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The College Hero (1927)
Pretty Pauline Garon
With Churchill Ross' name in the cast this may well have conjured up Universal's "Collegian" series but it's a feature from Columbia. Pauline Garon, a Wampas Baby star of 1923, had caught Cecil B. De Mille's eye but from the mid twenties was ensconced in flapper roles with titles like "Passionate Youth" and "Satan in Sables". Because her first language was French, whenever there was a French language version made of a popular talkie (studios did that in the early sound days) she had work but when those jobs dried up all she could find were bits.
Two college chums, Jim Halloran (Rex Lease, soon to be a cowboy staple in the talkies), a bragger and "Happy" (Robert Agnew), an all round good guy become rivals in love - what an amazingly unusual twist on the typically college football movie (she says sarcastically)!! They didn't start out as friends - Halloran and his mates gang up on fresher "Happy" and when Jim realises he will have to share a room - that is the living end!! - but after a friendly fight, within minutes they are best buddies!!
Also new to college is the lovely Vivian (Pauline Garon and don't believe the other reviewer, she is absolutely beautiful!!) - she has already met "Happy" through a prank pulled on her by some catty college flappers. She is told to sit in "Happy"'s clapped out jalopy if she wants to get to the girl's dormitory!! Life proves a wild buggy ride as Vivian barely reaches her destination in one piece. "What were you before you became a chauffeur?" "A life-saver", "What flavour?"!! "Happy" is smitten with Vivian's snappy comeback but she is less than impressed!!
On the night of the big dance (every college movie has one), nerdy Sampson Saunders (Ross) begs the boss to be his sister's date but only "Happy" volunteers and - you guessed it, the college swat's sister is none other than the ravishing Vivian. Of course Halloran soon comes buzzing around and cheekily Vivian introduces him to her room-mate Nellie, a gangly girl who he soon wants to "give the air to"!! Time passes, they are now members of the Varsity Football team and both in love with the same girl. On the eve of the "big game" (every college movie has one of these as well), Halloran overhears some catty comments about Vivian to the effect that she is a "college hero" lover and whoever is the hero of the game is the one who will win her heart!! He then takes steps to put "Happy" out of the big game by tripping him up as he is running towards the goal posts and funnily enough, it is Nellie who is there to console - she saw what Jim did but realizes he is truly sorry.
Jim, who now has all the hopes of the big game riding on his shoulders, goes missing!! Will he be back in time?? - hey, this is a college movie from the late 1920s, of course he will. Ben Turpin is on hand to provide a few funny moments including a "crazy Carmen" dance - just enough time to prove that comedy had come a long way in sophistication since Ben's hey day!!
Crow Hollow (1952)
When You Marry a Stranger
Anne (beautiful Natasha Parry) is on top of the world, she is about to marry Robert Amour (stolid Donald Houston) the man of her dreams - but after only a week's acquaintance, how would she know?? When she meets his dying neighbour at the hospital for all the elderly woman's agitation, the message is clear - keep away from Crow Hollow!!
Yes, it is one of those "gloomy old house" mysteries with Parry as a young bride trying to find her way out of a treacherous domestic situation - but if you haven't seen it before, the ending is quite a surprise! Donald Houston seems to sleep walk through his part, it is left up to Parry to carry all the emotions of the film and she does a great job.
She goes to Crow Hollow, Robert is definite about that as he'd promised his grandfather that the house would be his, on condition that he makes a home for his three aunts. And what aunts they are - there's Judith (daffy Esma Cannon from "The Rag Trade") with her strange love of spiders, Hester - no nonsense and a strict believer in diet and fussy, house proud Opal. Then there is sulky, uppity Willow (Pat Owens), the maid, only she is more than a maid, she is treated like a petted daughter and her insolence irks Anne ("are you sure this is the latest London fashion, seems a bit dowdy to me"). There is the spider incident where Judith's deadly spider somehow finds itself on Anne's shoulder, then the poison affair where a pot of bracing broth that she is given after being caught in the rain has her fighting for her life!!
