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American Madness (1932)
What more do you need to know? It follows Director Capra's tried and true formula of a genial hero faced with adversity but who manages to pull it out in the end. In everyone's favorite, James Stewart as George Bailey overcomes adversity (with some fantasy mixed in), and here it's Walter Huston, arguably Hollywood's best actor, also playing a bank president, manages to achieve salvation with the help of script writer Robert Riskin, one of Capra's best collaborators.
The theme may be similar but the faces change. Pat O'Brien, Constance Cummings and Kay Johnson support Huston, Johnson as his wife and O'Brien as a rehabilitated ex-con now working for Huston. This being 1932, there is a run on the bank as in the Stewart film. Although not the least of the problems the story works through, with the combination of Capra and Riskin an expected happy ending remains intact. The summary on the title page may not sound promising, but here is 30's filmmaking at its best. An oldie, but it's worth your time.
Old English (1930)
I'm sure George Arliss would approve of my heading, because that's what he was - a distinguished star of the London stage before coming to Hollywood. In fact, in this picture he is listed as MR. George Arliss. I think only Paul Muni was referred to as MR for a time.
There is no question who the star of the picture is. The camera favors him with countless close-ups and fixes upon his every movement, and in return he uses every acting trick he can summon and he is delightful. He tends toward ham every so often and it's a treat to watch. Here he is an old bank president 'on his last legs', as several creditors try to pry him from his job. The movie's title is his nickname among his colleagues.
The role is well within his capability and plays like a filmed stage play as there is not much camera movement, due probably to primitive 30's camera technique combining with sound. There are also no exterior shots and takes place strictly on a soundstage. I recommend it because it is fascinating to watch a master thespian at work, although it may not be as good as some. Disraeli (1929) and Cardinal Richelieu (1935) are better.
Boy Meets Girl
"Collide" is one of the most exciting, sustained-action pictures made in years. It is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that barely gives you a chance to catch your breath, and all this with one of the goofiest plots in a long time. Are you looking for a coherent, believable story line? Look elsewhere, but if you like mindless mayhem, exhausting suspense and comic book-type explosiveness, this one's for you.
Boy meets girl in Cologne, Germany. Two drifters in love, but she needs a kidney transplant. What to do? What else, turn to a life of crime, naturally. He becomes a drug runner and tries to turn the tables on drug kings Ben Kingsley and Anthony Hopkins. I couldn't wait for Anthony Hopkins to be on screen, he was so good. Think Hannibal Lecter, but with more menace. Fight after fight, chase after chase ensue in this action picture for the ages.
It was great. I kept wishing I was 16 again so I could just go with the hole-riddled plot.
Go, Johnny, Go! (1959)
Second Rate B
I lived through this era but I didn't see this one the first time around. Now I know why. Word probably got out that the songs were obscure and not the songs these performers were known for. The problem is compounded by a very lame plot which was meant as a filler in between songs, and you have a movie you can easily pass on.
Several big 50's names are here, but as I mentioned no famous songs. The story centers around singer Jimmy Clanton and Alan Freed, a 50's disc jockey unknown to audiences nowadays. Clanton is trying to break into show business and Freed is sponsoring a contest for an unknown singer on his show - you can almost write the script yourself from this point. The sole bright spot is a youthful-looking Chuck Berry, who does his patented duck walk while playing his guitar, and sings "Johnny Be Good" and "Memphis", which was made popular a few years later by Johnny Rivers. Berry is the only reason for my rating, which is too high without him.
The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)
It's not Nick and Nora, but it still works. The formula is similar and there is a murder mystery to be solved, and it's a pretty good one. the big difference is that Myrna Loy is not here and her place is taken by Jean Arthur, and she proves to be a very adequate replacement. She is the Ex-Mrs. Bradford in the title and also has the requisite comedic touch for such a part, and helps to keep the picture moving at the quick, breezy pace the genre is known for.
The plot involves a murder at a race track and another one connected to the first. If you are a fan of the Thin Man series you will enjoy this one as they are remarkably alike in pacing and screenplay. And the intricate mystery plot will keep you guessing right up to the end. A very enjoyable 80 minutes, even without Mrs. Charles.
A Scandal in Paris (1946)
Didn't care for "A Scandal In Paris", but I love to hear George Sanders talk. It is a supercilious voice that reeks of upper class snobbery but so soothing to the ear. And here it is, as he has the leading role and is seldom off screen. You can almost hear him purring to Anne Baxter in "All About Eve"; "You're not Eve Harrington, you're Gertrude Schlussinsky". Terrific stuff.
But "A Scandal In Paris" is a flawed picture and lacks verisimilitude, maybe because it's stagebound without a single outdoor scene and at times seems almost like an animated feature - claymation, or something. The phony backdrops are no help in this regard. The star gets great help from Gene Lockhart and Akim Tamiroff, especially Lockhart. This also may be the best role Carole Landis ever had, and she is gorgeous here.
All the foregoing accounts for my rating, because as I said, I didn't care for it.
Crime by Night (1944)
Good B Mystery
Sounds like a serious film noir, judging from the title. Wet,dark alleys, trench coats, world-weary private eye, etc. But it's not - "Crime By Night" is a breezy, light-hearted crime story that could have been a series. No telling where Warner Bros. was going with this entertaining B picture, but it could have been better than the main feature it played with.
Jerome Cowan is the star as the genial, unflappable private eye and Jane Wyman is his 'girl Friday', even though she has top billing. Can't remember Jerome Cowan as the leading man before. He spent most of his career as a supporting actor, but goes all out here as he solves a murder mystery - and it's a genuine whodunit, which is the yardstick by which all mysteries are measured. If you haven't seen it and you're a mystery movie fan, give it a shot. It's only 75 minutes of your time.
When Were You Born (1938)
The Play's The Thing
Or, at least, the story's the thing, and this is a murder mystery - and the story is pretty good. At 65 minutes it goes by quickly, so the viewer must pay attention or something will be lost. Nowadays, we have DVR's and can rewind if needed - and it's needed. The solution hinges on a specific time frame and several characters give the times of their alibi, and it's hard to keep them straight.
The plot is a good one, but much is made of the fact that Anna May Wong's character is an astrologist, which was very popular around the time this was produced. She has a habit of giving people the pros and cons of their zodiac sign after asking the title question, and it becomes tiresome. Her acting seems stilted, as though reciting from memory and not natural.
In any case, you won't guess the murderer; as I said, the story is a good one. Two things; it is told at breakneck speed, and the time frames of the alibis are crucial to solving the murder. As I said in the beginning, pay attention, especially towards the end.
Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)
Better Than It Sounds
Hollywood produced this one as the war in Europe had barely begun and the US was a couple of years away from Pearl Harbor. They had correctly identified the threat from Nazi Germany, though, and made a pretty accurate assessment of the consequences involved. "Confessions Of A Nazi Spy" is better than it sounds, and is not a story extracted from a cheap novel.
Nutshell; Some German-Americans felt an attachment to their Fatherland at the outbreak of the war, and some bought into the narrative and became Nazi sympathizers. Schneider (Francis Lederer) is one of those. He is inspired by the speeches of Dr. Kassell (Paul Lukas) and becomes a spy - more of a messenger - for a local subversive Nazi group. He is discovered by the FBI (Edw. G. Robinson), loses his nerve and informs on the group. Any more of the plot will spoil the story.
The picture is related in semi-documentary style which gives it a patina of authenticity and is directed by Hollywood veteran Anatole Litvak, who adds the required tension and who made several noteworthy noir and crime dramas in his career. Lederer and Lukas supply the villains and Robinson the hero in this surprisingly good rendition of a story of troublesome times to come for America.
Good But Not Great
This picture had a story by H.G. Wells, good cast members and outstanding special effects for the 1930's. What happened? something got lost between the book and the screen. I didn't read the book but it's hard to believe H.G. Wells could write a book so uneven in it's treatment of a man suddenly endowed with a gift for miracles. At first he is timid and reluctant to do anything noteworthy, then by the end he goes completely overboard in the opposite direction - and that is an understatement.
But then there are the special effects, which are eye-popping for this time period. Did you think the effects were remarkable in "King Kong"? This picture makes those look simple by comparison, and that's the real reason for my rating. The cast was fine and it's hard to quarrel with Roland Young in any movie he's in, but overall the story was a disappointment. You can 'suspend your disbelief' to a point - to approximately a half-hour from the end.