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Modest quota quickies often played in independent halls as a main feature provided there was enough appeal to capture an audience - and this little murder mystery from the tiny Southall studio seemed to tick all the boxes!! Not only were there a few sightings of some BBC radio personalities at the start (with a starry eyed fan sighing "isn't he handsome") but "20 Questions" was a very popular quiz program in it's day and the movie even featured a few of the original contestants although only Jeanne De Casalis received "guest artiste" credit!!
Rona Anderson had been part of Rank's young ladies "charm school" but for some reason she just didn't stand out. She soon found herself trapped in Bs even though she once said "second features were not a good look - it looked like you hadn't quite made it"!! She was a lovely addition to any movie and her brisk resourcefulness usually gave more depth to the part than was often there. Here she played Mary vying for the big scoop with fellow reporter from a rival paper Robert Beatty and with all the chauvinistic wisecracks typical of the early 1950s.
Both she and Bob happen to be in the audience of "20 Questions" when a question is sent in by a listener (an unusual occurrence) - the team get a lot of fun with linking Rikitikitavi to a mongoose!! Next morning an avid listener of the program awakes to find her husband dead - his name is Riki Tavi and a stuffed mongoose they bought back from India has pride of place on the mantle. After another murder the intrepid pair find that India is the link - and the connection is a trial where a violent man was sentenced to life for killing an Indian servant. He is now back in Britain under an assumed name and thirsting for revenge from all the people who put him behind bars!!
There are boundless clues but no one seems interested - an Indian manservant Mahoomed Ali mentions a strange man who feeds the pigeons in the park but only viewers will link the clues, the cast are all too busy pointing an accusatory finger at Ali, even though he spends the movie scared witless that he is going to be the next victim!!
Clifford Evans turns up in a pivotal role - he seems the only cast member who had seen better movie days (a leading role in "Love on the Dole" (1941)) but by the 1950s was firmly ensconced in the Bs!!
Paul Fejo and His Wondrous Camera Are the Real Stars!!
Had to pinch myself to see if I wasn't dreaming - just a mighty opening - Broadway, that monolithic monster chewing up all the hopes and dreams while daring the dreamers to come on in!! It was Universal's big special production of the year and Laemmle Jr. spent over a million to bring Phillip Dunning's and George Abbott's hit drama to the silver screen. Laemmle commissioned a huge Art Deco night club set, 70 feet high and a city block wide which replaced the small, intimate cabaret of the play. Paul Fejo is the real star - he designed a crane to give the camera fluidity of movement and travel from every angle.
The musical numbers are secondary to the story and while, with countless imitations, it is as familiar as an old shoe, back in 1929 it was fresh and exciting. Even in 1929 the imitators started in with movies like "Broadway Babies" and "Broadway Hoofer" but as one contemporary commentator said "all they could steal were stones from the mountain, the mountain itself remained"!!
Mordaunt Hall may have declared that Lee Tracy was a far better Roy Lane but Glenn Tryon was pretty good and he was comfortable with dialogue. He played Lane, a song and dance man in the Paradise Club who leads the chorus girls through their paces while waiting for a lucky break that is going to propel him and his partner Billie Moore to the big time - or at least "Chambersburg and Pottsville"!! "Hitting the Ceiling" and "Broadway" are the show stopping tunes but the real action takes place behind the scenes. Sweet Billie (Merna Kennedy, fresh from Chaplin's "The Circus") - she does tend to slow the story down a bit with her mushy "you wouldn't kid me would you" and "I'm for you , you know I am"!! She is being romanced by slick bootlegger Steve Crandall. As played by Robert Ellis he seems to have genuine feelings for her, calling her "little fella" and "I'd murder for you" but with his gang he is all business and it is the murder of Scar Edwards (Leslie Fenton), shot in the back that brings about his downfall.
Thomas Jackson who repeated his role as the laconic detective Dan McCorn was singled out for high praise. His distinctive, dead pan delivery soon had him typecast as a stone faced law man in films such as "Little Caesar" etc. Evelyn Brent was also given good notices and for me she gave one of the best performances. She was Pearl, a tough chorine who has a good reason for wanting Crandall bought to justice.
So different from a lot of the early talkies - actors play and recite their dialogue as though they mean it and the slang and the wisecracks must have enthralled movie goers at the time. "Weisenheimer", "swell fella", "four flusher", "if a Jane I'd pinned all my hopes on was going to Hell" and as one chorus cutie wisecracks when told to put on a happy face for the customers "smile at 'em? - we can hardly keep from laughing at 'em". And in cutting pre-code put down "If I've ever seen a professional virgin, she's it"!!!
