|Index||4 reviews in total|
On the strength of a positive recommendation, I watched this documentary short with little in mind other than to see what it was all about. The title alone, "Phantoms, Inc.", was enough to drag me in, and when someone said it was worth viewing, well, I was hooked. I'm sad to say there is virtually no entertainment value to the offering. It is downright depressing. It is the kind of thing which ought to be shown in schools as part of a course on how to use your common sense in life, and not rely on superstition, supernatural belief systems, and the word of con men. If a person is so gullible as to believe in mediums and soothsayers, then they should view this film. But for someone simply looking for entertainment, don't bother.
A rarely seen dramatic performance by matronly Ann Shoemaker, who played dozens of "mother" roles in the '40s and beyond, adds some interest to this otherwise run-of-the-mill MGM short. The cautionary tale shows how a team of "confidence men" (and a couple little old ladies, inexplicably) interviewed neighbors and pored over newspaper archives to help their ringleader con an unwitting, grieving mother (Shoemaker) out of her life savings. (In a dramatic moment, after confessing her sins to her mousy husband, she steps in front of a car, ending her own sad existence). TCM occasionally airs this as one of its One Reel Wonders. It's worth catching, for camp value, if you get a chance.
This installment of the Crime Does Not Pay series is a warning to the
public about the evils of psychics--though the story is indeed an
extreme one. It begins with a grieving couple whose son has died. The
wife insists that they consult a psychic and they are told some general
things which please the grieving mother. At first, her husband (Frank
Reicher) goes along with this but he soon realizes she's spending a
fortune to get information from the psychics which anyone could know if
they researched the family (which the psychic, played by Arthur
Shields*, and his confederates did do). When the husband confronts the
psychic, a fight occurs and soon the bodies start piling up!
This is a violent and exciting film. Hopefully it also warned some would-be victims about this racket, though I tend to believe that folks wanting to believe will usually believe--no matter what evidence you show them. Regardless, it's well made and worth seeing.
*Arthur Shields is actually the brother of Barry Fitzgerald and you can see the similarity between them--if you know to look!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mildly interesting now - that's the best to say about this odd series
of shorts made in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. It is watched now
because in some of the early episodes one catches glimpses of future
mega-stars on the rise (Robert Taylor popped up as an embezzler in one
of them in the late 1930s). But the spirit of these episodes works
against them now. We like to think crime never pays, but given how a
thug may become a celebrity in the U.S. or abroad, or how many
criminals seem to get away with their crimes (remember O J, or Harry
Thaw?) we can really question the total value of the series. I find the
real interest in looking at the various scams and crimes they
present...but that is a personal view of a criminal historian.
This particular episode dealt with the con-games of fake spiritualists. Arthur Shields sets up a scam in a small town, and with his assistants he fools people who come to him into believing he is able to communicate with the dead. As long as the money comes in he will produce fake results, but once the money dries up he slams the door.
Ann Shoemaker is married to Frank Reicher. Their son is a missing in action G.I. Shoemaker keeps going to Shields to try to keep in touch with the boy, whom she gets "messages" from through Shields, but always they fade out just before the end. So she comes back, spending more money and getting her hopes up higher and higher. Finally she has gone through the savings of herself and Reicher, and Shields slams the door on her. She tells Reicher and then walks in front of a car.
Shields at first does not concern himself, but he is warned that the police (Crane Whitley) are observing him. He begins to plan to flee, but his nervous behavior raises the suspicions of his assistant and partner (Harry Hayden - who usually appeared in Preston Sturges comedies like "Christmas In July" and "The Great McGinty"). He returns to his office and is confronted by Hayden whom he fights and shoots. But before he leaves he suddenly finds Reicher is there too, and ends up shooting him as well. By the time he has finished the second killing Whitley shows up with the police. We subsequently see that Shields was hanged for the double murder.
If you believe in such neatly packaged justice (for all except the unfortunate Reicher and Shoemaker) than you would swallow this. Somehow I just don't think successful grifters would collapse so easily (although occasionally they do - look at the celebrated "Yellow Kid" Weill, possibly America's most creative con-man, and (I believe) the model for Paul Newman's "Harry Gondorf" in THE STING - Weill did end up a prisoner, and a pauper, though he wrote an interesting book of memoirs.). But it is curious to see Shields in a lead role (usually he was one of John Ford's "family" of character actors, his best known important parts being the intolerant little village tyrant in HOW GREEN WAS OUR VALLEY and the Protestant minister in THE QUIET MAN). So I found the film, despite my misgivings about it's "justice triumphant" message, worth watching, and gave it a "6" out of "10".
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