Monday, September 20, 2021

Ida Goes Mad

Joe (George Raft) and Paul Fabrini (Humphrey Bogart) are trying to beat the odds by running their own trucking service.  With their one truck, They Drive by Night (1940) moving produce from one city to another. It's an exhausting and dangerous job, as they try to acquire enough money to pay off their truck and build a successful business.

This is a well-acted film with an engaging storyline that will keep you interested throughout.  It's got an impressive cast, but frankly, it's Ida Lupino (Lana Carlsen) who steals the entire film.  More on her later.

George Raft is convincing as the determined trucker who's trying to beat the odds in building his own business. While I'm generally not a fan of Mr. Raft, he does a good job in this film, primarily because of the actors he plays against. Raft and Humphrey Bogart make convincing brothers; there is a subtle intimacy between the two. While we witness the strain between the brothers - Paul wants to be home more with his wife, while Joe is convinced they can beat the system - there is affection and understanding too.

Humphrey Bogart's role in the film is relatively small. As Joe's brother, he is constantly complaining about the stress of their work and his ongoing reluctance to leave his wife alone yet again.  Gale Page (Pearl Fabrini) is in much the same situation - she's there to represent the wives who fear for their husbands' safety. She's a much better actress than the whining Pearl allows her to be.

Alan Hale (Ed Carlsen) fairs much better as the jovial, if hard drinking, owner of a major trucking company.  Ed came up through the ranks and built a thriving business.  He's a loyal friend, who's been trying to convince Joe to join his company. The fly in the ointment is Ed's wife Lana - unbeknownst to Ed, Lana has been pursuing Joe, who is having none of it.  Mr. Hale is awfully good in the part, and his loss is felt.

Ann Sheridan (Cassie Hartley) gets to wisecrack in her early scenes in the film but as she becomes more involved with Joe, she becomes more subdued.  By the end, we know who is going to be in charge in their marriage; Cassie is a strong and loyal woman who will always support her man. We particularly enjoyed the scene when Joe collapses on her bed in exhaustion, and Cassie spends the night on the sofa.

It was George Raft who recommended Ida Lupino for the role of Lana (TCM article), and as we mentioned previously, she steals the film.  She's crafty and scheming; disgusted by her husband but eager to spend his money. She dominates every scene in which she appears, but it is the last part of the picture where she rules. Her desire to get Joe into her bed, her growing guilt over her husband's death, and her resentment of Cassie all lead to a perfect storm in the film's conclusion. 

They Drive by Night is also blessed with a number of Warner Brothers contract players, including Roscoe Karns (as pinball addict Irish McGurn), George Tobias (as fruit seller George Rondolos), and William Bendix (as another truck driver).  All combine to make a very well-rounded film.

The story is loosely based on the 1935 film Bordertown (AFI Catalog).  It was aired by Lux Radio Theatre  in June of 1941 with George Raft, Lana Turner, and Lucille Ball.

New York Times review by Bosley Crowther was positive, calling it "an entertaining ride".  We concur; if you are a fan of Ms. Lupino, you must see this. And if not, there is still plenty of good acting to catch your eye. We'll leave you with the film's trailer:

Monday, September 13, 2021

Errol Escapes

When their bomber crashes in Nazi Germany, a group of Allied airmen make a Desperate Journey (1942) to get out of the country with information that may help the war effort. 

Let's begin by admitting that this is very much a wartime propaganda film.  According to this movie, five Allied officers can take down the entire Nazi war machine and defeat it without breaking into much of a sweat.  Regardless, it's an interesting adventure, with snappy (albeit somewhat jingoistic) dialog and a good rapport among the lead and supporting actors.

Errol Flynn gets top billing as Flight Lt Terrence Forbes, an Australian working with the Allied command in Europe.  This is one of the few times in which Flynn gets to play someone from his native land, and he's quite good as the cocky, but competent Forbes. Errol Flynn was examined by the draft board, but physicians discovered that he had tuberculosis.  Knowing that he would be unable to work (and would not be entitled to any money during his recuperation), Mr. Flynn declined to let the studio know of his illness, nor accept any of the treatments available to him (TCM article). As a result, he lost  a tremendous amount of weight (forcing wardrobe adjustments). Frequently late for work, he was difficult to work with during the shoot.