By now Anne is so demoralized that she decides to leave for London but at the station she meets Diana who tells her what she knows about the family's history and persuades her to return. It all hinges on Willow and her mysterious past - her father was the old gardener but who was her mother?? Unfortunately Anne returns to find Willow has been murdered but seeing she was in Anne's room wearing Anne's dress and new hat, Anne thinks she is safe in assuming that she and not Willow was meant to be the target!!
I've read pretty grim things about this movie in a few books but it's definitely not that bad and worth a look.
"What Can They Do"!!
Oscar Micheaux tackled a huge variety of subjects and topics in his films, all of special interest to his race. Mob violence, rape, economic exploitation, even inter-racial relationships are explored but as in many race films of the 20s and early 30s skin colour was important - light skinned Afro Americans represented the educated and elite while the poor and criminal classes were usually depicted as darker skinned. This movie was a bit different, yes Eve Mason, the heroine, is a light skinned African American who leaves her home in Selma, Alabama after inheriting some land from her grandfather. She then encounters Jefferson Driscoll a bitter and twisted mulatto with a deep hatred for black people - ever since his mother surprised him with a visit when he was romancing a white girl!! He takes Eve for a white girl but "her skin may be white but her eyes betray her origins"!! - once he realises his mistake he orders her to the barn and laughs maniacally when he sees her stumbling about in the mud.
She makes her way to the woods where her grand father's cabin and land is waiting for her. With the help of prospector and neighbour Hugh Van Allen, he is also able to help her chase off some intruders. Driscoll has sold his boarding house and is now a horse trader and Allen finds out how disreputable when the horses he bought in good faith prove to be broken down nags. He confronts Driscoll at the local saloon and after a realistic fight Driscoll is bested and vows revenge. He gets his chance when a dropped letter that falls into his hands shows that Van Allen's land is extremely valuable. He then enlists the head of the Ku Klux Klan to scare him off it!! The images of the Klan riding through the woods at midnight are scary - it looks so real. Quite a chunk of the rest of the movie is missing. I'm wondering whether it was deliberately censored by some Southern cinema owners as it showed the Klan's raid failing due to a "coloured man with a brick"!! That wouldn't have gone down too well in some of those towns.
The film resumes with Van Allen, a couple of years later, now an oil king, running his own company and visited by Eve now working for the Committee for the Defense of the Coloured Race. He was completely unaware of Eve's African American parentage and can now proclaim the love he had kept hidden.
Another powerful film from Oscar Micheaux but surely there must have been better music available than that 60 minute drum solo!!
A Very Innovative Ten Minutes of Film!!
In 1909 Edwin S. Porter left Edison studios to found Rex but it's most famous film "Suspense" was probably directed by it's two leading players - Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley. Smalley was a Griffith devotee who while trying to make a film along the lines of "The Unseen Enemy" included all his master's innovations - close ups, travelling shots, high camera angles, then hit on an innovation of his own - the triptych!!
A servant leaves - refusing to stay in such an isolated place, through the keyhole the mother is seen playing blissfully with the baby. Later, finding the maid's note she looks out of the window and down at the face of a tramp (Douglas Gerrard) who stares menacingly into the face of the camera. She rings her husband who appears as part of a triptych - the other image shows the tramp entering the house.
The husband is having troubles of his own - while desperately trying to get to his wife and baby, his car is stolen and while the stolen car is the main focus of the scene, the police and husband in pursuit can be seen on the dim horizon. In another unusual camera shot, the husband can be seen gaining ground through the stolen car's rear view mirror.
According to Thomas Gunning "no film made before World War 1 shows stronger command of film style and even out does Griffith for emotionally involved film making"!!!
