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Conrad Nagel is the only "big" name in this film, but I'd say it's a
pretty satisfying B. You have to remember this is a poverty row
product, yet it is well directed and acted and has a couple of
interesting twists and turns as far as the script goes. Conrad Nagel
and Eleanor Hunt play a G-man and G-woman who seem to have something
romantic going - I was actually a bit confused at first as to whether
or not they were playing a married couple - and are actually allowed to
work together in the field in the days of J. Edgar, but then I guess
that's another story. I think this film was going for the "Thin Man"
married sleuth recipe that was such a hit in the 30's without being
redundant, thus the federal agent angle. Nagel and Hunt display quite a
bit of chemistry as well as good sleuthing teamwork. What I found
distracting were some of Eleanor Hunt's headdresses! I know the
well-dressed lady usually wore one up until the 1960's but gosh, I'm
surprised she wasn't receiving radio signals on some of them! What
brings the Feds to town is a group of bank robbers who have begun to
knock off members of their own gang when they get to be too big of a
risk - including one brazen murder inside a big city jail. You'd think
this would have to lower morale inside the gang, but you'd be wrong.
They seem to stay loyal to Mr. Big regardless of the fact that they
have to know they could be next. And that's what our Fed agents are
after - the Mr. Big behind it all, since the local authorities have
been concentrating on picking up all of the low men on the totem pole
with no lessening in the activity of the gang of robbers.
There are really no surprises in this one, it's just an adequately executed bit of film history that is a good time passer. I could have done without Vince Barnett's somewhat forced pieces of slap-stick, and the local police are made to look so stupid it makes the cops in the Boston Blackie series look like Columbo, but that was probably done to make the Feds stand out as brilliant and saving the day.
This one hour biodocumetary on the life and career of choreographer
Busby Berkeley is very interesting. It talks some about his personal
life, but it doesn't turn into a tabloid piece. Instead it just focuses
on the major points - that Berkeley never danced or took a dance lesson
himself, that he drank heavily, got most of his inspiration while in
the bathtub, that he married six times, only the last marriage being a
happy one, and of course there is a small part about the infamous
second degree murder trial in the 30's stemming from a drunk driving
accident. He was tried three times before acquitted. Yet in the midst
of all of this disorganized turmoil that was his personal life,
Berkeley produced kaleidoscopic numbers with military and mathematical
There are some great clips of Berkeley's numbers starting with his work in "Whoopee" where Sam Goldwyn, the epitome of the independent mogul, took a chance on Berkeley and a color musical at a time - 1930 - when musicals were falling out of favor, and came up with a hit followed by several more also starring Eddie Cantor. So Daryl F. Zanuck really wasn't taking much of a chance when he took then proved entity Berkeley to Warner Brothers to stage and create numbers for 42nd Street, followed by several other brash precode musicals there. The production code really put a crimp in Berkeley's style, and Warner Brothers soon lost interest in musicals, so Berkeley moved on to MGM where he was the director as well as choreographer. He had big budgets at MGM, and he had some success with musicals starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney and later Esther Williams, but ultimately his creative heyday was the 1930's.
If you want to see just how much cinematic choreography owes to Berkeley, try watching any of the precode musicals from the Dawn of Sound era - 1929- 1932. Almost any dance number involves chorines just walking around, swaying to the beat, almost appearing like they are looking for something to do. Busby got them all moving and moving in an interesting and coordinated way.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in Hollywood musicals, from the 1930's through the 1950's.
Gone with the Wind is a great visual spectacle, but that wouldn't keep
people watching after 75 years if it wasn't for the timeless tales of
three kinds of love - obsession mistaken for love (Scarlett for
Ashley), sexual obsession turned to love for someone who doesn't
reciprocate (Rhett for Scarlett), and true love with a barrier thrown
in the way to prevent that love from being physically expressed
(Melanie and Ashley) - the barrier being that Melanie cannot have
another child without losing her life, and in the 19th century that
means only one thing - no sex.