Without Warning! (1952)
Baby Face Killer of Blondes!!
This movie was a major find for me - the fifties ushered in a more realistic noir genre (thanks to "He Walks By Night", "Dragnet" etc) zeroing in on loners, killers whose motivations were never fully explained, helped enormously by outside location shootings and casting unknown actors. Adam Williams is perfect casting as the fresh faced boyish loner, he is just appealing enough for it to be understandable why lonely women were taken with his charms.
Carl Martin is a gardener whose creepy personality was enough for his blonde wife to look elsewhere. Toward the end he tries to justify his behaviour on his wife's abandonment but from the start, with his barely concealed gun it is so obvious that he enjoys killing. As the film opens, the police are baffled by yet another "blonde killing" but this time they have a clue - the killer left a calling card in a piece from a blue coat and as the forensics guy says, an expensive one!! Martin is always one jump ahead of the police - they have been combing men's clothing repair shops but Martin realises this is just what they expect him to do and burns it!!
The pacing and editing keep you on the edge of your seat - usually with the expectation of violence that is always implied but never seen. As when a beautiful blonde gives him the "come on" in the bar, they get to talking in her car, the next scene shows her obviously dead. What follows is a really cracker of suspense - Carl and his "date" parked under a bridge are noticed by a passing policeman, he tries to drive off but the car becomes bogged in the dust - even that doesn't arouse the cop's suspicions. When the policeman wants to take a closer look at the girl who Carl says is just drunk, that precipitates a mammoth chase on foot along with gun play through unfinished freeways, zig zagging around the Produce Market where the killer thinks that by his fancy footwork with changing taxis, he has given them the slip!!
As well as trying to track through a murderer's mind there is also a routine police investigation going on - from the discovery of the murder weapon being a pair of secateurs, it is concluded that they are looking for a gardener. Carl has already lined up his next victim - she is the daughter of the man where Carl buys his gardening supplies. Initially turned off because she is married, he can't resist his compulsions which end in a shoot out, outside Martin's ramshackle house amidst a poor Mexican hillside settlement, soon to be demolished for Dodgers Stadium.
This definitely should be ranked along with "The Sniper" as one of the early 1950s best "unknown noirs"!!
Thelma Todd is Terrific in a Rare Leading Role!!
Lyle Talbot came to Hollywood after having his own stock company to answer the "we need good stage actors" call and happened to catch the eye of William Wellman who immediately started using him. This film wasn't Wellman directed (it was a Phil Rosen picture) but it did have ravishing Thelma Todd in a rare main role, in fact the title role!!
Even though Dr. Cromwell (Talbot) is acquitted of a malpractice suit, his reputation is in tatters with only the gawkers and gossip mongers willing to wait in his clinic all day just for a chance to view him. When a pushy reporter posing as a patient gets Cromwell to open up his heart he feels betrayed and is only too willing when an aviator buddy convinces him to fly to places unknown.
Cromwell is the only person to walk away from the crash and into a small Yukon outpost where he tries to keep his identity a secret - in fact the beautiful Klondike (Todd) gives him the idea by commenting that he couldn't be that "killer doctor"!! And how have they been able to get all the up to date mainland news?? That is all through Jim Armstrong (Jason Robards) who before he was stricken down with an unknown disease (the same one that Cromwell had operated on that caused him all that trouble) he was an engineering wizard who has built radios in every room. His father (good old Henry B. Walthall) guesses Cromwell's true identity and begs him to operate on Jim, saying he will accept any outcome.
There has to be a villain and the splendid Jason Robards is a great one - initially hiding his surliness under his affliction, he can't hide his "megalomaniac" nature when the operation is a success - but is it?? Jim realises that if he shows how well he is he will lose Klondike, so he decides to stick to his wheelchair (and only walk at night). The thrilling ending features Cromwell, minutes from death at the hands of maniacal Jim - will he be saved with only the radio sound waves to help him???
Priscilla Dean who was a huge star in the teens and twenties - she was Universal's biggest female star until the arrival of Laura La Plante - she played the feisty reporter!!
The Night Won't Talk (1952)
Chelsea Model Murdered!!!
