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San Francisco Docks (1940)
This is a zippy B which has a great deal going for it. Burgess Meredith is the nominal hero, but he spends time in jail and therefore off screen particularly in the last half hour, so its left up to others principally his feisty fiancé played by Irene Hervey to investigate the crime. The main merit of the film is that it allows some great character actors to shine. Top acting honours are probably shared between Raymond Walburn as the heroine's father, a garrulous old timer whose glory days are long behind him, but who has a penchant for telling tall stories and Robert Armstrong as a courageous two fisted priest. One highlight is the fight between the two beautiful hellcats Irene Hervey and Esther Ralston who don't battle by the Queensberry Rules. The atmosphere of the docks is well maintained complete with colourful waterfront characters. Arthur Lubin does his customary professional job in the director's chair. This is a good film for a wet afternoon... or for a dry one.
Peking Express (1951)
Confusion Rather Than Confucius Reigns
"Peking Express" is not so much a direct remake of "Shanghai Express" as a reworking of the same theme updated to the Chinese Communist era. Just about every Hollywood based, Chinese actor makes an appearance. In particular Benson Fong plays a prominent role. In real life he was a gourmet and ran a Beverly Hills restaurant so the cast and crew probably ate well during the shoot! Corinne Calvert invites unfavourable comparisons with Marlene Dietrich in the original. Calvert is more like a slut than a courtesan. She used to whinge that none of her Hollywood films showed off her formidable acting talent. (Your secret is safe with us, love!)Joseph Cotten's role is not the same as Clive Brooks's in the original. Cotten is fine in the scenes involving arguments, thought and romance, but unconvincing when mowing down bandits with a machine gun. Since he plays a doctor presumably he forgot or ignored his oath when forced into violence. Cotten and Calvert are a mismatch. This would have been a better film if Cotten's role had been split into two and a more virile, physical actor had done the shooting and romanced Calvert relegated to second lead leaving Cotten to debate and romance a more classy actress of the type he had previously appeared with. Much of the ideology discussed is dated and boring. Director William Dieterle to his credit keeps it moving at a reasonable pace, but keeping track of who is on what side leads to confusion. Another source of mystery is the running time. I clocked my print in at 81 minutes. Most of the reference books list 95 minutes, but the Motion Picture Almanac gives 90 which suggests some trimming/ editing went on before general release. This probably improved the film, but not a lot!
Perilous Holiday (1946)
One of the problems with "Perilous Holiday" is that it cannot make up its mind whether it wants to be a romantic comedy, musical or thriller. Tis himself Pat O'Brien, then under contract to RKO Radio but here on loan out to Columbia, plays one part of a romantic triangle, the other parts being supplied by amorous Audrey Long and ruthless Ruth Warrick. It strains credulity that portly, decidedly middle-aged O'Brien could be the object of one heroine's desire let alone two. Re the musical element, O'Brien unfortunately has the opportunity to sing a couple of Oirish ditties (don't give up the day job Pat!). After a few reels, the thriller element involving some quack medicine and a counterfeiting ring is added on almost as an afterthought. There is a case to be made out for Ruth Warrick as a crusading newspaper reporter being the main protagonist of this film. She also gives the best performance in that she is quite believable as a liberated woman bent on revenge.The film is a bit ahead of its time because both female stars are participants in the climatic battle. This brings up the other major fault of this film in that the leading heavies (with the notable exception of Jay Novello who really looks the part of a thug) appear and behave too benignly to be the leaders of a brutal criminal organisation on this scale. It would have been a much better film if Columbia's resident villain George Macready had replaced the leading villainous actor. This film is one of those which comes in under the radar in that O'Brien forgets to mention it in his memoirs "The Wind at My Back". This movie is mildly diverting without ever becoming really engrossing or exciting. Instead it's a bit like painting by numbers.....
This was her bid for serious consideration as a dramatic actress by Kelly Brook. Whilst not a good film, it is not as bad as might be expected. It is directed and acted in a professional manner but the script has some atrocious loopholes and at least one character disappears out of the film and is never seen or referred to again. Brook is cast as a female Robinson Crusoe shipwrecked on a barren island along with two other survivors one her husband and the other a seaman and potential lover. Naturally the two men fight over Kelly. There is also voodoo symbolism which is pointless and laid on with a trowel. Normally less is more where sex is a theme in a film, but "Three" would have benefited from more of Kelly's skin. One sex scene would have been more convincing if she had been totally topless. In another scene where she is striding in sand, she should have been nude. This film was a box office dud and probably fared better on DVD. Nevertheless one hopes that this will not be the end of Kelly's film career. It is doubtful if producers will ever beat a path to her door, but she could be well cast as a femme fa-tale in a Bond movie or a female Tarzan or given the current Olympic games as an athlete - in fact any role which emphasises her physical assets and her latent acting ability.