Scarlett has it all - beauty, brains, and eventually, a husband who can keep up with her - the dashing Rhett Butler, whom she doesn't appreciate because - well - she has him. She wants what she can't have and has never had - the love of the rather drab and double-minded Ashley Wilkes who loves the not so beautiful not so clever and not so healthy Melanie. One thing that Melanie does have - great heart, and a belief in the honor of the people in her life, regardless of whether that belief is earned or not.
The story is also one of transformation as Scarlett goes from pre-War southern Belle to hardened businesswoman post-War, in an effort to keep her family together and to keep the family plantation, Tara, out of Yankee and carpetbagger hands. Unlike her more genteel family and friends, who either lose everything or in one tragic case - her father - lose their sanity, she holds it together against forces she doesn't really understand and does whatever she has to do to beat the Yankees at their own game. But through it all she just can't get that unrequited obsession with Ashley out of her head, and that is more her personal undoing than anything the War did or ever could have done.
This film is a demonstration of the best the studio system could do in that fabled year of 1939, and it showed that the studios had finally "got" putting together a costume drama that conveys true raw human emotions and reactions and even eroticism without crossing that pesky production code line. For anybody who has ever made a wrong decision in love that you wish you could do over, for anyone who has ever had their world suddenly change for the worse and had to adapt, I highly recommend this film.
Karloff plays a dual role here as twin brothers, the oldest of which is
heir to the family fortune and lands. The children's' father fears the
old prophesy that as the family began, so will it end, and it began
with a younger jealous twin killing the older twin. This is what he
fears will happen again since the younger twin inherits none of the
lands that the older one does. Furthermore, the younger twin's right
arm is paralyzed, giving the younger twin even more reason for
bitterness and ultimately jealousy and murder. The prophesy also says
that the murder will occur in the "Black Room" just as before. A family
friend states the obvious - seal off the black room so that it cannot
be used and thus the murder will never happen. The father does that,
and erroneously rests easy.
Well, history doesn't exactly repeat itself. The older twin, Gregor turns out to be evil, and the younger twin, Anton, though disabled and without property of his own, is a good and generous soul. Gregor invites Anton home to "help him" - which, unknown to Anton, is actually part of a devilish escape plot by Gregor whose subjects are boiling over with rage from all of the women who have gone missing in the castle over the years. Both brothers take a fancy to the daughter of Colonel Hassle, Thea (Marian Marsh), though Thea actually loves a soldier. Thea is quite uneasy with the affections of Gregor, given his polite but menacing demeanor and all of those rumors about missing girls. So how can Gregor manage to both get the girl and get away from the angry villagers? Watch and find out.
The plot is extremely clever and ironic, Karloff's acting is superb with his roles seemingly tailor made for him, and the supporting players are very good, but there really isn't much atmosphere in this one to the point that it is really difficult to classify it as horror. Its strength is in its screenplay and in Karloff's performance, not its visuals. Still, I'd recommend this one.
Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is an aging tennis pro who learns that his
wealthy wife (Grace Kelly as Margot) has a lover (Bob Cummings as
Mark). Tony figures out what might have led his wife astray and fixes
it - he gets a real job with a real boss. But what if his wife divorces
him? He'd get nothing! Realizing that getting a job may have enlarged
his wife's respect for him but not diminished her affection for the
lover, he spends a large amount of time figuring out a perfect way to
kill his wife so that he can inherit her money. Tony has nothing
personal against Margot and her infidelity, he just can't take the
chance of winding up penniless. He can't do the job himself - the
husband is always the prime suspect in such matters. So, he must find
someone who will be willing to do the job for him. He's not the type
who hangs with organized crime types, so he has to find someone already
guilty of murder but yet untouched by the law and get that person to
agree to do the job for him.
It sounds perfect. Tony even has the lover with him as an alibi the night the murder is to occur. But everything does go wrong, and now Tony has to retool his perfect murder. Who will kill Margot for Tony? The law of course! Watch this great little thriller and see what I'm talking about.
