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Wednesday's Child (1934)
Portrait in Agony
Bobby Phillips (Frankie Thomas) is the collateral damage that results in a bitter divorce between Mom (Kay Francis) and Dad (Edward Arnold). Dad's older and travels a lot, Mom's regretful and totally focused on escape. Bobby goes through the intense grief that accompanies such a situation and the script heaps on additional sharp sticks in the eye. We watch Bobby (surrounded by his friends) discover his Mom with another man and later we squirm with him as he testifies at trial against one of his parents.
Post-divorce, we see additional grief heaped upon the adolescent Bobby by the hapless Mom and the oblivious Dad. The story is somewhat heavy handed, but overcomes underplaying (to the point of disappearance) by Kay Francis and overplaying by Edward Arnold, whose trademark laugh could have been meted out in much smaller doses here. To its credit, the script doesn't point the blame at one parent or the other, but focuses on how young Bobby deals with it all. The performance given by Frankie Thomas is somewhat uneven, I think,but he was given a lot of dramatic baggage to deal with and a director who seems to have been asleep at the switch much of the time.
Dave Durand, later of East Side Kids renown (?), is the only supporting player worth mentioning here, as he gives an entertaining and energetic performance as Bobby's school chum mentor. Everyone else seems to have had the life sucked out of them by the black hole of Kay Francis' malaise or caught whatever virus made Edward Arnold go into supernova mode periodically.
This movie deals a heavily stacked deck, but is still moving at times, mostly thanks to Frankie Thomas.
Inside Straight (1951)
Success breeds unhappiness
Rip McCool (David Brian) has 19th century San Francisco at his mercy since he has all the money and they have none. Angry villagers are lining up outside the bank before it opens in the morning so that they can clean out what little there is or kick some banker (Mercedes McCambridge) butt.
Friends, enemies and the ambivalent gather in Rip's upholstered parlor to plead for themselves and the town. Through a series of flashbacks, we see the roller coaster journey of an ambitious man coming up through Hard Knocks University, who has managed to frustrate and confound all with whom he comes in contact. They want to like him, but he just won't let 'em. An exception is Rip's loyal man Friday (Lon Chaney, Jr.), who knows why Rip is a hard case and unlike the other characters, has seen a positive side of his nature. He may just be easily impressed.
The suspense turns on whether McCool will bail out the city or let it go to the pelicans. The city's fate is to be decided by single game of stud poker between McCool and his arch rival the banker. This can of corn is worth watching and should be better known. MGM production values and fine performances by almost everyone provide an enjoyable watch. Barbara Billingsley (aka June Cleaver) has a nice bit and I found it gratifying to see Lon Chaney, Jr. in a role that allowed him to do more (emotionally) than he normally was asked to do.
All in all, pretty enjoyable.
Prison Shadows (1936)
Dumbbells, donuts and a dog.
In Prison Shadows, hero Gene (Ed Nugent)Harris has been sent to prison for killing a boxing ring opponent for a reason which only makes sense to Al Martin, the scriptwriter. Gene is paroled to a fight promoter who bills him as Killer Harris. The promoter is aided by Gene's betrothed, wicked gal Claire (Lucille Lund) and a crooked fight manager. All told, Claire is stringing Gene, the promoter and the fight manager. All together they plot to have Killer Harris kill all his opponents so that they can get rich quick from all that good publicity. Honest.
Dumber than the plot is Gene (Killer) Harris who loves Claire, his dog and donuts, not necessarily in that order. Gene is blind to Mary (Joan Barclay)Grant's love. Mary shows up when Gene gets out of the clink, while Claire sharpens her femme fatale skills. Mary is mostly ignored by Gene, but makes due by tending to the dog, being secretary to the evil promoter and giving Gene lessons on how to properly dunk donuts. Honest.
But back to the dog as existential hero. Hollywood has given us daring dogs, cute dogs, drunken dogs and brave dogs, all usually partnered with humans that weren't anywhere near as smart as the dogs, whatever condition the dogs are in. This film could be considered a splendid example of the heroic dog formula. There is a twist here however. This dog, whose name I hopefully will never remember, does two dog tricks: leaping into the outstretched arms of any human who wants to hold the delightful little fur ball and sabotaging any sincere effort by a human to correctly dunk donuts. Just Ed Sullivan stuff, so far. Dogginess is only a pose however, until the moment arises when the cute little dickens can become a detective and uncover a key clue that eventually leads to the hero solving the mystery of why only Irish fighters are murdered. Or something. The solution involves towels, Chinese herbs, a now deceased dog and police force members whose average age appears to be about ninety. Not enough to hook you, yet?
There are three scenes that I will not live long enough to forget: the aforementioned donut dunking seminar spiced with syrupy flirting and accompanied by the dog doing a medley of his tricks; Gene doing roadwork in tweed trousers, a cardigan sweater and fedora; and the obligatory thrilling climax when a police stenographer (age 93) pops out of a gym locker pen and pad in hand.
Finally, intended as comic relief, but mostly functioning as a major depressant, is Syd Saylor,whose mugging and shtick are lost on me. Jerry Lewis fans might like him, though. Most comic, however, aside from the performances, is the method of murder practiced by the baddies. Truly creative and unique in cinema history as far as I know. One for the it's so bad, it's good collection.
The Red Hair Says it All!
Dr. Sam Martin of Prairie Dog, Out West Somewhere, appears to have it all. He is the town superhero, beloved by everyone. Within the first five minutes of the film he chases down the stage to get someone else a lift, cures a roomful of sick and hypochondriac townies with gentle wit and wisdom and short-circuits a potential diphtheria epidemic. He is also the betrothed of the Technicolorly garish red-headed Hannah, daughter of the biggest shot in town. The perfect couple is within a mare's whisker of tying the knot when all this good is smacked in the kisser by the evil Kirk Denbrow and his thriving brood of sociopaths. Papa Kirk spouts quotes from the Bible while blithely looting and pillaging the countryside. So far, pretty normal in the Hollywood West. There is a white sheep son named Ben, however, who with his much abused, sick and Totally Ruined Mom, has forsaken the Psychos-Are-Us chapter of Prairie Dog and seeks to build an honest, but poverty stricken life for himself. Ailing Mom brings Super Doc into the picture and the doc attempts to save and make whole Mom and Ben and anyone else who gets in the way. His altruism is rewarded, of course, by losing the undying devotion and love of his fiancée to Ben, who is merely human, and the respect of every man, woman, child and barnyard creature in Prairie Dog - except for the Jackorski family who are foreigners and don't know any better. The Doc sticks up for Ben when the gentle townsfolk want to string him up for being a Denbrow. They are too inept to catch the bad Denbrows, who never seem to have to commute too far to hang some mayhem on the genial villagers, but any Denbrow is at least a start. Threatened by a bogus trial and sensing a neck stretching before the verdict is returned, Ben rejoins his loony Dad, when Dad, seeking to regain his lost son, breaks up the cock-eyed trial. Hannah, whose hair seems to get even redder as the picture goes on, joins Ben on the hoodlum trail and we're off to the races.
The unusual aspect of this picture is the total straightness with which all this is presented. Believe it or not, you may find yourself buying all this. Every time I found myself saying "This can't be", I would get sucked back into it. Over a bottle of red-eye, the cast and crew might have said, "we make wacky work at Columbia". And maybe they did.
Worth seeing for Edgar Buchanan as Preachin' Pa Denbrow, Virgina Brissac as Sufferin' Ma Denbrow, and Evelyn Keyes' red hair.
City by the Sea (2002)
Long Beach, N.Y. didn't deserve this movie.
For the first part of this film, I regretted having missed some of the cool decrepit sites depicted in the movie when I was in the Long Beach area years ago. Then I realized that I had stepped into another Hollywood Twilight Zone. For those who sat through the credits after being numbed out by this tedious film about father-son abandonment-guilt deja vu all over again and again and again, it was revealed that the film was shot in Asbury Park. That would have been okay if the DeNiro character did not lament the deterioration of "Long Beach". If the area is a "Slum by the Sea", give credit where it is due. That nitpick aside, the film deserves the oblivion into which it will fall.