Ronald Reagan (Flying Officer Johnny Hammond) was just off his rousing success in King's Row (1942), and gets second billing above the title with Errol Flynn.  He's good as the devil-may-care American, and got to be the hero of the piece, knocking out Major Otto Baumeister (Raymond Massey), albeit off-camera.  Errol Flynn wanted to the the one to do that particular deed, but he was told no.  Mr. Reagan was called up for military service while shooting the picture - they allowed him a week to finish up the production.  His three years of service did not help his career; he was never able to regain the momentum following King's Row. However, he eventually had other career goals.

The role of Kaethe Brahms was originally intended for Kaaren Verne, but she was replaced by Nancy Coleman (AFI Catalog). It's not a big part, but Ms. Coleman does her best to make Kaethe heroic and appealing.  If there is one fault in the film, it is the scene where the escaping flyers share a meal with Kaethe's parents. Relaxing for the first time in awhile, the men talk liberally - something no soldier would do in these circumstances.  

Raymond Massey has the most thankless part. Major Otto Baumeister is downright stupid, and his Nazi soldiers resemble nothing more than the Keystone Kops.  Massey is a good actor, but you wouldn't know it here.  He's really given nothing with which to work.

We have a number of other good actors in the film - Alan Hale as Flight Sergeant Kirk Edwards gets to do some of the comic relief. Arthur Kennedy (Flying Officer Jed Forrest) is the conscience of the group - trying to keep them on task towards getting home with the information they've obtained.  This would be Ronald Sinclair (Flight Sergeant Lloyd Hollis) last acting role (he'd been a child actor) -  he became a film editor, working with Roger Corman.

Bosley Crowther, in his The New York Times review, was unimpressed with the movie - "an invasion of Nazi Germany which would put the Commandos to shame." It was nominated for an Oscar for Special Effects (it lost to Reap the Wild Wind). While this is not the best movie ever made, it's fun, with an enjoyable cast.  We'll leave you with this trailer:

Monday, September 6, 2021

James Defends a Murderer

Paul "Polly" Biegler (James Stewart) returns from a fishing trip to find an urgent message asking him to call Laura Manion (Lee Remick).  His secretary Maida Rutledge (Eve Arden) informs him that Ms. Manion's husband  U.S. Army Lieutenant Paul Biegler (Ben Gazzara) has been accused of the murder of popular innkeeper Barney Quill.  Ms. Manion wants to retain Paul's services as defense attorney in her husband's trial.  Our film this week is Anatomy of a Murder (1959).

An exceptional cast make this courtroom drama riveting. Led by James Stewart, the film, though dialogue driven, keeps the audience guessing from the second it starts. Mr. Stewart was nominated for an Oscar for the role, which he later said was his most challenging part since It's a Wonderful Life (1946) (TCM article). The laconic Stewart charm is still present, but he uses it to camouflage a cagey attorney, who employs every tool at his disposal to defend his client.

Lee Remick is remarkable as the rape victim who keeps the audience's sympathy from start to finish.  A kittenish vamp, who enjoys showing off her rather attractive body - and who tells us that her husband also enjoys showing her off, until he gets jealous - seems to be out looking for a lover. But, she informs Polly that she has never cheated on her husband, and we believe her when she says she was beaten and raped by Barney Quill.  We also know that she is an abused wife, who stays with her husband out of fear and sympathy.  Lana Turner was originally cast as Laura, but left the production after a run-in with director Otto Preminger.

Ben Gazzara is properly sinister as the accused murderer and abusive husband. He brings just the right amount of seething anger to the part; you know he is a dangerous man, but is he defending his wife or simply getting vengeance for Barney Quill's usurpation of Manion's personal property? This was only his second film.

