1951 would know (as would an audience of today), but the viewer has to make assumptions about the Klan to imagine that they aren't just some small-fry bullying hooligans—no activity against African-Americans or Jews is shown here, and the biggest worry of the Klan leader (played by Hugh Sanders), aside from the murder charge, is that a reporter might find out that he has been funneling dues money from Klan members into his own pocket, and could be brought up on charges of income tax evasion. The leads, Rogers and Reagan, both seem unwilling to commit fully to their parts: Reagan more or less sleepwalks through the movie, and Rogers usually looks more irritated than scared or outraged. Cochran and Day, however, are quite good as they enact a "Streetcar Named Desire" dynamic, with Cochran as the sexy but brutal animalistic husband and Day as the peppy new wife who blissfully ignores any problems. Day is especially good playing against type—this was her first non-musical comedy role. The movie has a noir feel to it, right through to the downbeat ending, and fans of film noir will enjoy this. Pictured are Day, Rogers and Cochran. [DVD]

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


At a fancy dinner party at Blackmoor Castle, Lucius Clark announces that he is soon to be knighted by the Queen. Outside the castle, the dogs are barking up a storm, unnoticed by the partygoers but raising an alarm among the groundskeepers and the (possibly sinister) butler, Anthony. Tom, the handsome gardener, is attacked and killed by a masked figure who leaves the letter "M" branded on his forehead, though his body isn't found until the next morning. After the guests leave, the killer enters the house and confronts Clark, saying, "A thief and a murderer shall never be a knight of the realm"; he claims he will avenge the death of Clark's old friend Charles Manning and demands that Clark give up six million pounds worth of diamonds that (he says) Clark stole from Manning. Clark very coolly refuses to give in, even at gunpoint, so the masked man warns he will make Clark's life a living hell until he gives in. We are soon introduced to the other characters: Clark's niece Claridge who is trying to make a name for herself as a local reporter; Mike, a fellow reporter and friend who agrees to work with Claridge on the story of the Blackmoor killer; Inspector Mitchell and his assistant Watson who keep finding more castle staff strangled; the lavishly mustachioed Edgar (a Scot in a kilt) who actually owns the castle but rents it to Clark; and a young boy named Flip who knows his way around the various caves and secret passages underneath the Blackmoor estate. We soon discover that Clark is trying surreptitiously to sell the diamonds to Tavish, the owner of the Old Homestead Inn; a lawyer named Tromby is in some partnership with him; and Judy, a sexy blond barmaid at the inn, may be a key to the mysteries that pile up, along with the bodies—more than one of which is killed not by strangulation but by decapitation.

This German movie is based on a book by Bryan Edgar Wallace, son of the famous thriller writer Edgar Wallace (who was a co-creator of King Kong). Nearly 200 movies have been made based on books by Wallace the father—most of them, for some reason, made by German film companies—and Bryan himself has twenty film credits for film writing or adaptations. A lot of plot is crammed into this, and I got a bit lost in the twists and turns of the story—there's a character who is decapitated while riding a motorcycle and I had no idea who he was—but things mostly get sorted out in the end. The explanation of the revenge plot is interesting and I must admit that the identity of the killer came as a complete surprise to me. It's always difficult for me to judge acting in movies which are dubbed into English, but the German actors all do their jobs well. Karin Dor (Claridge) made a number of German Edgar Wallace thrillers but is probably better known by cult movie fans for her appearance in The Face of Fu Manchu and as a Bond Girl in You Only Live Twice. Harry Riebauer (Mitchell) and Walter Giller (Edgar) had long careers in German movies and TV. The print of this I saw on YouTube is rather murky, but that goes along with its "old dark house" atmosphere. Not really a horror movie, but good spooky-evening viewing. [YouTube]