Most directors lose a step after they are in their 50's. There is just something about their creativity that just fizzles, and I say that as someone who is 55 myself. But here Hitchcock is at age 55 doing some of his best and most clever work. This one is so ironic it could be considered a film noir if not for the elegance of the players, the setting, and that great score.
Just one thing that nobody ever seems to talk about much - did anybody else want Tony to get away with it just a little? He does play it icy cold and smiling throughout, but when he makes the phone call that sets everything in motion, you can see the regret in his face - the fact that he hates that this is the way that it must be. Meanwhile my sympathy was not with the cheating wife and especially the false friend Mark Halliday. The guy was sleeping with a man's wife while pretending to be his friend, even carrying on a kissing session with her while the husband went down the street for an errand. If you're going to steal someone's wife, let it be a stranger's. Don't shake the guy's hand, eat the guy's food, and accept his hospitality and take his wife behind his back too. Maybe Hitch wanted the audience to be conflicted though, maybe he was trying to add to the complexity of the situation with this added dimension. At any rate, watch this if you get a chance. In fact, watch it more than once. You'll always see something you didn't see before.
... and exhibit A as to why both Dick Powell and Olivia De Havilland
ultimately fled from Warner Brothers for meatier roles. Still, it has
its good points.
Maggie Richards (De Havilland) has just had a fight with her mother about not wanting to go to Newport for the summer, like most rich mothers and daughters did back in the day. As a result Maggie flees the scene by borrowing the valet's car and doesn't get far before she realizes she's out of gas. She stops at a gas station, lets the attendant (Dick Powell as Bill) fill up her car, and then tells him to "charge it", claiming to be the daughter of a wealthy man. The car isn't hers, she has no ID, and the money would come out of Bill's pocket if she never comes back, so he insists she return the gas or cough up the money, which she doesn't have since she ran out without her purse. When she tries to flee, Bill makes her make up the beds in all ten bungalows of the accompanying motor lodge to pay the bill, and hits her on the dernier with a broom when she tries to escape. Humiliated, Maggie vows revenge, but back home Dad (Charles Winninger) just is not interested in getting involved in this petty scrape.
Maggie returns the next day and gives Bill what he wants - a completely fabricated story about how sorry she is and tells him she is really wealthy Maggie Richards' maid. Bill buys this, dates her, and she tells him the password to get in to see Mr. Richards (Maggie's father), head of Federal Oil and Gas who might back his idea about building motor courts along with his company's gas stations. That password, however, was Mr. Richards' nickname in the oil fields when he started out in the business, plus Maggie knows her dad is really riled by strangers taking advantage of a password meant for old friends - much like a telemarketer calling an unlisted number. Mr. Richards gives Bill the business alright, but not the business Bill was hoping for. Maggie has her revenge, but she's starting to care for Bill and feel pangs of conscience about what she's done, but not before she has enlarged the ruse to ridiculous proportions so that if Bill finds out, she'll probably never see him again. How does this all work out? Watch and find out.
This could have been a better comedy, and it is pleasant enough as is, but there are some real inanities thrown into the situation, some funny some tiresome. One of funny parts is having Penny Singleton as the maid and Maggie switch roles for an evening. Penny is just perfect as a girl all dressed up like a plutocrat's daughter, but still with a working class demeanor and a rather limited and slanged vocabulary. This was the last film she did before she became famous as Blondie and she shows some of that comic flair in this film. The tiresome part of the film has to do with Mr. Richards, supposedly a self-made man, wanting to waste the day away with fifteen cent bets boxing, wrestling, and fencing his valet who always bests him. It's just not funny and seems out of character for a self-made man who had to be hard charging to get where he was. Why would he want to waste his time with such a silly pursuit? Recommended for fans of De Havilland and Powell, and for those great character actors who always added a touch of spice to these 1930's films.
