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The Monkey's Paw (1948)
Think again what you wish for - it could come true!
Mike-764's summation is obviously that of an updated US presentation & not that of the original short story originally set in the '20s by one of Britain's most popular & prolific spinner of yarns with a twist,W W Jacobs.Through the 30s-50s it was a popular choice for Rep groups and BBC Radio and rates with the best - the famed "Sorry,Wrong No!" as a suspencer for the imagination. Small wonder it was a popular choice for the US "Suspense" series. Adaptations from the 50s for film & TV have altered the "McGuffin" but not always for the best. I probably saw this particular version but not recently, so I can't properly rate it. I have,however,read the play & it is that with which I am familiar. Listen to this in the dark in the original version with the original finish which is the real clincher. Who - or what was knocking at the door after that final wish? Would you have opened it?
Echoes of Lidice
After sticking it out to the grim & dreadful closing 15 minutes of this co-Italian production, I felt the need for a stiff brandy. Not knowing anything of the film nor of the incident that led to the final atrocity I was kept riveted after the first half hour since the often chequered and frustrated direction of the account often leaves the conclusion in doubt and one hoping the worst will be thwarted at the last moment.When 32 of a company of marching German soldiers are wiped out by a small bunch of Italian underground in a wet deserted street which results in a furious local Commandant(McKern) demanding immediate and exaggerated retaliation but is reminded by his subordinate(R Burton) that with the Americans beating at the city gates, he lacked the proper authority,it being more politically prudent to "go through channels". Burton has a tenuous understanding with a local priest Fr Antonelli(Mastroianni)who represents the large Christian population & the Vatican who gets personally involved in a struggle to cool what becomes a strategic battle between the various ranking officials who refuse permission or don't wish to know, his pleading & reasoning with Burton as one born to obey orders and caught in the middle of a thankless and unwanted military situation is ordered to compile a reduced list of hostages and then arrange the execution squad. It is a matter of history that Pope Pius,ruler of the Vatican & representative of everything Catholicism stood for, if not a collaborator with the Nazis was at least partisan, so Fr Antonelli finding the hostage situation finally becoming a growing reality desperately seeks his intervention to prevent the accelerating executions only to be met with a polite & devious refusal. There are a few moments of amusement in watching the growing frustrating of McKern repeatedly defeated by ranking responses to his demands but the suspense is held until the point where Burton rigid to his code, rebukes the inevitable damnation of his soul in openly defying Fr Antonelli & as a man out on his own stonefacedly proceeds with his "final solution" without official knowledge of the civil authority. How the final contrived business is planned with the utmost secrecy and perpetrated even to the extent of destroying all evidence of the atrocity and the grim,details of every last moment takes a pretty strong stomach.....the notorious sequence from Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" springs to mind. One final nasty shock remains for Burton who has promised the priest he will fire the first shot. The whole "business", like Lidice is historical truth... Hitler clearly saw the assassination of one high ranking official significant enough to wipe out an entire village & its population- the significance here was a mere 30 odd footsloggers of minor importance. One point did bother me about why these officials really cared about protocol and did not simply go out & seize the first unwitting hostages they found and not stand on ceremony about details. But this is a true story we are told.
A few old faces like Anthony Steel & Peter Vaughan pop up briefly whilst the acting is generally quite acceptable with Burton almost as stone faced and cold as in "Villain" . What was his reason for taking so unsympathetic a part? Nevertheless, as one reviewer has remarked it has the look of a cheap production and a good deal is shot in semi-darkness. Definitely not for children under 14!
The crumbs of comfort come with the closing credits when we are audibly reminded of the War Trials' sentences of death or imprisonment for these men, Only Kesselring got off lightly as the top authority to issue the proper orders. Fr Antonelli finally demonstrated the bravery of Sidney Carton in his horror of this massacre in Rome.
Freedom Radio (1941)
The cost of truth under nazi Europe.