....scream the headlines - there seemed to be something about murder movies set in the glamorous world of upmarket Chelsea which attracted movie goers like a magnet. Maybe it was a case of murder and death could also come to the rich and famous as well as the poor and underprivileged!!
With the dynamic duo of Brock Williams (script) and Daniel Birt (direction) behind the scenes, this was an intelligent though actionless talkie thriller and left the viewer in no doubt as to the perpetrator. Stella Smith, a Chelsea artist's model is found murdered and the three likely suspects sure are jittery!! They are Kenneth Wills, who had last used Stella as a model just a few hours before, Martin Soames, secretary of the Portrait Painters Club and whom the police dub a highly unlikeable character and Clayton Hawkes. Hawkes is the most intriguing character, he was engaged to the beautiful Hazel - until Stella came along. He and Stella also had a blazing row at the local artist's café only the night before and Hawkes also suffers from that malady so beloved of crime writers - the "occasional blackout syndrome"!! He's suffering from that this morning and Hazel volunteers to help him through but someone else also offers their services!! She is exotic artist Theodora Castle (Hy Hazell) who seems to be the only calm voice of reason when everyone around her is losing their heads!! - but is she??
Hy Hazell stands out as a very solid performer (maybe because she is the only one who doesn't act like she has something to hide). Her real name was Hyacinth (believe it or not) and she was mainly a musical star who was billed as Britain's answer to Betty Grable until the lean 1950s found her doing time in those dreaded quickies!! Mary Germain played Hazel (not very imaginative) and was a Sally Grey lookalike. She was only 18 and gave a good performance but her career was sparse and she soon disappeared from the screen. At only just over 50 minutes there is not a lot of time for characterization - Stella has been busy and the police find she has married and divorced the creepy Soames in her dim, dark past but even though the police are initially interested, Soames doesn't rate a second glance!!
East Side - West Side (1923)
When East Meets West!!!
Lovely Eileen Percy started in films while still a teen as a very sweet leading lady in a few Douglas Fairbanks' movies. She later left films to marry Harry Ruby of Kalmar and Ruby song writing fame and was portrayed in the "Three Little Words" film biography by beautiful Arlene Dahl. Her co-star Kenneth Harlan was a popular leading man of the day who found his biggest success in the films he co-starred in with his then wife Marie Prevost, including "The Beautiful and Damned".
This movie was based on an unproduced play by actor Henry Hull, who would be forever known for the movie "The Werewolf of London" (1935). This was also one of the early directorial credits of Irving Cummings. A similar styled story to "Our Blushing Brides" - three girls sharing a tenement flat. Sickly Kit (Maxine Elliot Hicks) who looks on with envy at Eunice who is soon to move out to a Park Avenue penthouse, courtesy of an ardent stockbroker lover and Lory who tries to keep her home life and soul harmonious. Soon her West Side and the East Side of the pampered Van Norman family is going to meet thanks to Dr. Shepley (Charles Mailes). He thinks the Van Norman family lives in an ivory tower of fad diets, nerves and extravagant lifestyles with Duncan's (Harlan) out of touch essay on poverty being the last straw!! He organises for Lory to come in as the family secretary - "this girl has seen poverty you can't find in books"!! he tells a skeptical Duncan. Meanwhile even though Kit envies Eunice her "fringe benefits" Lory informs her that Eunice was only there this morning to borrow $5 - with her charge accounts and inventoried jewellry she is not allowed cash, not the way Lory would want to live. Kit also has her dreams in the form of a cherished letter from a far away uncle promising riches when his ship comes in!!
This is a nice little romance - Kenneth Harlan is always dependable but apart from him and Percy none of the cast caused any ripples. Hicks played a real child in a couple of Mary Pickford films ("Poor Little Rich Girl"). Lucille Hutton who played gad-about Eunice (she disappeared after her interesting first scene - I kept expecting her to come back into it) and Betty May who played Duncan's frivolous sister - both were actress ships who passed in the night!!
Leap Year (1924)
Not as Funny as Arbuckle's Shorts
Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle had once been one of the screen's premier comedians and he and Mabel Normand had proved so lucrative in their pairings for Paramount that in 1918 the studio offered him a $3 million dollar contract to make 18 movies over 3 years. But the 1921 Labour Day scandal which resulted in the death of starlet Virginia Rappe and the trials which managed to keep Arbuckle's name connected with some salacious headlines for over 6 months destroyed his career. Even though the last trial completely exonerated him and the jury took the unprecedented step of composing a remorseful apology with each member embracing him and shaking his hand, there were moves afoot to prevent him from ever appearing on the screen again. Most of his movies due for release were destroyed or conveniently disappeared. "Leap Year", one of the very few to survive was eventually released in Europe in 1924 after Paramount forbade it U.S. release because of the scandal.
