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The Limping Man (1953)
Complexities and Scandal Resolved by the Cheapest of Story-Telling Tricks
Whoever is responsible for the story that told by this film simply didn't know of a reasonable way to pull it together, and so just let it fall apart.
After an unexplained separation of six years, an American flies to the UK to meet the woman whom he loves, an actress of some fame. As he and the other passengers walk from the plane to a terminal building, a man whom he stops by chance is felled by a sniper's bullet. The sniper walked with the assistance of a crutch. It is discovered that the woman whom the American has come to see had been both sexually involved and engaged in smuggling with the man identified as the victim of the sniper; apparently she was motivated to do these things because of her longing for the American. Further, her lover had subsequently blackmailed her, and now his presumptive widow, a singer, was blackmailing her. On the way, we discover that someone with an administrative rôle at the singer's theater uses a crutch. When the actress attempts to pay the singer, the actress and the audience learn that the presumptive dead man is still alive, and being assisted by his wife. The fellow with the crutch makes an appearance and is greatly injured by the blackmailer. The police, who have been going about the business of trying to solve the murder and trying to run the actress to ground show-up. A search for the blackmailer is begun; he has for no very good reason disguised himself as the fellow with the crutch, and when the police begin looking for a man with a crutch, it does not occur to him to chuck the thing aside; instead, he retreats to a balcony. When he is spotted, the America dashes after him, instead of allowing the surrounding police to do their job. A struggle ensues, with the American finding himself to be pushed off the balcony.
Were the film to break at this point, the audience would be left with many questions. Answering even just some of them in a satisfactory manner would be quite a challenge.
Well, the American awakes, because it was all a dream. That was the best answer that the writers had for us. (Formally, the ending has the disembarked American and the actress happily running each towards the other, perhaps to assure us that he hasn't dreamt exactly the future he were about to enter.) If, up to that point of awakening, the story had been, in some interesting way, dream-like, then that ending might be sensible or at least forgivable. But the story had been a haphazard construction of implausibilities, and the ending was simply a cheat.
Night of Terror (1933)
Not Awful, but Still Awfully Weak
This film has a weak story built on two gimmicks. (There are additional gimmicks to the film, but I count two to the story as such.) The first is a sort of locked-room aspect to the murder mystery, with the topology turned inside-out. The second is hiding of one string of murders,by one perpetrator, within another string of murders by another perpetrator.
But these two gimmicks are not themselves an hour's worth of story, and the story here built around them is not simply weak but incoherent.
Now, I would here insert that I don't know that WIlliam Mack, given the story credit here, actually produced this story. He might have produced a very fine story, only to have it mauled by Columbia into the story used for this film.
In any case, on top of the weak story was built a weak script. For example, it is ultimately revealed that the first victim of the second murderer was killed because of his suspicions towards about another person, but his actions concerning a third person are quite inconsonant with those suspicious. An effort is made to cast narrative suspicion on another character by having him express himself in implausible ways. A romantic triangle is sustained only by having the female lead repeatedly cheat on her fiancé. And some ostensible comedy is provided by having the one black character be inept, cowardly, and superstitious.
Much of the acting in this film is actually quite good, in spite of the poor script. The clear exceptions would be the performance of Edwin Maxwell (which was like something out of a Dwain Esper production, and possibly exactly what the director asked of Maxwell), that of Lugosi (who seems to be just walking through the material), and that of Oscar Smith (who wasn't getting screen credit anyway, in spite of doing more than some of the actors who were).
Somewhat Darker and More Serious
This 77-minute adventure is more like an animated action film with jokes and songs than like a longer episode of the television series.
A typical episode to P&F entails a three-way collision of the child-like genius of Phineas and Ferb, of the childish genius of Heinz Dofenschmirtz, and of the just-plain childishness of Candace Flynn. Phineas and Ferb have great fun, Doofenschmirtz is hoisted on his own petard, Candace is thwarted, and the only one who has any clue as to what has really happened is, well, a platypus.
But this time there's a different three-way collision, and the result is that Phineas and Ferb, oblivious to the sort of fellow that Doofenschmirtz is, help him to create a portal into a parallel universe. Not that big of a deal, perhaps, except that in that next universe, there is a Doofenschmirtz who is more genuinely evil, and with greater practical sense than the familiar Doof. This Doofenschmirtz has conquered his Tri-State Area, and imposed a totalitarian regime, with violent robotic enforcers. This alternate Tri-State Area has its comedic touches; but, for the most part, it isn't written for laughs.
Ultimately, an alliance is formed that draws together Perry, children of two worlds, and finally even the familiar Heinz Doofenschmirtz, to stop a man who has crushed one land and seeks to crush another. In the course of things, various people and at least one aquatic mammal learn what they have really meant one to another.
