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The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed but I was struck by the similarities between the Thief's fight with a dragon, and that of Siegfried's in Fritz Land Ring of the Nibelungs. In both the hero makes a frontal assault on the dragon, then stabs it on its underside. Blood then rushes out, though wisely the Thief makes sure he doesn't touch it. There is then a sequence in both films where the dragon dies. Of course in the German film the dragon is asleep and not bothering anyone, so Siegfried has to wake it up and gratuitously kill it. In the American film, the dragon is barring the Thief's way so he has (slightly) more justification in killing it.
Both films were released early in 1924, so are these scenes pure co-incidence or was one influenced by the other? One commentator mentions that Kevin Brownlow says Fairbanks went to Germany and was influenced by their techniques, so did he get the idea from Lang? I personally think that both dragons deserved to be nominated for a Best Supporting Monster Oscar.
Three of a Kind (1936)
Don't wash your dirty laundry in public.
This was much better than expected, well cast and decently acted, though the father was too much of a buffoon to be really credible as the company president. As usual with these films, their interest lies in their social commentary on the thirties. When the hero who wins the annual works prize is offered the choice between $1,000 or stock worth $1,100, he asks if they are trading at par, the president huffs and puffs, so the guy grabs the dollars. A dubious character checks into a swanky hotel and the management vouch for him on the grounds he is wearing swell suits and carrying posh luggage. I particularly liked the scene at the used car lot when the girl is trying to sell her expensive new car and the dealer is offering a very low price on the grounds that it hasn't done much mileage so the faults won't have begun to show. But best of all I like the backless evening gowns all the broads wear (even when they're travelling with minimal luggage). Those were the days.
Nu er jing (1934)
Incomprehensible if you don't speak Mandarin
I am assuming that this is the film listed on the Internet Archive as "Bible for Girls", which has the same director and release date.
This two and a half hour long film in a language in which only "Hallo" and "Hi" were understandable was somewhat challenging, and I have no real idea of what was going on. A young, smartly dressed couple in an expensive looking art deco apartment with traditional Chinese trimmings welcome a number of guests, mostly attractive young women in expensive outfits. An elderly man, dressed traditionally and sporting a beard, also arrives. Each of the women then tells a story: the wife who steals her husbands money (I wasn't sure whether she might be being paid for services rendered); the wife who gambled away all the family wealth; the wife whose husband contracted TB (presumably, since he coughed blood onto his handkerchief); the wife of the gangster (the car chase through the empty fields surrounding Shanghai was decently done, as was the shoot-out). From time to time the elderly gentleman commented. Having got their problems off their chests, everybody happily goes onto the balcony to watch a parade: from the lights on the buildings, it seemed like Christmas. Although long-winded and wordy, there was some decent acting and some very effective camera-work. This was a lifestyle which was soon going to come to an end.
Valley of Wanted Men (1935)
The hills alive with the sound of gunfire.
A large group of prisoners try to break out from the city's house of corrections, but most are mown down by the warders' machine guns and the bodies pile high. Not a good advert for US penal practice, but common enough in the movies. Three prisoners get away and head off to a forest hotel. One of the prisoners, a bank cashier, was in the pen for a bank robbery he claims he was duped into assisting. Among the guests at the hotel are the bank manager and his fiancée, the former girl friend of the cashier. The ex-cashier believe the manager was behind the robbery and intend to prove it. After the required (a) two fist fights, (b) a gun battle, (c) some songs, (d) a couple of comedy interludes, (e) aerial surveillance (possibly by a Curtis Jennie), (f) several stick-ups, (g) the usual missed chances, (h) the girl being used as a shield (h) the girl's kid sister frequently getting in the way - this list is not exhaustive, the girl realises the manager is guilty, but to prove it pretends to go along with him so he shows her where he's stashed the loot behind a rock in the forest. He is then killed by one of the escapees before all is revealed and the ex-cashier falls into his re-united girlfriends arms. The body count was excessive, even for a B-feature.