Monday, February 10, 2020


There's a nationwide manhunt going on for killer "Dapper Dan" Geary who is hiding out in a hotel room doing crossword puzzles. His underling Jojo tells him he's "hotter than jailhouse coffee," and suggests they take it on the lam. Geary sees a picture of famous crime writer Stephen Morris in the paper and realizes he's a dead ringer for Morris except for the author's goatee, so the two take off for the backwoods of Manitoba, Canada, where Morris is vacationing. Geary, with a goatee, ties Morris up and hides him away, and takes on Morris' identity. Meanwhile, handsome Mountie Jim McGregor (Kermit Maynard) is on the trail of the Frenchie Le Farge gang. He captures two of them, but Frenchie and the others get away and take refuge at Morris's isolated cabin. They recognize Geary in disguise and he lets them stay. As Morris, Geary goes into town and becomes friendly with Jim, Inspector McCloud, and McCloud's daughter Doris, who is Jim's girlfriend. When Geary is talked into hiring Doris to be his secretary, he improvises by dictating a story by famous French author Guy de Maupassant as though it were his own. Doris doesn’t catch on, but later, Jim does. Eventually, when lumberjack payroll money and jewels flaunted at a masked ball become targets for Geary and the Le Farge gang, can Jim and the Mounties foil their nefarious plans?

I know of no earthly reason this is called PHANTOM PATROL. Those words are never used in the movie, and no one even acts in a phantomly fashion. Still, this is good fun: an hour-long Canadian Western with a handsome hero, a lovely lady who eventually becomes a damsel in distress, fisticuffs and shootouts, and even a song which Jim and his Mountie buddies sing in their undershirts! (See the picture at right.) Kermit Maynard has a classic all-American athletic hero look (even though Jim is apparently Canadian) and is quite good here. He appeared in 300 movies, mostly in small uncredited roles in westerns, and was never as big a star as his brother Ken who headlined several B-westerns in the 30s and 40s, though on the evidence of this film, Kermit should have been just as big a star. Joan Barclay (Doris) also had a steady career in B-westerns. Paul Fix, another western stalwart, is amusing as Jojo, and British actor Harry Worth does a nice job in the dual role of bad guy Geary and hostage Morris. One of the charms of this film is its sense of humor—it manages to be light and amusing without turning slapstick or using heavy-handed comic relief. Some IMDb viewers call it "goofy" (I'm assuming they are mostly referring to the undershirt song) but to me, it all seemed charming. I'd like to search out more Kermit Maynard movies. The print on YouTube is awfully choppy and splicy but the image quality is clear and sharp. [YouTube]

Wednesday, February 05, 2020


This is less a narrative-driven movie than an impressionistic slice-of-life story that plays out over a couple of days in April 1945, during the last days of the Second World War. In a small German village, several teenage boys are excited about being called up to serve in the army (since by this time, the military was decimated, and younger recruits were being sought after). We get to know them on their last day of school before they head off for training. Karl has a crush on his dad's housekeeper, but he is devastated to discover that she is sleeping with his father; Hans is a handsome romantic; Walter has conflicts with his father, who, despite being a Nazi party representative, is likely to clear out of town when the Allies get too close; Sigi, the youngest, has an overprotective mother; Jurgen comes from a military family and his mother gives him his late father's pistol to take with him to war. After we follow them through their last day in town, we see them next in basic training. But the troops are disorganized, with many ready to retreat, and the boys get assigned the task of guarding a bridge, which, as it happens is just outside of their village. That night, the boys do their duty, unaware that the bridge is going to be blown up by the German army when the Allies approach.

Though not strong in narrative, this is an emotionally powerful anti-war film. We know the boys have been given a useless task because their former schoolteacher wants to keep them away from the deteriorating front, hoping to spare their lives, but the boys are proud of having what seems an important mission and their enthusiasm blinds them to the real situation around them. As the night goes on, the film takes on a kind of Twilight Zone atmosphere with fog all around and a slow parade of wounded and deserters passing by. We are used to movies which promulgate a message of the terrible waste of war, so the ending is fairly predictable, but the director, Bernard Wikci, keeps the atmosphere tense. The actors, most not much older than their characters, are uniformly excellent. The only actor I’m familiar with is Fritz Wepper who went on to play Michael York’s German buddy Fritz in CABARET. But all of them are fine, not overdoing either bravado or fear. I'd never heard of this but TCM aired it recently and it’s available on a Criterion DVD. It definitely deserves a bigger audience. [TCM]