... because usually William Powell played a wise dapper fellow. Here he
is a bumbling fool, a Foghorn Leghorn like bag of wind who is almost
unrecognizable dressed up like Colonel Sanders with white hair and
beard. And the pity of it all is he is also a U.S. Senator. To prevent
offense, his home state is never named, nor is the region of the
country from which he hails ever named. For that matter, his political
party is not named either. Senator Melvin G. Ashton (Powell) is facing
reelection to the senate. He knows he'll lose, so it's either back to
the private sector after 35 years in various political offices - in his
youth he painted white lines down the middle of roads - or he can run
for President. He chooses the latter purely because of the paycheck
The senator's personal assistant (Peter Lind Hayes as Lew Gibson) has a reporter girlfriend (Ella Raines as Poppy), and Lew invites her to listen to the Senator's speech one night. The senator drones on for over two hours saying nothing and boring the audience to tears. Poppy walks out after arguing with Lew that she wants to expose Ashton as the bag of wind that he is.
The reason the head of the party (Ray Collins as Fred Houlihan) is tolerating Ashton's candidacy is that the senator has a diary in which he has written down the details of all of the party's dirty deals and is holding it over the party's head unless they at least let him try to win the nomination. But then the unspeakable happens - somebody steals the senator's diary and unless it is recovered not only the senator, but his entire political party is doomed.
This film is like a reverse video of "State of the Union" from the following year, where Spencer Tracy is a thoughtful man who threatens the party as a possible presidential candidate as he speaks for himself. Here Ashton is a buffoon without a thought in his head who would never speak anything meaningful to anyone. It is a rare breath of cynicism regarding America's political institutions just as the Cold War is ramping up - and did I mention it is hilarious?
Allen Jenkins has a great supporting role as a very mercenary private detective. Milton Parsons is the party operative who has the job of calling in the party "cleanup crew" with names that sound like they are all in the mafia. I'd describe the rest of the characters, but suffice it to say that nobody in this film seems to have any positive character traits and thus none of them are people you will find the least bit admirable.
The final scene is hilarious with even a dig at the safety of nuclear testing and a cameo that will surprise you and leave you laughing if you know anything about film history. Highly recommended.
... and I watched it yesterday already knowing the very low IMDb
ratings. But seriously, everything Marion Davies ever did gets an 8/10
on this site and this gets 3/10??? I don't think so.
You can tell that this was not one of MGM's A List productions. No Liz Taylor, Edmund Gwenn, or Donald Crisp. Plus the story has been transferred to the pioneer days of the American west. The biggest recognizable star in the film besides Lassie herself (actually himself, since Lassie was played by Pal, a male dog) is Paul Kelly as an old prospector and Shep's (Lassie's) owner, and Mr. Kelly is practically unrecognizable. He's only 52 at this point, but he's donned up in whiskers and makeup that make him look like a thin version of Santa Claus. His hands clearly show he is not as old as the role he is playing.
This Lassie story is a bit different, besides just the move from Scotland. Lassie usually plays the passive lovable dog waiting for the good-hearted yet hard-headed Scots that are to decide her fate to come to their senses. Here Lassie has a more Clint Eastwood-like aggressive posture towards the man who killed her master for his gold and attempted to poison her and goes full fang on the guy at every opportunity producing a very ironic and just ending. By the way who names a female dog "Shep" anyways??? Paul Kelly is good as the prospector and master of Shep/Lassie except it is clear that he doesn't trust his partner, begging the question, why did he make this obviously nefarious fellow a partner in the first place? Bruce Cowling is absolutely awful as the villainous partner. He has a demeanor that would be better suited to a B scifi film of the 50's rather than this action adventure film. He is always looking up and around with a horrified expression on his face as though he expects an alien spacecraft to land at any moment. Gary Gray gives a good but not great juvenile performance as the murdered prospector's grandson - I didn't find him whiny at all. Native Americans are hammily and stereotypically portrayed, but at least they show them as seeming to be the only people for 100 miles around who know anything about veterinary medicine, even if one good stereotype doesn't wipe out the negative ones.
If you like or love the other Lassie films I'd say give this one a try. It's not boring and most of the film is focused on Lassie.