An interesting fact about "Freedom Radio" is that Warners had beaten 2 Cities to it the previous year with the much grimmer & hard hitting "Underground" where the principal exponents were 2 brothers - one a defiant anti-nazi & the other a committed party member - one set against the other against a background of terror & mistrust under a merciless Gestapo regime. This is by far the superior treatment and establishes a suspenseful,dangerous atmosphere where serious infractions like listening to or indeed operating subversive radio transmissions intending to tell the truth about nazi policies invite the severest punishments. Basically,"Freedom Radio" narrates a similar situation from a British viewpoint and with a distinctly British cast of well known players in what was an early piece of propaganda from Asquith whose family politics were well set. It is a polished production under a wartime budget with cameos by several well known players of the day. Raymond Huntley/Clifford Evans & unbelievably Bernard Miles strut around resplendant in immaculate & bemedalled Gestapo suits with young Derek Farr and Joyce Howard caught up in the plot to aid wealthy dentist Clive Brook finally act in defiance of the regime that needs to strangle the truth. The Truth was not out there & Brook has a marital struggle to convince Diana Wynyard- a firm party sympathyser & keep his actions from reaching her nazi friends. Brook & Wynyard were no strangers to the stage and had the leads in Noel Coward's "Cavalcade"(1933). The former has also played Sherlock Holmes & prior to FR was a stiff upperlipped naval officer in Ealing's early WW2 naval epic "Convoy". Diana Wynyard made a name for herself in the lead of "Gaslight" on stage & on screen before MGM reprised it with Ingrid Bergman and tried to suppress the former. "Freedom Radio", again is studio-bound but this does not affect the story. Some dialogue is of the day and the edited newsreel inserts are obvious. A twist in the plot has one of the nazi leads a sympathyser & a nice,moment of suspense as Derek Farr,the radio technician infiltrates a huge Party gathering under the nose of a suspicious armed guard and cuts the connections relaying a speech by Hitler. There are several witty lines such as mentioned by earlier critics & direction is above average as should be expected from "Puffin" = Cottage On Dartmoor"/"Pygmalion"/"Way To The Stars" & "The Winslow Boy".
As an ex-RAF Wireless Op I appreciated the Gestpo method of searching out the illegal transmissions using the old 2-beam method of DF.In fact,this might just get a rough location of a strong signal but a third beam would be much more accurate as used some years later by the FBI in "White Heat" when hunting down Ma Cody in her bugged car. There's a touch of irony when the ending of FR parallels that of "Underground" in that the Truth will not be silenced by mere suppression.
The Night Has Eyes (1942)
One of your early critics has a point. Released in the days when the Censor's cert was "U" "A" or "H"for horrific, unusually on its first release "The Night Has Eyes" was given the "A" certificate in its released version. On a later reissue this was changed to "H" because of the ending,then considered excessive but has subsequently been used many times to greater effect. Around the same time,conversely, a reissue of "The Cat & The Canary" which was initially released with the "H" cert was reduced to"A" as part of a double feature with "Miracle of Morgan's Creek". The former thriller gained some popularity because of its theme music based on a romantic piano concerto by Charles Williams whose several compositions often enhanced a film's appeal such as in Billy Wilder's Oscar winner,"The Apartment" except that,unjustly(to my mind),for this film he was denied any screen credit,all of that going to Adolphe Deutch.