With the resurfacing of "Leap Year", it shows how prestigious Arbuckle's films were - directed by James Cruze and photographed by Karl Brown, ace cameraman for D.W. Griffith. I'm also wondering if Mary Thurman was the first actress to wear her hair in a bob on film - she plays the nurse, Miss Brown of Stanley's gouty old uncle (Lucian Littlefield) and is described as having a "sanitary haircut"!! She is fired early on but not before Stanley vows to her that he is not fickle in his affections!!
The thing I love about Arbuckle's comedy, he is not a "look at me, I'm a funny fat man" comic - in fact from the start he refused to do comedy that took advantage of his size. There are a few scenes in this movie that show his balletic grace, one at the start when he dances a solo tango to show he is just over the moon about Miss Brown's love....but then he arrives at Catalina Island and he finds he is fighting dames off with a stick - a golf club actually!! In view of the looming scandal and the seedy gossip making front page news in many papers, this plot featuring Roscoe as an unwilling girl magnet may not have been in the best taste!! The plot line for the first half hour just seems to be a handle to introduce a bevy of girls. There is fickle Molly (Gertrude Short) who sees in Stanley the real man she had been searching for!! Her fiancé is not amused! Then there is Lois (Helen Hammond), a gold digger who desperately wants to get her hands on his bank book!! She is down with her sugar daddy - but daddy's wife pays a surprise visit so Fatty is asked to escort her about so wifey won't get jealous. She wastes no time in proposing and in the effort to escape he swims out to a moored boat where he meets - bored Mrs. Rutherford who claims her husband doesn't understand her and that Stanley has swum all the way across the bay to propose!! The film ends when all the ladies converge onto his uncle's stately home and it soon resorts into a Benny Hill style chase!!
For me the movie was not particularly funny only in a broad slapstick way. And if this Paramount feature was typical of Arbuckle's output, I think his style was soon to be out moded as the 1920s went on. Certainly he was not a patch on the Big 3 - Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd as far as comic talent went!!
Journal of a Crime (1934)
Chatterton Excels in Psychological Study.
When Ruth Chatterton saw the money Paramount was spending on publicity trying to establish Marlene Dietrich, she could see her studio days were numbered - after all, she was Queen of the Lot!! So when Warners offered her a contract, she listened, hoping her pictures would be an improvement but they weren't. In fact "Journal of a Crime" may well have been her best - it showed she was capable of any diverse role the studio threw at her.
Chatterton gives a simply grand performance as Francoise, a real psychological study of a woman trying to retain her youth, anything that will restore the love that her husband once gave her. First seen shrouded in shadows in the theatre alley, she wants to see first hand if the rumours regarding Paul and his mistress, Odette (the beautiful Claire Dodd) are true. She also witnesses the ultimatum that Odette gives Paul - if he is not willing to ask for a divorce, their affair is over!! This maybe one of the few sympathetic roles Claire Dodd was given - her Odette just wants some legitimacy from Paul (Adolph Menjou) who comes across as a weakling.
It is Ruth's movie all the way - when Odette is killed by an "unknown assailant" the police quickly capture Costelli (Noel Madison) who is found hiding out in the theatre wings after having held up a bank in another part of town. Only Francoise knows the truth and Paul, who finds her gun in a bucket backstage. It is Paul who keeps the journal, the diary where he pours forth all his pent up and bitter feelings toward his wife. And because Chatterton has so much warmth, feeling and emotion as she valiantly strives to put a brave face on every day, trying to find the strength to decide what to do - Menjou is suave but cold and you wonder why Ruth has the strong love for him that she does. She has a meeting with Costelli who warns her not to confess, that he has killed before and is happy to take his medicine. But this was 1934 with films readying themselves for the introduction of the Breen code - no man, woman or child could get away with anything, especially murder but even this film's conclusion will take incredibility to new heights!!
Douglass Dumbrille plays a warm and charming Chief of Police, the sort of partner Francoise deserved and Walter Pidgeon had a bit role as "a singer"!!