The supporting players are equally remarkable. Arthur O'Connell was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Polly's partner, Parnell Emmett McCarthy, a former lawyer with a drinking partner. The case provides Polly with a mean of getting Parnell on the wagon. Also nominated in the supporting actor category was George C. Scott as visiting prosecutor Claude Dancer. Mr. Scott would later comment on his regard for James Stewart: " Some actors have a tendency to...sort of phone it in from there. But not Mr. Stewart...(he) came and stood by the camera and performed for me alone. It was a lesson I've never forgotten."

Kathryn Grant (Mary Pilant) is excellent as Barney Quill's live-in bar manager. The mystery surrounding her relationship with the dead man haunts the proceedings, with a surprise reveal. Finally, there is Eve Arden; the wisecracking Maida is patience on a monument - the business has so little money, Maida can't pay her own salary. But her loyalty to Polly is unswerving.

Both Spencer Tracy and Burl Ives were invited to play presiding judge Weaver; both turned it down.  Instead, the part was offered to lawyer Joseph N. Welch who came to prominence in the McCarthy era.  Acting as counsel for the U.S. Army, which was being accused by Senator McCarthy of \trying to blackmail him into ceasing an investigation of Army security practices, Mr. Welch said to the Senator "Have you no sense of decency?" the beginning of the end of Senator McCarthy's reign of terror (AFI catalog).Mr. Welch bring a sense of veritas to the role. The judge is both amusing and professional.

Bosley Crowther's New York Times review was extremely complimentary, calling the film "the best courtroom melodrama this old judge has ever seen.". The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, for Supporting Actor - Arthur O'Connell and George C. Scott; Actor - James Stewart; Film Editing; Motion Picture; Cinematography (Black-and-White); and Writing (Screenplay--based on material from another medium). It was added to the National Film Registry in 1993.

We'll leave you with a trailer and a strong recommendation that, even if you've seen it before, you give this excellent film a viewing.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Joan's "Lost" Film

Wealthy Letty Lynton (1932) (Joan Crawford) left the United States to live in South America. She's been in an assignation with the domineering  Emile Renaul (Nils Asther), who is insistent that she will never leave him. Letty escapes to a U.S. bound ship, where she meets Jerry Darrow (Robert Montgomery); romance follows, but the threat of Emile is a clear and present danger to Letty's happiness. 

The legend of Letty Lynton has existed since it was taken out of circulation in 1936, following a battle about the copyright of the story.  It was a film I’d always wanted to see (what WAS the Letty Lynton  dress??), and while I normally avoid pirated films, the opportunity to see it on stream from another country was just too tempting to resist.  The copy was pretty awful, which I expected, but the full film was there.  And so we got to watch this Joan Crawford movie we never expected to view.
This is Ms. Crawford's film - she is the focus of the story and is in nearly every scene. As good as her supporting cast is, that is what they are - support for the story of Letty's decision to try and change her life.  She's awfully good - we were especially impressed with a scene mid-film in which Letty tries to reconnect with the Mother (May Robson) who emotionally withdrew from Letty when Letty was a child.  Letty's meanderings have been an attempt to avoid her mother's coldness and find some semblance of love. With the possibility of a new life with Jerry, Letty makes one more appeal to her mother. Ms. Crawford never loses her cool but her face reflects the pain she feels as her mother yet again withdraws from her.

We always enjoy Robert Montgomery, and he is very good in what is essentially a minor role. Sure, he’s the romantic lead, but as we mentioned, this is Letty’s story, not his. Mr. Montgomery is able to bring Jerry to a higher level - he gives him an inner strength that is crucial to the film’s ending. Interestingly, he was not the first actor considered - Robert Young was also considered for the part. 

There is nothing in the least attractive about Nils Asther’s Emile. He’s a bully, abusive, and a stalker. If we were supposed to have any sympathy for his passion for Letty, it’s pretty much gone when he shows up at the dock in New York.  Nils Asther started his Hollywood career during the silent era, when his strong Swedish accent didn’t matter. While his career continued into the talkies, it was limited to playing foreigners, like the General in The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933). He would continue in films and television until 1961. Briefly married to Vivian Duncan, the couple had one daughter. Mr. Asther died in Sweden in 1981 at the age of 84.