I'd Give My Life (1936)
More gallows humour
Genre: get me to the gallows on time. A new clean-up governor is told by the local crime boss that he'll regret being a new broom. A young protégé of the boss is in love with the beautiful singer (Frances Drake, who should have gone on to better things) in the night club which fronts the rackets. One of which is a wire service for a gambling joint: the clock runs slow so the joint knows the results whilst the punters are still betting (genre: the gee-gees are running late tonite).The boy refuses to throw a jockey out of his aeroplane for failing to lose a race, and plans to quit. The boss explains that in fact he is the boy's father by the governor's wife. He stole the boy when the relationship broke up and put him through reform school to train him for a life of crime. In a fight the boy shoots his father. At his trial he is sentenced to hang, not least because he offers no defence (he wants to protect his mother who believes her baby had died). At the appointed hour, the audience assembles to watch the hanging and the boy is led in. Meanwhile, outside the correctional, correction, terminal facility, the girl waits. Later she goes to see the governor to ask for the corpse to give is a decent burial. The governor agrees and rings the warden to arrange matters. However, the warder explains the hanging was deferred on receipt of a call from the governor's office. The boy has been saved, and everybody gathers in the office to find out what happened (it was the governor's soft-hearted but indomitable mother who made the call). At that moment a member of the crime boss's gang rings up to tell the governor the dead boss had the last, laugh, as it was his wife's son they've just topped. It is now clear why such a play was made of the wire scenes. Based on the play, The Noose, it all worked very smoothly and tautly, so one could forgive any number of implausibilities and bureaucratic nonsenses.
The Night My Number Came Up (1955)
Alas, Kai Tak is no more
All the reviewers recognise this as great story telling with lots of snippets all over the place to add interest: the framing of the story between Michael Hordern's first arrival at air traffic control, and his chilling final remarks to the controller; Denholm Elliott's background as the Battle of Britain ace who cracked, Alexander Knox's unpleasant internment in Hong Kong during the war, the jokes about officers and civilians between the squaddies, Alfie Bass and Bill Kerr (Hancock's famous sidekick).
But a practical reason to keep coming back to this film is the early shot of making the approach to Kai Tak (once the world's greatest real-life white knuckle ride) in the days before the surrounding hills were covered with high rise apartments which you looked up to as you banked to starboard on finals.
Murder Is News (1937)
Well, I hadn't a clue what was going on.
Oh for the days when the newshounds got to the murder scene first, got their grubby prints over all the evidence, phoned their editors, and only then the affable Irish police inspector. Running for only 55 minutes, this film had to go fast to get everything in, but then it was too fast to be comprehensible. It featured a crooked night club owner whose chance of a fortune will be lost if his victim's demise gets out before a big deal is fixed a wealthy victim and father about to divorce his wife, the scion of the wealthy family who preferred to be a big band trumpeter and who worries about his parents up-coming divorce, a less than distressed widow, a dubious (aren't they all) lawyer, an attractive secretary who is attracted to the announcer of the radio equivalent of Closer magazine, a reporter who fails to convince his editor, the aforesaid Irish policeman, and a rather nice little hatcheck girl. The film was set in New York but made in Vancouver. I hope the cast thought their journey there worth it.
L'affaire d'une nuit (1960)
Lots of location footage around Paris
I wanted this one as part of my Brigitte Bardot collection, though she only has a very short, uncredited, scene irrelevant to the plot. Along the Right Bank, man A buys a bird in a cage for his wife. He then meets up with a school friend, B, he hasn't seen for years, who has a beautiful wife, C (the young Pascale Petit). After a drink in a café, A drives B and C to a manif militaire in the Champs Élysées which B wants to attend. A then offers to drive C to her home in St Cloud, even though he lives at Nation, but she asks to be taken to another location. A thinks she might be meeting a lover, hangs around, and when she comes out, picks her up and they go off to spend the day together. A tells his wife he is at meetings, C says B never gets home until late after his manifs. After shopping, wining and dining, avoiding a cheap hotel, finding her home a bit fraught, they head off into the country for an al fresco encounter. Since she never takes her tights off, one assumes nothing actually happened (though in those days films left a lot to the imagination). After breakfast by the Gare St Lazare, A returns C home pretending he has been looking after her after an attempted assault. B is shaving himself with a cutthroat, which worries A, but it becomes apparent that this is not the first time C has come home in a compromising position. A drives B to Gare de Lyon where the latter takes the train to Marseilles to get away from C, leaving B in an awkward position vis à vis both his wife, the bird in the cage and the bird at St Cloud. All very French and dubious, but the location settings around Paris were as I remembered them.
Miss London Ltd. (1943)
Lots of pretty girls to keep the troops happy
The main interest in this was its portrayal of London life in the fourth year of the war. An American woman (Evelyn Dall, the dead spit of Barbara Windsor) inherits half the partnership in Miss London Ltd, an escort agency; Big Hearted Arthur Askey is the other partner. (there are obvious parallels with Peter Sellers and Constance Cummings in The Battle of the Sexes, 1959). Dall arrives off the boat train at Waterloo Station, via the Azores and Lisbon, during the opening song by Anne Shelton, the station announcer, who later in the film shows more cleavage that would otherwise have been acceptable at the time, except for the exigencies of the war. This song is sung from the "control room", and I was reminded of Schlesinger's Terminus (1961 - a day in the life of Waterloo). The words are set round the stations served from Waterloo, many of them now long-defunct, such as Chard and those on the Meon Valley Line). The studio set of the Waterloo concourse, complete with the old cameo cinema, was remarkably accurate. Further scenes on the platforms were either filmed sur place or were of exceptionally high quality for a studio (not least in the Southern Railway carriage detail). The song and dance routine (with the girl SR Porters in uniforms looking surprisingly like those introduced with the sixties design changes) moved off the platform to the concourse and past the original platform indicator board by the low numbered platforms. (A version of this type of mechanical indicator is in the National Railway Museum in York). The board shows more old stations, but the panels at the top cleverly flash out the last line of the song. Actually, there was a big goof in all this: the boat train is shown at platform one, but in reality they all came and went from around platforms 11 to 13. Dall leaves the station by the Victory Arch and hails a taxi (though in fact one picked up taxis from the carriage road under the canopy. At this point she meets Peter Graves' army captain. I thought he sounded like David Niven, and later someone actually says he sounds like Niven! The rest of the film trundles along merrily. When Dall gets to the escort agency the pictures of the girls are all 19th century pinups. More modern girls are acquired, who are all out to earn extra money (etc) on top of their war-work day jobs. However one girl says she was sacked from being an aircraft observer as the aircraft came in too low to observe her. (It was actually very interesting how the film cleverly skirted round the seamier side of escort agencies, making the whole this appear quite wholesome, apart from one reference to the girls being on duty till midnight, after when, what they did was their own affair!) In another scene a posh dinner à deux is arranged in the captain's hotel room. The waiter lists the menu, essentially a dozen variants on Woolton Pie! It was very difficult to catch all the wartime references, but one I did was, "He's as difficult to understand as those messages after the 9 o'clock news": these were the coded messages sent from London to the Resistance. Two of the best bits in the film were the brilliant take-off of the Marx Brothers, and Richard Hearne (later Mr Pastry on children's TV in the forties and fifties) as the dancing commodore.
Polizeibericht Überfall (1928)
Worth watching for the art deco teapot
A slight morality tale becomes an avant-garde short. A man picks up a coin in the street, is run over by a car and carted off to hospital. The coin ends up in the gutter. Another man picks it up and tries to buy cigars with it, but it's counterfeit. He goes into a café and joins a dice game where he wins money. He leaves but is pursued by a thug after his winnings. To escape the thug, the man goes off with a prostitute who has a rather nice chrome plated art deco teapot. Her pimp tries to murder him, but is interrupted by a neighbour, so he get thrown into the street where the waiting thug beats him up, the coin rolling back into the gutter. A montage of images follows indicative of someone coming round after an assault. The man is now in hospital and the police say his assailants have been captured and will be prosecuted if he can identify them. He decides it would be better not to.