The whole movie is just a great farce. You have Will Rogers as American
razor blade magnate Earl Tinker in search of the world's finest steel
in a place that virtually has none - the Middle East. He's sailing
across the ocean to talk to the tribes that make the steel, but he
wants his competitors in the razor blade business to think this is a
pleasure trip. Dorothy Peterson is his justifiably suspicious wife and
Peggy Ross is his daughter. In a throwaway but amusing role,
considering how things turned out, you have Joel McCrea as a whiny
failed stuck-up playwright who eventually courts Earl's daughter and
actually plays a big part in saving the day. Jetta Goudal plays the
femme fatale who pretends to have an eye for Earl but actually works
for his competitor and just wants to know what his business plans are.
Earl loves his wife but he's flattered such a mysterious lady seems to
have an interest in him.
Towards the end of the film you get to see Boris Karloff as a sheik. He made this after Frankenstein but before his other Universal horror films.
Although the part of plutocrat would seem an odd role for Rogers, he still inserts much of his homespun humor, including a bit on the radio in which he gets a few zingers in at Congress. It's one of the few Will Rogers films that Fox never put on DVD, probably because it is such an odd role for Will Rogers. I'd definitely recommend this one if it ever comes your way.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
... and I'll let you decide as to whether or not that would be a good
thing! Let me also warn you that I spoil the 1937 film, "Confession"
just a little bit further down. The title "Alimony Madness" is meant to
get your sympathy from the start, because, let's face it, nobody would
be sympathetic of the ex-husband in a film named "Child Support
This poverty row film by PRC is quite well done with players that showed up in some of the major studios' films of the 1930's, in particular Leon Ames and Helen Chandler, and they certainly show their acting chops here.
Architect John Thurman (Leon Ames) is doing well, and although good with blueprints and design, apparently never saw the blueprints for his first wife's designs on his money - past, present, and future. After a year of marriage, Eloise wants a divorce. She also wants one thousand dollars a month and John's 40K stock portfolio, pre stock market crash. John agrees to all of this and even agrees to a New York divorce rather than a Reno one, and the only grounds for divorce in those days in that state was adultery.
It turns out that the paid correspondent is just a girl down on her luck (Helen Chandler as Joan) who needs money to send back home to the folks. She's actually a stenographer. All she has to do is sit in a chair until the wife's paid detectives break in - all pre-arranged of course. Now, almost everyone has an unusual story of how they met their spouse, and John's story is that this paid correspondent is the woman of his dreams - honest, forthright, and not at all bad on the eyes.
John and Joan eventually marry, but in the meantime the Great Depression sets in causing the collapse of John's business. It doesn't help that John's ex-wife, who insisted on the adultery ruse, is going around playing the wronged wife to the privileged set, further contracting John's business. Joan, who thought the two could just live on love, now sees the facts - the first wife is a premeditated blood sucker and will never remarry because she has such a great deal in John. They will always toil away as court appointed slaves to her.
Even this is acceptable to Joan until one night when their child gets ill John is arrested for non-payment of alimony on the way to the drug store to buy vital medicine for the child. Hauled into court and not even allowed to tell his wife he's been detained, he has to give up his last twenty bucks to the court to avoid jail. When he finally returns home with the medicine the child is dead. Joan decides to abandon her pride and go and settle things with Eloise once and for all. Eloise orders her out, but when Joan sees a twenty dollar bill for veterinary services for "Baby", Eloise's dog, the same amount of money that would have saved her child, she grabs a gun and shoots Eloise dead.
Now all of this is told in flashback, in the courtroom, by Joan herself. The jury is in tears, the district attorney is in tears, and Joan is exonerated, and practically congratulated by the judge.
The reason I'm so completely spoiling this film is that this is quite a turn from what would be accepted after the production code came in just a year later. In 1937's "Confession", Kay Francis kills a real blackguard who is about to lead the daughter who doesn't know her down the road to ruin, not to escape heavy financial obligations as Joan did, and yet she has to go jail under the code.
Highly recommended as a well done film from the 1930's on an unusual subject.
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