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Plymouth Adventure (1952)
Casting and skill triumph
"Plymouth Adventure" somehow manages to avoid being corny or sappy and also avoids being religiously preachy. By sticking to straightforward storytelling it gets the job done in a dignified way that retains your interest as the story unfolds.
Spencer Tracy is too old for the romantic scenes but utterly dominates the film in a constructive manner through extreme talent and skill. He manages to dominate the film without being noisy or over-acting. As usual an amazing demonstration of acting skill by Tracy.
Van Johnson, basically a humble, kindly sort of actor is appropriately cast as a poor man of the hard-working carpentry profession. Leo Genn of the golden voice and saintly countenance is well cast as a gentle, religious-minded leader. Actually Genn's voice is beyond golden- I would describe his voice as 24-carat gold or maybe even platinum. Gene Tierney, a complex and tragic beauty and fine actress, is cast as what else... you guessed it, her character is beautiful, complex and tragic. And on and on I could comment about the triumphs of perfect casting that add immeasurably to the success of "Plymouth Adventure".
The script is not very dynamic, and while not intense in the movie-drama sense, manages to avoid all the maudlin or preachy traps that it could have fallen into. So, while being far from great, this movie is watchable and generally succeeds in my opinion.
The Man Who Found Himself (1937)
An outstanding but little known actor, John Beal, uplifts his role as Jim Stanton aka Jones to the highest quality in this b movie. He confidently delivers a sure-footed and solid performance. Joan Fontaine is stunning at a young age as the nurse/love-interest who very much has a mind of her own and crusades on behalf of wrongly accused Jim.
It is interesting to see early flying doctor concepts, but what almost amounts to a "flying hospital" seems extremely impractical, whether in 1937 or now. So, overall the story is far-fetched and not believable. However, in this case the excellent direction and acting triumph and make "The Man Who Found Himself" entertaining and worth your viewing time.
Parole, Inc. (1948)
Perfunctory crime film
Made in a perfunctory manner, to get the job done but not really to shine. A fine plot that could have been a classic in the right hands with the right budget is carried out competently enough, so "Parole, Inc." kept me interested. Everything moves briskly along.
Talented actors including the charismatic Ms. Ankers go through their work with professionalism but don't have anything to work with character-wise. In fact, the big flaw here is total absence of character development. Who are these characters and what makes them tick- I guess we weren't meant to wonder such things.
Skilled acting and a good amount of plot-driven tension are adequate to carry this film despite lacking any depth or style, and with only average direction, editing etc.
Its OK but there are many better crime films of the era.
Circle of Danger (1951)
Solid mystery movie
Confidently directed by Jacques Tourneur and ably portrayed by a fine cast, "Circle of Danger" is a relatively unknown film that is worth finding if you can (maybe through CD purchase or on TV). You won't regret looking it up.
Ray Milland is the perfect choice as an American who efforts to discover exactly what happened to his brother in WWII. Not an easy task to discover details about a death during a commando raid, obviously a chaotic and deliberately secret event by nature. Although the American's motivations remain a bit fuzzy to everyone, he is doggedly determined. The result is an ending resolution that I found to be rewarding and finely done.
The radiant Patricia Roc portrays a young woman who tries to balance career and emotional involvements with as much wisdom as possible in view of fast-moving and evolving events. Marius Goring ("The Red Shoes") expertly essays a complex character with style and aplomb. Former movie "Saint" Hugh Sinclair is solid as a rock and excellent in his portrayal of a truly selfless aristocrat. All of the characters in this film are conveyed with some depth, surprisingly so for a modestly made sort of movie.
1950 Britain is really featured throughout the film and nostalgically captured in black and white which seems somehow appropriate for the date and era.
They just don't make them like this anymore- so you will feel lucky to have found "Circle of Danger".
The Black Raven (1943)
Solid mystery movie
George Zucco is grand in "The Black Raven", giving a dignified and poised performance rising above his budget as always. The rest of the cast is also good with Glenn Strange especially noteworthy as Zucco's bumbling helper.
The production is cheap of course but features some fine thunderstorm effects, with an astonishing amount of water filmed very expertly.