Black Tuesday (1954)
....that's the way this movie hits you!! For all people who think that Edward G. Robinson's 1950s movies were only rehashes of his earlier hits - then they just haven't seen this film!! Robinson has an explosive performance in him as the brutal Vince Cannelli (the way Little Caesar may have ended up if he had lived)!!! And something you don't see every day - Jean Parker (she of the sentimental "Little Women" and "Sequoia") playing Cannelli's hardened gun moll and the one who masterminds the last minute escape!!
Like caged animals, the prisoners pace their cells to the singing lament of "Black Tuesday". Vicious thug Cannelli is due to be executed that morning, along with another prisoner (Peter Graves) who has $200,000 hidden away in a fool proof hiding place!! But Cannelli is not looking nervous - his girl has hatched an escape plan which includes kidnapping the daughter of one of the guards over seeing the execution so he has no choice but to fall in with the plan. Which also includes taking Manning along as Cannelli hopes to get his hands on that hidden loot. One by one people are appalled by Vince's psychotic behaviour - leaving most of the people who helped him escape by the side of the road with only a lonely gun to help them in a shootout to the death when they are captured by police!! By the time they arrive at the hideout, the kidnapped daughter finds her father has already been killed and when Cannelli springs the old "if you don't give us our demands, a person is going to be killed every half hour"!! - from what the movie has revealed, you know he is not joking!! Problems start when Manning is shot and when forced to leave his sick bed to retrieve the money from a safety deposit box, leaves his calling card - a bloody finger print on the desk!! The finale features a blazing shoot out between the police and the gangsters, with innocent people fleeing flying bullets (not always successfully) - almost out bigging "The Big House"!!
The Jack-Knife Man (1920)
Almost Like Viewing Living History!!
"The Jack Knife Man" was among King Vidor's earliest works and the power of the movie did not escape Frederick James Smith, reviewer for "Motion Picture Classic". He wrote a glowing review praising Vidor for proving that there was an even greater movie in him, as his "Turn in the Road" suggested. Smith felt it was a film of tomorrow with genuine characters and a story you could believe in. Ellis Parker Butler's story was a traditional, homespun yarn which Vidor shot in authentic Mark Twain country along the Mississippi River - the stables, country roads, buggies and little corner stores make this film almost like viewing living history.
The lonely riverboat wanderer is played with poignant authenticity by Fred Turner. Claire MacDowall, an early Biograph actress was almost re-discovered by Vidor - not only was she memorable as the homeless dying mother who takes refuge from the storm in Lane's boat, Vidor also used her again in "The Big Parade". Also coming into the story, an old tramp tries to steal the boat and also becomes a rival with Peter for the little boy, Buddy's, affections (a plot similar to the later "Captain January", a big success for Baby Peggy). With all this sudsy plot line you would be forgiven for thinking it would be awash with sentimentality but no - Vidor strove for common humanity.
Peter Lane is content to live out his twilight years on a shanty boat with only his clock tinkering to keep him busy. The only gossip he inspires is how long will it be before the Widow Potter finally drags him to the altar!! Into his ordered life comes a desperate mother anxious to save her little boy Buddy from the hated juvenile authorities. Soon there is only old Peter and "Buddy Boy" left - they travel the river but Buddy, missing his mother is inconsolable, it is to make the little chap smile that Peter picks up his old jack knife and starts to whittle a Noah's Ark.
Booge is a hobo, first he tries to steal the boat then his carefree ways and comical singing almost steals Buddy's affection but with child protection agent Briggles hot on Peter's trail and with Booge proving a good friend, the two decide to split. Peter and Buddy, always only one step ahead of the law, find Susie, Buddy's sister and as much as Peter hates to do it, they must leave her where she is for now, in the hands of a brutal cook who runs a slop house. Little slavey Susie is really only a baby herself. The ending is tidied up in a typical "enteprenarial" way that was to become a fixture of the 1920s. Peter, now left on his own after surrendering Buddy to the authorities is taken up by a beautiful society girl (lovely Florence Vidor) who happens to see his little Noah's Ark figures and thinks he could make many little children smile again. He is set up in his own little store and, now prosperous and able to walk proudly, the finale is set for a reunion and a wedding!!
Fred Turner had been a vaudeville performer, he died in 1923. Harry Todd who played Booge had been a comedian from film's earliest days (notably in Snakeville comedies). What an adorable little boy Bobby Kelso was, his Buddy was a real cutie. Unfortunately this was his only film. Only Florence Vidor (King Vidor's wife at the time) could look forward to a flourishing career in the 1920s.
Very Highly Recommended!!