The film makes a nice counterpoint between the relationships of Letty and her mother to Jerry's loving and affectionate parents (played by Emma Dunn and Walter Walker). We do have a brief scene with them and Letty - Ms. Crawford again nicely shows the longing Letty feels for such a family dynamic without being over-the-top.

Letty's true mother is played by her maid and confidant, Miranda (Louise Closser Hale). She sweet, if at times a bit muddled, but her affection for Letty is very clear from the start of the film, and her desire to get her charge to a better place is also obvious.  Ms. Hale is a delightful actress, with great range; this film shows another aspect of her talent.

Finally, Lewis Stone  (John J. Haney) drops in as a policy investigator towards the end of the film. He's not very bright, and is rather superfluous to the story.  The scene itself IS necessary to mend a bunch of fences, but Haney is a head-shaker of a police officer.

The New York Times review by Mordaunt Hall was negative; however, the picture was popular - Letty's white dress becoming a fashion sensation.  When the studio attempted re-release, a lawsuit followed (for more information, the AFI catalog details the particulars), and the film was eventually relegated to the archives.  Letty's story may have been influenced by the murderer Madeleine Smith. Her story made the screen in 1950 in the David Lean film Madeleine with Ann Todd as the notorious Ms. Smith

We'll leave you with this scene of Letty and Jerry falling in love. Here's hoping the film is eventually able to be re-released with a decent print.


Monday, August 16, 2021

Is Robert a Liar?

Larry Balantine (Robert Young) is on trial for the murder of his lover, Verna Carlson (Susan Hayward). His defense attorney has put him on the stand to tell his bizarre tale of adultery and larceny.  Our film tonight is They Won't Believe Me (1947).

Robert Young gives an excellent performance as a suave and rather creepy opportunist. Told in flashback, his story IS unbelievable, but the film leaves it entirely to the viewer to decide fact from fiction. That Larry is so reprehensible a human being makes the audience doubt his word. Yet, his story is so entirely ludicrous, one wonders if even he could make it up.

Mr. Young's film career started in 1931 (he had three uncredited appearances in short films in 1928 and 1929), with a small role in a Charlie Chan film, The Black Camel. He worked consistently in supporting and leading roles, appearing in H.M. Pulham, Esq.(1942), Crossfire (1947), and Three Comrades (1938). In 1954, he started a new phase of his career, as the star of Father Knows Best, a TV series which ran for six years. In 1969, he began work on another TV series, as the kindly Marcus Welby, M.D., which ran for seven years. He worked in television until 1988. Married to Betty Henderson for 61 years, he became a spokesperson mental health issues - he had suffered from depression and alcoholism for thirty years. The Robert Young Community Mental Health Center is named for him because of his work to support mental health issues with the passage of the 708 Illinois Tax Referendum. Mr. Young died in 1998, at the age of 91 - he was survived by his four daughters and many grandchildren.

Mr. Young is ably supported by three excellent actresses.  Susan Hayward is believable as Verna Carlson, his secretary and mistress. She's far smarter than Larry, ambitious, and independent. She's willing to marry for money - she's already planning to marry Larry's partner Trenton (Tom Powers) when Larry shows up. What at first begins as a flirtation turns into something deeper, as the pair try to decide if they want each other, or wealthy spouses. Ms. Hayward had been borrowed Walter Wanger, and RKO had to shoot around her as she finished up work on Smash Up: The Story of a Woman (1947) (AFI catalog).

Jane Greer's Janice Bell is also smart, but she is far more gullible than Verna.  Where Verna has no illusions about Larry's character, Janice believes he is better than he is, even falling for him when she has been convinced he might be a murderer.  Of the three actresses, her's is the least fleshed out character. It's hard to say we get to know Janice in great detail. But the part would bring her much more attention, landing Ms. Greer what is possibly her most famous film, Out of the Past (1947) (TCM article).