Cover Girl Killer (1959)
Although done so much better in "Peeping Tom"(1960), "Cover Girl Killer" was an early attempt to delve into the sleazy adult entertainment world with sex magazines, strippers plying their trade and the unusual casting of Harry H. Corbett, an actor known more for his comedy roles. With his pebble glasses, odd isn't the word for his look but it showed that British films wanted to at least tackle some unsavoury contemporary themes and on the strength of this film, Corbett was given a few off-beat roles before he hit pay-dirt with "Steptoe and Son".
The glasses were just part of his disguise as a nerdy photographer who lured buxom models to duplicate their cover poses from "Wow" magazine without being in the least suspicious. Meanwhile the flaky young magazine owner decides to boost his flagging sales (somehow no models want to be "Wow" cover girls now!!) by running a series on the "Cover Girl Killer". Lovely Christina Gregg played one of the victims - Miss Torquay. Gregg was beautiful in the Jean Simmons mode and really refined her acting technique from this early role as a shrill talking girl new to the modelling game. It's such a pity she didn't have a bigger career. Her part, small as it is, does further the narrative. All the other murders are done with a lethal injection of morphine but she starts to panic when the killer begins a tirade of "you are frightened to be alone with me but you parade your body before the world" etc, so she is strangled.
Like all those "my brain is bigger than the whole of Scotland Yard" criminals, he visits the police - as a concerned landlord who is convinced he has let one of his flats to the notorious killer. With models prepared to be on a "Wow" cover completely dried up, the police organize for June, the magazine owner's girlfriend to be the cover girl bait but "the man" is one jump ahead and hires a lookalike to be a decoy - while the police think they have their man, "the man" is free to strike again!!
Butcher's Films were started during the Boer War and was the oldest company still in film production after the Second World War. It's most popular film was "The Monkey's Paw" and while during the 1950s it had gone into television, by the early 1960s it had all but ceased production.
The Trial of Mary Dugan (1929)
Magnificent Norma Gives a Power House Performance!!
When Ann Harding was chosen to play the title role in the play "The Trial of Mary Dugan" which opened in September 1927 (it ran for 437 performances) it was considered a sensation at the time. The theatre was decked out as a court room with audience members the jury, policemen were lounging in the lobby and scrub women were dusting the furniture during intermission. It found favour with critics and public alike but Ann, who before this had been in "A Woman Disputed" lost her enthusiasm for the role wanting a proper break so she could enjoy her new baby daughter.
When talkie films came in court room dramas were just the thing - they had drama, suspense and they only needed one sound stage (to help contain the microphones that seemed to pick up every little sound in those primitive times). Warner Bros. had already bought out an early (1928) film "On Trial" but the sound was dreadful and when MGM brought the rights to "The Trial of Mary Dugan" they gave it the lush and opulent MGM treatment as well as the perfect star in their own Norma Shearer. Shearer was a standout and her voice was beautiful and clear and didn't have the "tewebbly, tewebbly" British tones that, even in 1929, audiences were fed up with.
It added to the suspense by having Mary, who was talked about and the focus from the start, not actually talking until at least half an hour into the film. Norma is Mary Dugan, a Broadway showgirl moonlighting as a prostitute so she can pay for the legal studies of her younger brother Jimmy (Raymond Hackett). When her latest "sugar daddy" is found murdered, she is put on trial, defended by her old friend Edward West (Lewis Stone) who, when a chief witness (the murdered man's wife) is put on the stand, refuses to cross examine her. Before that there is a parade of dizzy chorus girl friends who unintentionally paint Mary as a shallow party girl. Lilyan Tashman is just so hilarious, flirting with the judge, calling businessmen "wet sugars" (heavy with money) etc. Suddenly Jimmy appears and disgusted with West's low key handling of the case, replaces him with himself!!
From the time Norma Shearer takes the witness stand - you are just riveted by her powerhouse performance. Her emotions and masterful acting are on display as she relates her sordid story - all done to give her brother a decent start in life and at the end liking and getting used to the luxuries her "clients" showered on her. Raymond Hackett is just superb as well and steals most of his scenes.