Lord of the Jungle (1955)
Lord of the Jungle
This is the only Bomba film in which Johnny Sheffield shares top billing with another actor namely chain smoking, overweight, disillusioned Wayne Morris. It is the only one of the series which does not have a human villain. Instead there is a rogue elephant who is leading the rest of the herd to commit mayhem. The crux of the drama is conflict between Bomba who is full of bombast and only wants to shoot the rogue elephant and Wayne Morris who is head of a government licensed group of hunters ordered to shoot the entire herd. The last few of the series injected a sliver of sex by inventing an excuse for the comely heroine,in this case Nancy Hale, to go for a dip with Bomba. They also share a couple of chaste kisses. The budget of this film must have been trimmed more than usual because much of the action is talked about or described rather than seen, but the climax packs a little excitement. Stock footage of wild animals abounds. The rest of the film is padded out with aimless trekking through the jungle in pursuit of the rogue elephant. The script contains gaps in logic and continuity and most of the characters display a lack of common sense. Sheffield fits the role and his loin cloth comfortably. On the strength of Wayne Morris's appearance in this film, the title could have been changed to "Lard of the Jungle". After viewing this effort, it is doubtful if anyone exclaimed, "We could be talking Oscars here!"
Postal Inspector (1936)
This was long thought to be a lost film, but it has been resurrected using a number of different prints so quality varies, but entertainment is still consistent. This is an odd film being a mixture of genres namely thriller,disaster, musical and quasi-documentary about the post office. A number of crimes involving the post office are shown mainly tragic, but a couple are very funny. Eventually it centres on a train robbery of old banknotes en route to the federal mint. Ricardo Cortez is all suave self assurance as the leading detective assigned to the case, while Patricia Ellis is drop dead gorgeous as a chanteuse who may be involved with the robbery. Bela Lugosi as a club owner with links to a gambling syndicate only has a small role. Last part of the film takes place in a flood with stock footage lifted from the Johnstown flood interspersed with new studio shot scenes which blend quite well. Some may dislike the jingoistic tone of the film regarding the post office, but the movie fairly zips along and the denouement is exciting.
Devil Goddess (1955)
Dumb and Dumber
Columbia Pictures failed to renew the rights to the "Jungle Jim" character so Johnny Weissmuller plays a character with his own real name in the final three. Wiley Tightwad alias producer Sam Katzman pre-sold titles to exhibitors prior to a single scene of these films being shot so he covered his costs beforehand. This explains why "Devil Goddess" involves neither a Devil nor a Goddess. Instead the ramshackle story such as it is concerns a bunch of superstitious natives whose encampment is about to be buried in lava from a volcano and some idiot treasure hunters. The main plot element involves two scientists played by Selmer Jackson and Angela Stevens searching for an old explorer who has disappeared on an earlier safari. Johnny Weissmuller is hired as their guide and protector. So dumb are the plot machinations that they end up protecting him! To slash costs even more, not only does this entry incorporate stock footage of wild animals but also recycles scenes from earlier "Jungle Jim" movies which have no relevance to this film. They also had to hire comely Angela Stevens again, who had been in the previous superior "Savage Mutiny", wearing the same clothes so they could match the stock shots. Perfunctory direction of the new scenes is by old pro Spencer Gordon Bennett. Most of the cast is strictly third division.The good news is that this is the last of the series. The bad news is that subsequently a television series was shot. This film is only of interest to those who have seen the rest of the film series. As to the rest of the potential audience, this film should come complete with a label warning against puerile films.
Killer Ape (1953)
This lays claim to being the worst of the "Jungle Jim" series. Normally these films are mildly enjoyable escapism which compensate for a low budget with imagination. The best of the scribes is frequently Carroll Young, but this time his flair has deserted him. This film is just plain stupid. It is easily possible to lose track of the number of times characters have their back turned and are looking in the wrong direction when the ape man attacks. The story goes round in circles with characters being attacked, tortured, escaping and then being recaptured in ridiculous circumstances. Plot threads go nowhere such as the lynch-pin of the story which opens with crocodiles behaving oddly. Potentially this is quite an original idea (and was probably used because producer Katzman had some stock footage he wanted to insert), but after an early scene no further mention is made of this. Carole Thurston does one of her patented native girl characters. The title character does not look like an ape more like a big moron clothed in a dress from a charity shop. Best acting comes from the chimp!
Wrecking Crew (1942)
This is one of the worst films I have ever seen. In these days of health and safety regulations, PPE, risk assessments and method statements, it is impossible to believe that characters like those played by Richard Arlen, Chester Morris and Joe Sawyer behave in such a foolhardy way, violating just about every rule in the health and safety book. Even in those days H and S. played a part in the demolition operation particularly of a large hotel. Even worse is the fact that Morris and Sawyer play it so broadly that the audience were supposed to laugh at their antics. A character plunges to his death, but no one seems to either be upset or learn anything from the tragedy.No wonder Esther Dale's demolition company is going bust! On the plus side the special effects are OK for a B picture,Jean Parker is pretty and Esther Dale does her usual sterling character work. Of interest to movie buffs is down-on-her luck former star Evelyn Brent in what amounts to a bit part. Producers Pine- Thomas known in the trade as "The Dollar Bills" should have demolished the script and had it rewritten.