Rita Johnson is probably best remembered today for two villains - in The Major and the Minor (1942) and Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941). While Greta  Balantine  is a bit of conniver, she's a very sympathetic character.  For some reason, she genuinely loves Larry, even though she is well aware of his infidelities and the fact that he married her for her money.  Regardless, she's willing to overlook his straying, and give him some of the things he wants, but on her terms.  Sadly, Larry is better at thwarting her - he has no affection for her. She's merely a bank account.

The film was produced by Joan Harrison, who was at this time one of only three female producers in Hollywood.  Ms. Harrison's career was discussed in some detail in the Noir Alley intro and outro to the film.  Eddie Muller discussed Ms. Harrison's career with Christina Lane, the author of Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock.

New York Times review by A. H. Weiler (A.W.) was positive, callinig the film "engrossing entertainment." Sadly, in 1957, 15 minutes were cut from the film in order to make it more attractive as part of a double feature. It was this cut version that was available from that time forward.  In 2021, the film was released on BluRay (and on Turner Classic Movies) with the cut scenes restored.

We highly recommend this excellent film - and try to see the original version.  We'll leave you with this excerpt featuring Robert Young, Susan Hayward, and Rita Johnson.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Claudette is on the Run

Private detective Guy Johnson (James Stewart) is hired by millionaire Willie Heyward (Ernest Truex) to protect him from himself - he's a notorious lush and womanizer. After Heyward's marriage to Vivian Tarbell (Frances Drake), Heyward goes (drunk) to bawl out a former flame - who's murdered while he is there. Guy tries to protect Heyward, but is arrested with him and sentenced to a year in prison, while Heyward gets the death penalty. On his way to prison, Guy sees a personal ad that leads him to believe he can catch the real murderer; he escapes from the train. And promptly kidnaps Edwina Corday (Claudette Colbert), a renowned poet. Our film this week is  It's a Wonderful World (1939).

It's always a pleasure to see Claudette Colbert, and she's delightful in this film. Edwina is smart and resourceful, but there is a problem - we could not understand why she would go out of her way to help Guy Johnson.  He's horrible to her from the start,  and he just really isn't that attractive a man that she should fall in love with him.  Personally, we thought she should have run the minute she saw him.  Both Myrna Loy and Frances Drake were considered for the part of Edwina - Ms. Loy was not available, and Ms. Drake was instead cast as Vivian.  So, Ms. Colbert agreed to appear in the part. She was taken aback by director W.S. Van Dyke, II's fast style of direction, and not satisfied with the film in the end. (TCM article).

Where one rather likes Edwina, the same cannot be said for James Stewart's Guy. He's mean, nasty, and violent. He hits Edwina, he almost drowns a police officer, and his motivation for trying to save the man who is about to die for a murder he did not commit is money, and nothing more.  Mr. Stewart and Ms. Colbert never really gel as a couple. It's hard to imagine the pair living a life together at the close of the film. Mr. Stewart does have some good comic moments, especially when he is trying to hide behind thick eyeglasses, but it's not enough to make the audience really like him.

The film is blessed with some excellent supporting players - Guy Kibbee (Cap Streeter) as Guy's surprisingly supportive partner has some good moment.  Nat Pendleton (Sergeant Koretz) AND Edgar Kennedy (Lieutenant Miller) provide humor as two bumbling police officers; sadly, they are even dumber than Guy. Sidney Blackmer (Al Mallon) is menacing as the villain - Vivian's lover and enforcer. And Frances Drake does a good job as the malicious wife out for her husband's fortune.
The New York Times review by Frank S. Nugent was not positive; they were especially critical of the script by Ben Hecht.  In the long run, the story is too similar to It Happened One Night (1936), and not nearly as funny.  It's entertaining in places, but frankly, it is far from a perfect film.
If you are a James Stewart or Claudette Colbert completest, you'll want to catch this for the good moments. Otherwise, you might just want to see them in some of their better films.  Here's a trailer from the film:

Monday, July 19, 2021

Spencer Interviews Katharine

The sudden death of American war hero and businessman Robert Forrest throws the country into a tailspin. Steven O'Malley (Spencer Tracy), a journalist who recently returned from war-torn Europe, is one of Forrest's many admirers, and has decided to write a book about the great man.  He seeks the assistance of Forrest's wife, Christine (Katharine Hepburn); she initially tries to keep her distance, then consents to assist in the biography.  Steven, however, finds her reticence concerning as she attempts to be the Keeper of the Flame (1942).

As we enter the world of Keeper of the Flame, it seems we are being introduced to a mystery - who killed Robert Forrest? In a sense we are in the middle of a mystery, but it isn’t the one we think it is. The tension of the story is enhanced by the excellent performances throughout the film, ably led by the two leads. The chemistry between Tracy and Hepburn is apparent in the film, and is a contributor to the power of the movie  

Over the objections of screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart, Ms. Hepburn insisted on changes to the script that strengthened the romance between Christine and Steven (TCM article). This sometimes gives the film a feeling of Rebecca-ish gloom, with the imposing Forrest estate as the stand-in for Manderley. It also gives more opportunity for Tracy and Hepburn to interact, which, frankly, is one of the main pleasures of the film.  One looks forward to seeing them spar.

Audrey Christie is excellent as Steven's friend and fellow reporter, Jane Harding.  The part is relatively small but memorable.  This was Ms. Christie's first film, and her casting was recommended by Katharine Hepburn (AFI Catalog).  Ms. Christie had been appearing on Broadway since 1933, and Ms. Hepburn and Ms. Christie would appear together in the 1942 production of Without Love (which Ms. Hepburn brought to the screen in 1945). Audrey Christie would continue on Broadway, film and television until 1982. She's probably most remembered today for her performance as Mrs. Loomis (Natalie Wood's mother) in Splendor in the Grass (1961). Married once, with one son, Ms. Christie died in 1989 (three years after her husband) of emphysema. 

We were not as impressed with Richard Whorf, Robert Forrest's personal secretary Clive Kerndon. Mr. Whorf plays the character as a fanatic, yet the information that we learn about him is that he is a tool of more powerful men.  That his fanaticism is telegraphed the minute we meet Kerndon is unfortunate; a gradual building of suspicion towards the character might have been more effective. As an aside, the same year he appeared in this film, he was also in Yankee Doodle Dandy as Sam Harris.

There are so many good performances in the film, it's hard to go into detail in this small space. But, mention should be made of Howard da Silva as Jason Rickards, Forrest's surly gatekeeper and fellow war veteran. Though we get no details about his life, we quickly realize that he is perhaps the person who knew Forrest the best. 

Margaret Wycherly has a small part as Forrest's insane mother. Stephen McNally (here listed as Horace) is fellow reporter Freddie Ridges, who has eyes for Jane Harding. Forrest Tucker plays Christine cousin Geoffrey Midford, who might be involved in Forrest's death. Darryl Hickman is guilt-ridden Jeb Rickards, who holds himself responsible for Forrest's death.  And we can't forget to mention Donald Meek as innkeeper Mr. Arbuthnot and Percy Kilbride as cabbie Orion Peabody. 

The production design is a very powerful element in the film. As we mentioned before, the house is almost oppressive in its elegance. The windowless stone fort that Forrest used as an office signals the sinister nature of his activities. The portrait of Forrest dominates the house, yet upon his death, no photos are included in the newspapers.  Our only image is a stylized painting of the great man.

Keeper of the Flame received an enthusiastic review by Bosley Crowther in New York Times, calling it "a courageous and timely drama which touches frankly upon a phase of American life that is most serious and pertinent today."  It opened at Radio City Music Hall, and was held over for several weeks, but ultimately it was not a top grosser for MGM (Variety), and is considered the least effective of the Tracy/Hepburn film. Perhaps the darkness was too much for people. 