Working conditions were bad according to script writer Bayard Veiller - all to do with the intensity of the lights, no fans were allowed because of the noise and actors and crew worked in temperatures close to 120 degrees!!
Highly, highly Recommended.
Flirting with Fate (1916)
In the 1940s "The Whistler" had Richard Dix as a man who is desperately searching for an unknown man who he has hired to take his own life - now he wants to stop the contract. It was nail biting stuff and was one of the top entries in the darkly noir Whistler series. Almost 30 years previously Douglas Fairbanks had played it for laughs!! He is Augy Holliday a temperamental artist who can "draw everything except a salary"!! For once Fairbanks is not wealthy but he is able to poke fun at rent collectors - even poverty, as all he can do is to paint a picture of a steak dinner that his hungry dogs devour!!
He falls in love with Gladys (sweet Jewel Carmen), a girl walking in the park who his friend Harry seems to know. But poor Augy is tongue tied with Gladys and can only rehearse with her friend all the endearments he can't say to Gladys!! Of course she overhears their conversation and turns to the man her mother has picked out for her!! but the unkindest cut of all is when he returns home and finds that the portrait he has painted of her, that he would not sell at any price, has been stolen!
The laughs start to come when Doug decides to end it all - first he decides to gas himself but an unpaid bill means the gas has already been turned off. He then makes the acquaintance of "Automatic Joe" - the hit-man who never misses. George Beranger gets just as many laughs as Doug and gleefully rolls out the many ways of death at his disposal. But professional killers also have sick mothers and Joe now promises to go straight! In the meantime Augy's luck has changed - his painting has been found, a friend has lent him money, his stepmother has died leaving him a millionaire and Gladys now knows all and wants to make amends. Augy is now scared witless that Joe is still on his war path - he is - on the Salvation Army warpath!!
Augy goes to the police and they assign him "the Correspondence School Detective" a lamebrain who is forever under the police's feet. Very funny in parts but not consistent and could have used more of what made "Wild and Woolly" so hilarious.
A Blonde for a Night (1928)
As Fluffy As Marie's Hair!!
After starting off as a Mack Sennett bathing beauty and working her way up from shorts to features things started to fall apart for Marie Prevost. She had married Kenneth Harlan and they lived life to it's fullest but in 1926 the studio did not renew their contracts and also during the year Marie's mother died in a car accident. Her marriage over, she went to P.D.C., a small time studio where she had some roles (teamed with Harrison Ford) which gave her back some of her sparkle, among them a sizzling bedroom farce "A Blonde for a Night" - a film with a plot as fluffy as Marie's hair!!
After rhapsodizing over the fact that they haven't had a quarrel after a week's wedded bliss the tiffs soon start and don't stop!! Into this comes Bob's old school friend, George (T. Roy Barnes) with his "stocks and blondes" jokes, especially the one about "the bottle of peroxide with the baby stare you used to spend your money on" haha, but Marcia doesn't find it so funny!!
Franklin Pangborn, the second named in the cast, is terrific as Hector, a prissy French fashion designer who decks Marcia out in a beautiful shimmering gown and a blonde wig. He is also responsible for a lot of the film's fun. In one scene he is behind a curtain, George looks down at him and says "give that leg back his bracelet and get rid of him"!!! Marcia is asked to model some gowns and in her blonde wig disguise she attempts to have some fun with the boys and comes across with some very heavy vamping!! George has brought Bob along, describing him as "a human lemon just waiting around for someone to give him a squeeze"!!! A lot of fun is in the snappy titles and in the fact that dopey Bob never quite cottons on to the fact that the little blonde vamp is his very own Marcia.
When Hector, emerging from the bedroom in a pair Japanese pyjamas, calls Marcia "a wig wearing woman" you can almost hear Pangborn's exasperated tones.