(And the viewer might also see what some of the characters have come to mean to the writers.)
As an action film for kids, this is pretty well written, Whoever did the story-boards had a very solid understanding of the What, Where, and When of an action film. Even when one knows what is about to be delivered, the delivery is usually very satisfying. There are some coherence issues here and there, but nothing really dreadful; and they would have been hard to resolve without making this film far too strong for some of its intended audience.
Dull, Uninventive, often Incoherent
This film is built around the device of a group of people diverted (accidentally or deliberately) to some isolating location, where they find themselves hosted by a party whom they at least initially take to be beneficient but who prove to be a spider or spiders.
Well, that device has been exploited many times. Many times, the web has been a small town or village. Many times, the spiders have been vampires. So, what does this movie do that's different? Nothing much, and what it does often incoherent.
Some summaries tell us that the people of the village are all vampires, and yet there seems to be a class of indigenous victim, three of whom are injured in the movie. We get no explanation of who these victims are.
Other than the vampires, there's another supernatural entity, who functions as a lemur ex machina, with little rhyme or reason for his behavior.
One of the visitors dies other than at the hands of a vampire, and when a vampire finds that character's body partially buried for no particular reason, hauls it out of its grave for no particular reason.
The climactic battle is almost perfectly unconvincing.
BTW, the apparent protagonist is a creep who spies on a woman as she undresses.
Mr. Wong, Detective (1938)
Mr. Wong, Accessory to Murder
The basic gimmick to this movie is clever. Mr Wong, on the other hand, either isn't clever or is a sort of passive-aggressive fiend, who delights in murder.
Before the second murder has occurred, Wong has the gist of how the first murder was effected. And, as the second murder is about to be committed, Mr Wong is positioned to know what the triggering mechanism is. So I'm shouting "Kick the door! Kick the door! Kick the door!" But Wong is just standing there. Perhaps he's not figured it out.
After the second murder, Wong is positioned to know exactly what the trigger is. But Wong allows a third murder to happen.
Well, I submit that Mr Wong does know; that, as the third murder is committed, the buzzard is sitting next to Street, giggling inside, as Street unwittingly kills the third fellow.
Wong doesn't bother to expose the murderer until the murderer has little cause to kill again. Unfortunately for the killer, Wong figures that he can get one more death out of the situation, by sending the killer to the gallows.
Wait! Why was Street sending people to the gallows in 1938? California switched to gas for people convicted after 27 August 1937. (Lethal injection was introduced in the '90s.)
The Bat (1959)
Harder to Excuse
If this film is worth watching at all, it is only in some act of compleatism.
Both the 1926 and 1959 films are constructed rather haphazardly. But, in 1926, movie-makers were still struggling to discover the basics, whereas in 1959 cinema was a relatively mature medium, and 1959 version could look back on two prior productions (not counting The Circular Staircase, 1915 and 1956). One infers that the 1959 version was made in haste, with a low budget, and perhaps with a lack of concern.
The screenplay itself is pedestrian. At one or more point, each of the characters does something unnatural because Wilbur (who wrote the screenplay and directed the film) did not find a way to advance the story naturally.
The sets, lighting, camera angles, and music give this movie the feel of a television production of that same era. For example, when there is meaningful use of shadow, it is only to produce simple silhouettes. (I don't know how the actual television production, from a little less than a year later, compares to this movie.)
This film has apparently been allowed to slip into the public domain. My suggestion is that, before one spends even the small sum charged by a publisher like Alpha Video, one should down-load a copy from the 'Net and watch that. If one disagrees with my assessment, then he or she will still be free to buy a higher quality copy for future viewing.
The World Gone Mad (1933)
Good General Idea, but Slap-Dash Execution
The general idea of this film is a good one: In the run-up to the Great Depression and stock market crash, and then in their throes and wake, high-level executives have been cutting corners and cooking the books at a financial firm, first trying to get rich and then trying to hide their titanic losses. A city district attorney gets wind of the fraud, and is murdered to halt his investigation. The murder is made to look like the work of a jealous mistress, bringing scandal upon his name. But the new district attorney and a journalist who is his close friend don't believe the conclusions of the police, and set-out to uncover the truth.
But the execution is very poor. This story is full of holes, of pieces that don't really fit, of loose ends.
The story hangs upon people being even less communicative than the typical lack-wits of real-life. For example, this district attorney has basically told no one, in his office or amongst his confidantes, which firm he has been investigating. Eventually a scrap of paper turns-up amongst his effects; but beyond that he seems to have kept no records beyond whatever he might have carried on his person when he was killed.
An initial scene shows a process of repeatedly subcontracting a crime through a series of middle-men, each passing on the job for half of what he receives, so that the immediate perpetrator receives on 5% of the initial payment. Yet it is a sudden and completely unexplained short-circuiting of that intermediation which allows the journalist to develop an idea of who would be the immediate perpetrator. Since the fellow who originally took the assignment gets few of the benefits of intermediation, he might as well have pocketted its cost.
The journalist, in any case, collects sufficient evidence to establish the identity of the immediate perpetrator. But he doesn't give the evidence or information to his friend the new district attorney. (Perhaps by way of an explanation, the journalist does make the insulting insinuation that the new district attorney might participate in the cover-up for personal profit, but the journalist could have talked to the police as well.) Instead, the journalist kidnaps the perpetrator. It's not clear where and how the journalist keeps the fellow.
With the perpetrator removed, the journalist then continues his investigation, and basically learns nothing more. The story is just spinning its wheels as far as he is concerned. The district attorney, in the mean-time, gets a couple of notes-ex-machina, without which his investigation is utterly inert.
Finally, we learn that the some of the killers have been stringing the journalist along, to find out what he knows. Amongst them are the fellow whom he kidnapped, who has escaped as mysteriously as he was being held. Under threat of death, the journalist is persuaded to summon the district attorney, so that the killers can dispatch them both. But the district attorney becomes conveniently suspicious of behavior for which an innocent explanation could easily be produced, and the day is saved.
Meanwhile, the highest official of the financial firm has learned of the fraud, and commits a murder-suicide so that insurance can repay the missing funds. Too bad for the investors in the insurance firm, but apparently: policies for many millions of dollars were written on the lives of just two executives; the insurer didn't grasp the problem of moral hazard, and write the policies to exclude payment in the event of suicide; and the insurer is sufficiently solvent to make a huge payment, even while the rest of the financial structure seems to be in crisis.
The wife of the previous, murdered district attorney is ecstatic that her husbands name has been cleared. Perhaps she looks forward to telling him about it when he gets home.
BTW: This movie is amongst those that perpetrate the notion that "blanks can't hurt you", which notion killed Jon-Erik Hexum. And what Vanderbilt said in full was "The public be damned! I'm working for my stockholders."
The Gay Parisian (1941)
Lots of Energy, No Coherence
There's considerable color, lots of energy, and the grins of the dancers tell us that we are supposed to think that this production is absolutely delightful. But the choreographer and dancers don't display sufficient technical virtuosity to off-set the almost complete lack of an actual story here. Imagine a second- or third-rate '40s musical, eliminate the singing, and replace the movie make-up with that appropriate to live theater, and you'll have a rough idea of what this film is like. Danny Kaye would have been expected to move with more precision than does Leonide Massine; the nameless dancers for MGM would have been expected to be better synchronized than are the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. While I'm sure that, with a run-time of 20 minutes, a more tiring film *could* be made, I'm not sure than one *has* been made.
The Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934)
Who Is Responsible for This?
I'm not sure whom of five people to hate: the director? one or more of the people given the writing credits? In any event, this is one of those movies that fairly actively insults the viewer by having the ostensible hero repeatedly be implausibly foolish -- as if drunk through-out the entire story. On top of this, the movie is awash with offensive ethnic stereotypes, and with obviously Caucasian actors pretending to be Chinese by looking filthy and acting sub-human. The Chinatown is made to seem as if it were literally over-run with villains, so that Wong's henchmen are to be found on every balcony and in most doorways. The banter between the hero and his love interest is not so much a volley of witticisms as it is an inept logomachy.
I paused the movie repeatedly, wanting to recover from sequences of stupidity before slogging onward.
One Year Later (1933)
A Forgotten Classic
This film starts somewhat inauspiciously, but develops into something well worth watching.
The core story of One Year Later is that of Molly, a young woman desperate to reconcile with her husband before she loses him finally and terribly to the electric chair. Jim is to die for killing his former boss, the man with whom Jim thought his wife to have been having an affair. Sure that Molly was unfaithful, Jim will not so much as listen to her. Jim has been made to board a train headed to the prison in which he is to die. Molly has got a berth on the same train, trying as she might to talk to Jim.
Also riding towards death is Tony, a reporter dying of lung disease. Tony knows something of Jim and Molly's story, and wants to help in whatever way he can.
Secondary characters include J. Atwell Hunt, unfaithful to his own spouse, and Greggs, whom that spouse has hired to prove the infidelity.
One Year Later has its flaws. The beginning, as I indicated, is inauspicious. The secondary stories and characters should have been better developed or not developed at all. (Thus, by implication, the movie may be seen either as too short or as too long.) But the central story is rather well handled. Most of the acting is of fairly high quality and Mary Brian and Russell Hopton in particular do fine jobs with their roles. And the resolution was relatively novel and bittersweet, rather than being trite and saccharine as one might have expected.