In the final analysis, this is a good film that is discussing a still (sadly) timely issue. It may be a bit preachy at times, but tells its story well. Here's a trailer:

Monday, July 12, 2021

William Cheats

Crane Stewart (Charles D. Brown), the Night Editor (1946) of the New York Star, attempts to educate one of his reporters by relating the story of Police Lt. Tony Cochrane (William Gargan), an allegedly happily married man who is having an affair with socialite Jill Merrill (Janis Carter). Wracked with guilt, Tony meets Jill for a rendezvous, and tells her he is ending their relationship. As she woos him back to her, they witness a murder. Tony is now in a quandary of indecision - if he tells his superiors, his affair will become public; keep it quiet and the murderer gets away.

As in Framed (1947), the audience is aware that Jill Merrill is trouble from the minute they see her. Ms. Carter has a way of making her face hard as a rock, which instantly displays the character's distasteful nature - in his Noir Alley intro, Eddie Muller called her "feral". The problem is that one wonders what on earth Tony would see in this horrible woman?  Within minutes of her introduction, we find out what a heartless, callous  excuse for a human being this creature is.  She hasn't got any redeeming qualities, and while she is pretty enough, she could chew nails.

As a result William Gargan seems almost passive as the hapless police detective. He keeps attempting to break up with his mistress, and then immediately is back pawing her.  Tony is horrified by Jill's behavior, but expects her suddenly develop morals. She doesn't, of course (if anything, she becomes worse), and he is faced with letting an innocent man die, or confessing his own complicity in the murder.  

There are a number of interesting minor characters in the film, the best of which is Paul E. Burns as Police Lt. Ole Strom.  Mr. Burns gives a very subtle performance as a fellow police officer who senses what is going on, but decides to waits for Tony to see the error of his ways. He knows Tony well enough to realize he will come to his senses, and is the conscience of the film.  Between 1930 and his death in 1967  (at the age of 86), Mr. Burns amassed 259 film and television credits (as well as seven Broadway plays). His final role was that of the bum who gets Robert Redford's coat in Washington Square Park in Barefoot in the Park.

Jeff Donnell is good as Tony's wife, Martha. It's pretty clear from the start that she is aware that her husband is straying, but is patiently waiting for him to see the error of his ways. In later years, she, Janis Carter, and Ann Savage would live close to one another in New York City, becoming best friends (Eddie Muller's outro on Noir Alley).  The Cochrane's film son, Doc is played by Michael Chapin, the brother of Lauren Chapin (of Father Knows Best fame).

Though the film had the working title Inside Story (AFI Catalog), it was intended to be the first of a series of Night Editor movies, reminiscent of the radio series that inspired the film (Columbia Pictures Movie Series, 1926-1955: The Harry Cohn Years by Gene Blottner). The box office was not good enough for the series idea to continue.

In the end, we enjoyed the film; as Mr. Muller points out, it is able to get away with a lot of weirdness that A films would never be permitted.  We'll leave you with a clip from the film:

Monday, July 5, 2021

Has Pat Cracked Up?

George Steele (Pat O'Brien) assaults a police officer trying to get into the Manhattan Museum, where George works.  George is confused, and says he was in a train accident.  But Lieutenant Cochrane (Wallace Ford) from the police detective unit assures him there have been no train accidents in over seven months.  Is George about to Crack-Up (1946)?

Pat O'Brien gives a good performance as a war veteran who genuinely believes he was involved in a train wreck, but can't prove it.  If there is one problem with his portrayal it is that Mr. O’Brien is obviously too old (he was 47 when the picture was released) for the part he is playing. That aside, you do believe him both as a man being driven to the edges of sanity, as well as an intellectual with a deep interest and knowledge of art history. Mr. O'Brien's did only one other film noir, but he makes the most of it in this outing (TCM article).