Sweet Mama (1930)
Alice Gives It This and That!!
Completely agree with other reviewer, Alice White was so refreshing both in movies and in private life. At a time when actresses were trying so hard to sound like they belonged to the 400, Alice's chirpy naturalistic tone was a balm to the ears. She originally had been a secretary (to Josef von Sternberg) but with her feisty personality she belonged in the movies and the titles
- "Hot Stuff", "Naughty Baby", "The Naughty Flirt" told viewers what to expect. When talkies came along she was a natural for musicals and she gamely put over song numbers, even though she was not from a "show" background. But she called a spade a spade once too often and by the time Warner Bros. swallowed up First National she was one of the first casualties. In fact David Manners, her co-star in this movie, said in a "Film in Review" interview, he could sense the tension and the feeling that Alice White was on her way out and he felt sorry for her.
Stranded in Sunnyvale during a storm and Goldie (White) is cracking wise with the best of them. The rest of the girls are giving her heaps because her home town boy Jimmy whom she has put on a pedestal is now in jail!! Her one thought is to be by his side so she leaves the show to catch the next train!! By the time she finds Jimmy he is out of jail but into the frying pan!! He has quit his job at the bank and is taking orders from racketeer Joe Palmer (Kenneth Thomson) - he was sick of having no jack and wants the big dough!! (funny to hear David Manners with his clear, stage diction through these phrases around). Goldie is not impressed and calls him a big bozo!!
When she goes to the police station to repay a loan, the money is found to have been stolen from a bank job and the detective Mack (Robert Elliot, who else) informs Goldie that if she gets a job at Palmer's club and finds out all she can about their operation the charges against Jimmy will be dropped. Yes, only in a 1930 movie could Alice White be seen working under-cover for the police and getting the dope on a bunch of racketeers!! Of course that's just an excuse to deck out cute Alice in feathers and spangles in a big production number. "Giving It This and That" sees Alice at her most adorable, strutting her stuff in front of a chorus line. Who cares if she can't really sing and dance very well - it's cutie pie Alice!! There is some very up to the minute camera work ala Busby Berkley with aerial shots catching chorus girl formations.
Goldie plays along with Palmer's amorous advances - all the time conveying her information back to Mack until things go wrong and she is in danger of being taken for a ride!! David Manners is as usual which means nice back-ground dressing but it is Alice's film all the way and at 55 minutes a very nifty, fast paced movie with Alice at her breezy best.
The Silent Passenger (1935)
The Body in the Trunk
Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Whimsey was given short shrift in British films in the 1930s - his debonair personality would have suited Ray Milland or David Niven and maybe led to a series but as played by Peter Hadden in "The Silent Passenger", Whimsey was played more for comedy in the "silly ass" Englishman style. It was left to the star, John Loder as John Ryder to get involved in the thick of the action. In fact it would have been a tighter film if Lord Peter, along with his butler, hadn't got in the way so much.
By the mid 1930s, Britain was still reeling from the "body in the trunk" case at Brighton and several films made this the focus of the plot. The "body in the trunk" in this case was Maurice Windermere, a scheming blackmailer who has just made Molly Ryder an offer she can't refuse. Namely a trip to the continent, travelling as his wife - the pay off at the end, love letters from her that he has kept!!! When frantic husband arrives, the person he has a confrontation with is the murderer - Windermere is all ready on his way in the trunk bound for Paris. By the time the body is discovered, at the Paris end, John has already joined his wife and has made the acquaintance of Lord Peter who, even though appearances are against him, is already convinced of John's innocence. At just under an hour it is pretty fast paced and things pick up when the murderer reappears - as .......... definitely no big spoilers here!!
Thorold Dickinson, who later directed the suspenseful original version of "Gaslight", was the editor and the climatic final chase through the railway shunting yards was a testament to his skill. Dresses were by Norman Hartnell Ltd. although they didn't look anything out of the box.