Nurse Edith Cavell (1939)
A lesson in Hun diplomacy
Before her popular "London Suite" escapism of the late 40s Anna Neagle achieved early fame for her biopics - Nell Gwyn, Queen Victoria & Amy Johnson portrayed with dignity & feeling,when necessary. This was even more evident in Edith Cavell under the sincere & sympathetic direction of husband,Herbert Wilcox. Her martyrdom & heroism to both her calling & beliefs that "patriotism is not enough" was commemorated after WW1 with the erection of a famed statue in London's Charing X Road,still there, so in the film the ending was never in doubt. Wilcox repeated his 1928 "Dawn" with Sybil Thorndyke without histrionics or dramatics and a bunch of popular stars in more untypical reserved roles except George Sanders who was getting into his stride after "Lancer Spy" as the stiff,autocratic Hun determined to uphold the intransigency of the "rules of war" & expediency irrespective of pleadings of British diplomats up to the very last and the decision of the court-martial against this dignified British nurse - all of which Kubrick later reflected so vividly in "Paths Of Glory". It is interesting to compare the Hun his descendant/counterpart, the Nazi and his downfall - each had their degrees of corporate conquest & world domination whatever the cost. The basic tale of Nurse Cavell running her small Belgian underground escape route for soldiers & fliers under the noses of the enemy is narrated in brief factual episodes. The short closing scenes of her arrest,brief imprisonment,quick execution & memorial service in Westminster Abbey are moving & dignified as directed by Wilcox, a name in high regard among British filmgoers for almost 20 years irrespective of their unfortunate later bankruptcy. By this time Anna Neagle's figure & appearance as a dancer had changed noticeably since her earlier buxom parts in such as "The 3 Maxims"(Later remade as "Trapeze")doing very realistically what Betty Hutton did very realistically later for de Mille. Regrettably, many copies of this rarely seen film have deteriorated especially the sound track which can be muffled & inaudible. Happily,my video copy was taped before it reached this state.
The Sky's the Limit (1943)
An Astaire interlude
An acceptable wartime interlude for Astaire with some tuneful numbers and some brief great dancing which Joan Leslie shared & obviously enjoyed the challenge. However,with so many stars on various wartime duties Hollywood extended its prewar dream casting.... Former Joan Brodel had barely turned 18 & became the cutest,prettiest of new Warner leads. RKO managed to make her appear far older to be chased by 44-year old Fred who must have felt a bit self conscious in the straight scenes with just one chaste goodbye kiss at fadeout. This situation would have called for some on-screen comments,today! Although as a singer Joan Leslie left something to be desired beside many of her contemporaries she was still a talented actress. One of her more memorable parts was that of the impoverished young cripple in High Sierra doing a mean about-turn on middleaged Bogart after his financing a costly operation to let her dance again. I would have liked to have seen more of my favourite manservant,Eric Blore so amusing in Top Hat. No one could produce a withering remark so feelingly or unctiously.
Sun Valley Serenade (1941)
A great band,classic songs ,comedy and the Queen of the ice!
This was my first Sonja Henie movie which was reissued in support of House on 92nd St and what a great piece of entertainment that was! Of course we had been saturated with the great WW2 bands courtesy of AFRS/AFN including Miller's and it was great to see them all and those popular tunes against such an attractive background. "I Know Why" still remains my favourite recording with "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "Moonlight Serenade". However, hard as I tried,I really could not accept the 30 year old strapping blonde & dimpled Sonja as an innocent little refugee and neither did Lynn Bari who was Hollywood's definitive gorgeous bitch. It wasn't her singing voice any more than in the later equally enjoyable "Margie" but it didn't matter & who cared? I never quite took to Joan Davis - she seemed too much like Martha Raye/Cass Dailey/Eve Arden/Zazu Pitts. The back projection for the hill skating sequences was too obvious but I would love to know how they managed to get that immaculate black mirrored effect to the huge rink. Much like those impossible dance floors in some of the Astaire/Rogers spectaculars. The Nicholas Bros were nothing less than sensational & an unknown young Dorothy Dandridge did well in her early brief appearance. Glenn Miller on the other hand may have played a cool slush pump but he was no actor! And there were always the real Modernaires. And all this without a hint of smut or sex. Best line - when Lynn Bari in the night club sequence in a fit of jealousy rounds on Henie and calls her a hillbilly and the latter with an expression of total bewilderment retorts "Hillbilly?" Well,I thought so.
Both Joan Davis & Milton Berle made it to early 50s TV - the latter becoming known as "Mr TV" from his prolonged popularity & brashness. He even made it into the early 90s in one of his last guest bits for one of Fran Drescher's hilarious "The Nanny" episodes as a shyster lawyer.
A gripping story of clandestine radio under the Nazis.
When I saw this as a kid I found it a grim.vivid & gripping introduction to the wartime "underground" movement in an occupied territory courtesy Warner Bros as did Martin Kosleck's ruthless Gestapo officer and the silent struggle of one German brother to stick to his convictions in direct opposition to the other,an enemy where discovery meant certain torture & death. It has never been shown on UK TV - certainly not by TCM. I distinctly still recall the relief when this feature in the cinema was quickly followed by the next week's trailer in contrasting brilliant technicolour for Greer Garson in "Blossoms In The Dust"! Only a few years ago I finally tracked down the video which I believed never existed in the States & did not hesitate to have it sent over. It is in pretty good condition & brought back those memories. Barely a year later,(1941), 2 Cities Films in Britain released its blander & lighter version, "Freedom Radio" which starred two of Britain's then leading stage stars, Clive Brook ("Cavalcade") and Diana Wynyard which has had TV showings. In this version the ethical differences & attitudes in defying the gestapo were between husband & wife and various Nazis played(as was then usually the case)by other well known British faces with English accents.
Rome Express (1932)
This is the great granddaddy of train portmanteau thrillers and Walter Forde,like Hitchcock, had a thing for trains - he even remade his now lost 1931 "The Ghost Train" and became a serious leading British Director. The production of Rome Express opened the large new Lime Grove(Gainsborough)studios in W London using two huge sets to accommodate both terminii & the impressive express. Conrad Veidt was a comparative newcomer to London from Germany escaping a future under the Nazis and stayed to make a number of other acclaimed 30s films like "Jew Suss" "Passing of the Third Floor Back" "Dark Journey" & "Under The Red Robe" until ending up at Denham with the Kordas. He loved Britain and loathed Hitler but this didn't stop his 40s performances as an assortment of nazi officials - "Escape" "Spy In Black" and,of course,"Casablanca". The popular Scottish actor,Finlay Currie played the same part in this and its almost shot-for-shot remake 15 years later at 70.He was probably best known as the convict,Magwitch, in the superb 1946 remake of "Great Expectations".
Hell's Angels (1930)
Many years ago I grabbed the unique opportunity to see both HELL'S ANGELS & SCARFACE as a double feature much as FRANKENSTEIN & Dracula were united in the 1938 reissues. I guess the rt of Hell's Angels was still its full length before both vanished and lost some footage over 20 years before reappearing on TV. The full running lost about a reel for many years not to mention any early colour sequence. It's possible the DVD has restored this,now.
Both firm Catholics, BEN LYON married the top singer/actress BEBE DANIELS and moved to London in the mid-30s becoming firm favourites with the British public when they elected to stay put & face the wartime strictures,problems and air raids with everyone else. A veteran pilot,Ben Lyon served with distinction in the USAF in WW2 rising to Lt Col. Inbetween times he joined with his wife & a Jewish comic,Vic Oliver(who married one of Churchill's daughters!)to appear in a hugely popular Sunday night radio variety show "Hi,Gang!" broadcast live from London's Stage Door Canteen in Piccadilly in defiance of the air raids. The show was written by Bebe Daniels & he often used his influence to attract many top Hollywood guest stars to the show,very difficult in those times. He would have to suffer running gags from the others about how bad & hammy he played in Hell's Angels. He was later awarded an OBE for his services & returned to Hollywood only on the tragic & unexpected death of his wife in 1971. In a later interview he claimed to have been the casting exec with 20th Century Fox to have given Marilyn Monroe her screen name.The couple had two children,Barbara & Richard who later appeared with them in the early '50s in a scatterbrained family comedy series "Life With the Lyons", almost predating the later "Life With Riley".