He's well matched with Claire Trevor (Terry Cordell), herself a veteran of films noir.  She'd already done one notable noir - Murder, My Sweet (1944), and would win an Oscar for her performance in Key Largo (1948) two years after our film. It's a shame she doesn't have more screen time, but when she does appear, either working with Mr. O'Brien as his love interest, or with Herbert Marshall (Traybin), she takes command of the screen.

Though Herbert Marshall's part is small, he is used to good effect. You are never quite sure of the reliability of the character. Ray Collins (Dr. Lowell) is also in the same position.  By keeping the characters ambiguous, the audience is kept engaged in the action.

One small oddity in the film comes at the beginning. During an art lecture given by George Steele to a group of museum donors, Steele compares an old Master to a modern painting (which bears a passing resemblance to Dali), and trashes the modern painting. He is interrupted by an angry man in the audience; the man speaks with a distinct foreign accent and is nearly hysterical in his passion for the modern piece. It's an odd insert into the movie. As Derek Sculthorpe points out in his book on Claire Trevor (Claire Trevor:The Life and Films of the Queen of Noir), the screenplay seems to be linking modern art to radicalism - an acknowledgement to the increasing Red scare?

Based on the story Madman's Holiday by Fredric Brown, the film was not well received; Bosley Crowther's New York Times review found him "overwhelmed by [the film's] inadequacies." Regardless, in December 1946 Lux Radio Theatre did a production with Pat O'Brien and Lynn Bari. (AFI catalog).

While this is by no means a perfect movie, it certainly is worth a viewing, if only to see this very good cast work together.  We'll leave you with a trailer:


Monday, June 28, 2021

Leslie is Icy

Reporter Claire Cummings (Leslie Brooks) has ambitions. To get what she wants, she marries wealthy Carl Hanneman (John Holland) and dumps fellow reporter Les Burns (Robert Paige). Marriage is no barrier to getting everything she wants for Claire - she continues to write love letters to Les.  It doesn't take long for the jealous Carl to discover he was married for his money; he informs his wife he'll be divorcing her immediately, and using the love letters to get out of any financial obligation.  Claire, however, is not going to let a little thing like divorce get in the way of her plans. Our film this week is Blonde Ice (1948).

To say this is a Poverty Row film is an understatement. A transparent script, actors who rarely appear in anything but very minor roles, and a budget that was apparently in the single digits make this a really cheap production. Our group had a mixed reaction to it - I personally found it painful after awhile, but several members of the group enjoyed it - they found it amusing (though that was probably not the intent of the director and screenwriter).

The film is anchored on the leading lady, Leslie Brooks, who plays the avaricious Claire. From the minute she appears on screen, you know Claire is up to no good.  She's gotten through life on her good looks. One would think that, as ambitious as she is, she'd have a brain in her head, but sadly, she doesn't.  She has no sooner said "I do" than she is trying to make time with her ex-boyfriend. While on her honeymoon, she's sending him love letters, which she carelessly drops and allows her new husband to read.  His immediate reaction - divorce - gives Claire a new task. She'll kill him before he can file any papers. However, she's not awfully good at staging a suicide.

One major problem with the plot is the ostensible suicide of  Carl Hanneman. There are no powder burns on the late Mr. Hanneman's hands or clothes, and no fingerprints on the gun, but the police dither around as they try to decide if Mr. Hanneman was murdered or not. And of course, there is the fact that Claire is stupid enough to believe that she can just toss a gun on the floor and have it ruled suicide.

There is one more female character - Mildred Coles (June Taylor). She seems smart when we first meet her, but the script doesn't capitalize on it. She's the only one who appears to have Claire's number, and she also seems to have feelings for Les, but the script just drops her quickly from view. 

Russ Vincent who plays the blackmailing pilot Blackie Talon married Leslie Brooks two years after this picture was released.  They had three daughters (and one daughter from Ms. Brooks first marriage), and were married for 51 years, until his death in 2001.

When the film was restored and released on DVD, one critic suggested it might be an "undiscovered gem".  (TCM article). I'm not sure I agree, but it does have an amusement factor.  We'll leave you with a clip from the opening of the film: