Tuesday, March 28, 2023


Vince Ryker (Vince Edwards, pictured) and a fellow prisoner have just pulled off an escape from San Quentin. As Ryker speeds down the road in a stolen car, his friend has a heart attack and dies in the front seat. Vince ditches the car, steals another one after killing the driver (events we don't see), and on the way to Los Angeles to meet up with his lover June (Patricia Blair), picks up a hitchhiking sailor to help him get past any suspicious cops. Dropping the sailor off, Vince has his rendezvous with June in a cheap motel and shows her the canister full of raw heroin, used in a prison experiment, that he has stolen from the prison. His plan is to sell it and get far away, but what he doesn't know, and the cops do, is that the canister is actually filled with highly radioactive Cobalt-60. The narrative shifts to the police as they send out cops with Geiger counters, hoping to track down Ryker. Even though the canister remains closed (despite Ryker trying to open it), trace amounts of the Cobalt are picked up by the Geiger counters, and he winds up potentially sickening those around him. The rest of the film is a tense cat-and-mouse chase around town with Ryker getting sweaty, sick, and weak, still not knowing what he's carrying. I’ll watch Vince Edwards in any of his 50s film noirs—he's handsome and broody and dark and sexy and hairy and…well, you get the picture. He's got the antihero persona down pat (HIT AND RUN and MURDER BY CONTRACT to name two) and he holds the screen well—you know he's going to come to no good, but it's fun to see how far he'll fall. He's definitely the main attraction here in terms of the cast; the few other supporting players fade into the background. B-movie character actors Lyle Talbot and John Archer are fine as the main cops, and Patricia Blair is as good as she needs to be as the girlfriend. The effective score, an early work by the legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith (eventually nominated for 18 Oscars for score or song) is alternately jazzy and tense. The film's low budget works against any large-scale sense of danger for the city, despite the cops calling for a city-wide evacuation plan, but overall this is a solid B-noir. [TCM]

Friday, March 24, 2023

NABONGA (1944)

T.F. Stockwell, wanted on charges of bank embezzlement of securities and jewels, flees Cairo with his young daughter Doreen in a small chartered plane. During a storm, the plane crashes in a jungle. When the pilot sees the riches Stockwell has with him, Stockwell shoots him dead, then realizes that Doreen has wandered off. The last we see of Doreen, she is standing next to a wounded ape. Several years later, Ray Gorman (Buster Crabbe) arrives at a jungle village near where Stockwell's plane went down. Gorman's father wound up getting blamed for Stockwell's crimes and committed suicide, and Gorman is seeking either revenge or the jewels. He has heard rumors of a white jungle witch who lives alone in the jungle and, thinking it may be Stockwell's daughter, he tries to find her. Following him is unscrupulous treasure hunter Carl Hurst (Barton MacLane) and his lover Marie (Fifi D'Orsay). Gorman eventually meets the sarong-wearing Doreen (Julie London) who lives alone quite comfortably in a jungle cave with Samson, the ape she befriended as a child. She and Gorman hit it off, but when he tries to talk her into giving him her late father's riches, she understandably says no, they belong to her. Gorman can't be too aggressive because Samson's instinct is to be very protective of Doreen. Eventually, Carl and Marie appear, causing trouble for all. A rather abrupt ending leaves the bad guys taken care of and Doreen apparently ready to head to civilization with Gorman and the jewels..

This is an average low-budget jungle melodrama, made watchable mostly by Buster Crabbe's likable performance and the presence of Julie London in her first film. Though she continued acting (including a seven season stint on the 70s show Emergency), she became better known as a torch singer ("Cry Me a River," a strangely sexy version of the bubblegum song "Yummy Yummy Yummy" that was prominently featured in an episode of Six Feet Under). At the tender age of 18, she's a bit uncertain in the role of a jungle goddess, though to be fair, we never see her acting as a traditional jungle goddess (like Sheena) would—she seems happy to live alone with her ape and have little to do with any humans. Crabbe almost veers into comic relief with his somewhat exaggerated reactions to Samson, but otherwise he's the perfect stoic B-movie jungle hero. MacLane and D'Orsay are serviceable villains. Busy B-actor Ray 'Crash' Corrigan, who made dozens of westerns, plays the gorilla, something he did in several movies; the title is apparently the ineffable name of the gorilla, though in the movie I only heard it called Samson. The jungle animal stock footage is not especially well integrated into the movie, but that's par for the course. [YouTube]

Tuesday, March 21, 2023


It's night, it's raining, and in Darkwood Hall, an old man on his deathbed calls in a notary and changes his will. He still leaves the house and grounds as a girls' boarding school, run by his daughter Patricia, but he otherwise cuts his other children off and leaves all his money to his granddaughter Gwendoline, whose father is in prison for murder. As the notary drives away, someone throws a rock at it, causing it to veer off the road and catch fire. That someone, we learn later, is brother Richard, a lawyer, who then steals the will. He tells Patricia and brother William that he's willing to destroy the will so they can all share the money, except leaving them each only 10% with Richard getting the rest. There's also Patricia’s odd son Ronny who wants to marry Gwendoline even though she can barely stand the sight of him. During a school holiday, with only a few students remaining, Patricia invites Gwendoline to the house, ostensibly to protect her from the family's scheming. But Darkwood Hall may not be so safe. An eccentric artist who keeps pigeons and specializes in death masks is renting a room in the attic, and he has a yen to make a mask of Gwendoline. The new French teacher seems off-putting and tends to skulk. The caretaker Eddie seems likable enough, but could he have secrets of his own?  Finally, as the title implies, there is the ghost of a monk that supposedly haunts the grounds, and the girls start seeing him around. But as dead bodies start to pile up (a couple of the girls, a Scotland yard inspector), we discover the monk is no ghost—we see the hooded figure use a bullwhip to strangle his victims from a distance. But who is he and what is his goal?

This is my first 'krimi' film, which I have learned from Diabolique magazine "is a genre of West German crime thrillers typically based on the works of British mystery and crime novelist Edgar Wallace." They tend to involve murder, masked criminals, revenge plots, and often blur genre lines to mix fantasy or horror in with crime movie elements. They also influenced the later giallo genre. Actually, this isn't quite my first krimi, as Diabolique says that movies based on works by Wallace’s son are considered krimi, which means THE STRANGLER OF BLACKMOOR CASTLE counts. Another film blogger recommended this, and I found it to be a lot of fun. The first thing you should know, however, is the blaring, jazzy score is wildly inappropriate for almost every scene in which it appears. It's catchy, but I found that it often took me out of the atmosphere of the scene. In the last half, when the film takes on the feel of a spy thriller, the music feels more organic. The movie is certainly overplotted—exposition keeps building up right through to the last half-hour—but it's fairly easy to follow. With all the plotpoints and atmosphere (Darkwood Hall is a great setting—it seems to have been shot in an actual mansion), the acting is mostly beside the point. Karin Dor, who did many krimi films, is quite good as Gwendoline, Hartmut Reck overacts shamelessly as Ronny (as does his English dialogue dubber), and everyone else is satisfactory. The whip murders are very effective, with good staging and editing. I’ll be looking for some more krimi soon. [Amazon Prime]

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

NiGHT GAMES (1966)

Jan brings his fiancée to his childhood mansion in an attempt to exorcise some psychological demons, mostly involving his late mother with whom he had an unusual and intense relationship. Jan and his fiancée Mariana walk through the house as Jan relives painful memories from the past. The film jolts back and forth between the present day, with Jan apparently struggling with sexual and emotional blockages, and the past, as we see the much younger Jan growing up with his mother Irene in a house full of bizarre hangers-on. The movie opens with a freakish gang of partygoers celebrating Irene's delivery of a stillborn child, and things get weirder from there. Many of the scenes feel inspired by the films of Bergman and Fellini, but the proceedings are empty and I never felt much of anything for Jan and his struggles. The movie, directed by Mai Zetterling, was presented at Cannes and shown in private for the judges; later when it was entered in the San Francisco film festival, Shirley Temple, who was on the festival's board, resigned, protesting that it was "pornography for profit." (Isn’t all pornography produced for profit? And most non-pornographic movies as well?) Contemporary reviews mention "orgies," though most of those scenes are just of busy, debauched parties. But one sequence that did make me a bit queasy involves the 12-year-old Jan (played by the 15-year-old Jorgen Lindstrom, also the young boy in Bergman's PERSONA) lying in bed in a nightshirt with his mother; he begins masturbating under the covers and when his mother pulls the covers down to punish him, we see his genitals. Making the scene that explicit actually worked against its effectiveness by pulling me out of the narrative, startled to see what I saw. Ingrid Thulin gives a good performance as the overbearing mother, but Keve Hjelm is listless and uninteresting as the adult Jan. If you stick with it, the ending is satisfying, even if I don’t actually believe that the final event would be effective in the long term as an exorcism. Pictured are Hjelm as Jan and Lena Brundin as Mariana. [Criterion Channel]

Monday, March 13, 2023


Washington newspaper columnist Allen Pierce has been working on a promised post-war exposé involving some important people. His primary document is a huge book he calls the Argyle Album. When he winds up in a hospital with heart troubles, he calls just one journalist in, Harry Mitchell (William Gargan), and in obvious distress, gives him a photocopy of the front cover of the book and promptly dies. Harry leaves to call his story in and lets his photographer Pinky into the room to take a picture. When Harry returns, the doctor discovers that Pierce is indeed dead, but he has a scalpel stuck in his heart. Then Pinky is found dead behind a screen. Realizing he is now a murder suspect, Harry goes on the run and tries to find the book. At Pierce's hotel room, he finds Pierce's secretary and promptly knocks her out so he can ransack the room. But soon a rotund Southern gentleman in a Panama hat (Jack Reitzen) shows up, being greasily ingratiating and threatening, looking for the Argyle Album himself. Harry disarms him, but later is visited by Marla (Marjorie Lord) who is trying to find the book for her boss, the German-accented Mr. Winter (John Banner). Harry finds out that the book contains information on some big American industrialists who collaborated with the Nazis during the war. He wants to find the book to finish Pierce’s exposé, but others want the book for themselves.

As a classic movie buff, as soon as Panama appeared, I was reminded of Sydney Greenstreet (large, mannered but menacing, photographed from below). Then Marla and Winter showed up as rivals for the book and I realized this was inspired by The Maltese Falcon. Gargan is Bogart, Reitzen is Greenstreet, Lord is Mary Astor (she even calls herself "utterly rotten," echoing a line of Astor's), Ralph Byrd, who played Dick Tracy in the movies, is a cop on Harry's trail like Barton MacLane is on Bogart, and the Argyle Album is the Falcon. In this case, only some of the bad guys want money; the others want to keep their Nazi secrets out of the newspapers. There’s more violence here than in Falcon, involving not just guns and fists but an acetylene torch. Robert Kellard, a favored B-actor of mine, most notable in a Fu Manchu serial, has what amounts to a cameo in a cute scene involving a cop, his mom, and a kid practicing on his violin. Gargan, a B-actor whom I usually like, is a bit colorless here, as are most of the supporting players, but maybe I'm being unfair because my reaction is colored by my love of The Maltese Falcon. I liked seeing Marjorie Lord (pictured with Gargan) from the Danny Thomas TV show in a role besides dutiful wife, and another sitcom wife, Barbara Billingsly (Leave It to Beaver) has a small role as Pierce's secretary, the one who gets punched in the face. The movie’s B-atmosphere is limiting but I enjoyed this overall. [TCM]

Wednesday, March 08, 2023


On a foggy night, Jean, an army deserter, hitches a ride to the port city of Le Havre; he talks of the fog of battlefields and of killing a man face to face, and hopes to start a new life by getting out of France altogether. When he grabs the steering wheel to stop the driver from hitting a stray dog in the road, Jean is forced to get out, with the dog following him, and eventually winds up in a shadowy bar, not much more than a shack, near the docks. Assuming that the military police are after him, Jean seeks a change of clothing. In the meantime he spends the night there, chatting with young Nelly; her boyfriend Maurice has recently vanished and she is on the run from her guardian Zabel, who himself is being hunted by the thuggish Lucien—and later we learn that Zabel has killed Maurice out of jealousy. An artist talks about painting "things hidden behind other things," and leaves Jean his civilian clothes before he commits suicide by walking into the ocean. As Jean makes plans to hop a ship to Venezuela, life keeps getting in his way. Zabel offers him money to kill Lucien, but Jean keeps getting on Lucien's bad side by slapping him in public, and soon Lucien may be planning to kill Jean. Jean and Nelly become lovers, and just as he is about to sail, he saves Nelly from the brutal Zabel by killing him. And then Lucien shows up…

Often called a work of poetic realism (and a forerunner of film noir), this is a beautiful movie to look at, and has a gloomily fatalistic feel. From the moment we see Jean (Jean Gabin, pictured on a noir style street), we know he is doomed, as are most of the other characters we meet. That doesn’t stop us from getting caught up in their stories; in some movies, these people might just be symbols, but here they are fleshed out enough for us to develop some feelings for them. We even worry about the dog, who Jean takes on the ship with him. He ties him up in his room before he gets off the ship to save Nelly, and the dog makes an effective appearance in the final scene. Michele Morgan, who became very popular, is perfect as the abused Nelly, and the great character actor Michel Simon brings to life the slimy Zabel. Frankly, it feels like the suicidal artist is the only one who gets an easy way out of this foggy, shadowy life we often feel stuck in. In French and available in a great print from Criterion. French title: LE QUAI DES BRUMES. [DVD]

Monday, March 06, 2023

ILLEGAL (1932)

Gambling addict Franklyn Dean has spent his wife Evelyn's inheritance (from her first husband), and, as she has two children from her first marriage to raise, she has finally had enough. She pays off one last debt and sends him off to exile in Cape Town. Her kindly neighbor Albert, a former headwaiter, commiserates with her until winnings from that last gambling debt are delivered. With that windfall, she buys the restaurant where Albert used to work, updates it to include a secret gambling room and illegal after-hours booze availability (though she kicks the hookers out), calls it the Scarecrow Club, and with Albert at her side, makes a huge success. A few years later, thinking that gambling and drink had threatened to cheat her daughters out of their place in life, she uses her profits to send the kids to a good boarding school, while keeping her living secret from them. More years later, as the daughters are ready to graduate, the cops bust the Scarecrow Club for gambling and Evelyn is sentenced to three months in jail. When the girls discover this, they come home and decide to keep the club running, legally. As the same time as Evelyn is about to be released, their stepfather arrives in London and puts the moves on one of the daughters. Tragedy ensues. This melodrama from a British unit of Warner Brothers, like many other films from the early 30s, is stagy and static in the dialogue scenes, though the nightclub sequences have some energy in performance and in camera movement. Isobel Elsom, who played high society ladies throughout the 40s and 50s, is a bit of a drab stick as Evelyn; the character has our sympathies but I never really cared that much about her situation. But Ivor Barnard as Albert pretty much saves the show; he's funny and appealing, and as no romance develops between him and Evelyn, I read him as a gay-coded character, which made things a bit more interesting. The last ten minutes or so cram a lot of plot and detail in, as though they suddenly realized that they only had one more day on the studio lot. Not a bad movie but not easy to recommend. Pictured are Elsom and Barnard. [TCM]

Thursday, March 02, 2023


During WWII, commander Richard Heritage (James Mason) is discharged from the British navy for negligence of duty when a ship he was supposed to be protecting was destroyed by the Nazis. His defense is that Nazi spies stole his genuine orders and replaced them with fake ones, and he sets out to prove it. His first visit is to a manicurist named Mary who would have had the chance to pull the switch. A mind reader and hypnotist named the Great Riccardo is setting up a date with her, but she agrees to meet Richard later. He winds up tracking her down that night at a cottage on the outskirts of town where a young woman named Laura (Joyce Howard) has also arrived, ostensibly to visit her uncle. Laura finds Mary dead, clutching a piece of paper with the name of a theatrical agency on it—the same, as it happens, that the Great Riccardo is attached to. Laura and Richard meet in the dark, in passing as she's leaving and he’s arriving. The next day, when the police arrive, the dead girl has vanished. As Richard and Mary investigate separately, they wind up meeting up often and soon joining forces. What’s going on at the theatrical agency, and how is Riccardo involved?

Things get a bit complicated from here on, but this B-mystery never really gets confusing. Mason and Howard work well together—in the first couple of scenes, Mason wears a patently false beard that's supposed to be real but he shaves it off before too long. We know who the spies are from early on, so the suspense is in how Mason and Howard will expose them. At times, this has the spirit of a Hitchcock movie like THE 39 STEPS, particularly when it comes down to showing exactly how the spies get their information out to their fellow Nazi, a clever bit that I won't spoil. The supporting cast is fine, especially David Farrar (BLACK NARCISSUS) who, though seventh billed, has a big role in the outcome of the film. This tends to be damned with faint praise by critics, but I quite enjoyed it. Once again, I must note that this is misleadingly included in a boxed set of British noir films, and it is most certainly not noir. Pictured are Farrar and Mason. [DVD]