By stripping away any excessive humor or cuteness or any other gimmicks and focusing on being a basic mystery, this film succeeds so that you really won't notice any budget issues. Fundamental soundness in its production and the sheer stature of Zucco's work make "The Black Raven" a surprisingly good movie.
Perry Mason struggles to overcome blandness
If you like the older black and white mystery format or if you are a fan of all things Perry Mason you will find "The Case of the Stuttering Bishop" to be satisfying. And I would never advise anyone against seeing this film- it is viewable and competent. However, Donald Woods struggles to overcome the "blandness" acting tag in this movie. In one scene he is sitting at a desk and I remember thinking he looked like a deer in headlights, not acting or seeming to relate to the scene at all. On the other hand he stays vigorous and at least keeps the Mason character going at a good clip. Dvorak, one of the finest actresses of the 1930's era, is solid as Della Street but her part is written basically in a bland manner.
A complicated plot is moved along briskly but I got lost at a few points, such as when Della is required to don a red wig (appearing black on the b&w film). When her back is turned at one point I thought "now which redhead is this?"
This film is not as good as the excellent "Case of the Black Cat" starring Ricardo Cortez, which was the lone Mason film featuring Cortez and the best Mason of the 1930's in my opinion. You will need to overlook the bland execution of The Case of the Stuttering Bishop and focus on its Perry Mason structure which is pretty much timeless and always a sure-fire format.
Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)
Very entertaining Chan
All 14 Chans go to the circus and the fun starts from the very beginning. But you know Charlie must find a case there, too. Charlie sleuths while enjoying the circus and number one son Lee (Keye Luke) gets into everything in a vigorous way, including some romance with a cute contortionist.
This film has more entertainment value than most other Chan films in my opinion. Featured are the talented Brasno dance team, trapeze action, a lot of circus animals and loads of circus atmosphere.
You also get several crooked subplots, an ape on the loose, good Chan aphorisms and a briskly directed, fast-moving film in general. Its great to see all 14 Chans in an outing with a fun atmosphere- you can't help but enjoy "Charlie Chan at the Circus".
The Mummy's Tomb (1942)
Filmed in a non-dynamic, straightforward manner, this is a basic standard style b-movie. Each scene follows the one before it, very predictably. This is OK but the producers are obviously not reaching for anything dynamic or ground-breaking. Its predecessor/originator "The Mummy's Hand" is an exciting, fun Mummy film but as a sequel "The Mummy's Tomb" is strictly a follow-on that begins with flashbacks to scenes from that predecessor.
It should be noted that most of the acting in this sequel is quite good with a little gem of a performance by George Zucco, and featuring stalwarts like Turhan Bey and Mary Gordon doing excellent work in supporting roles.
Hubbard and Knox are on hand to be just what they are: contract b-movie players who do competent work and don't get in the way. But that is really all they are asked to do and they are engaging if some what bland leads- you will find their roles and performances to be attractive and inoffensive but definitely not memorable.
Mummy fans will appreciate this film and need it in their collections. It is watchable and is a good enough continuation of the Mummy series, but has the feel of a movie that was made for the purpose of marking time cheaply as the series plays itself out.
Lady from Chungking (1942)
Anna May Wong- A Movie Star
Anna May Wong gives a poised and dignified starring performance that fully demonstrates a great but indefinable quality: screen presence. It is even more remarkable since this film has a grade-c level budget.
Harold Huber is miscast as a Japanese General (he often was miscast in his movie roles) but he does manage to subdue his usual tendency to shout dialog, and imbues his performance with the pompousness and ego that the character requires.
Ms. Wong is convincing as a leader of brave Chinese WWII resistance, a cause that was close to her international viewpoint and efforts at the time.
I would give a 10 star rating to Ms. Wong and maybe a 5 to the film itself. But I absolutely recommend that everyone view "Lady From Chungking" for Anna May Wong's performance. It is indisputably the performance of a true Movie Star.
Bowery at Midnight (1942)
Lurid, violent thriller
Despite some woeful production values and low budget, I regard this film as a success because it accomplishes what it sets out to do. It is a thriller, relentlessly so in a mean-spirited, bad attitude sort of way from start to finish. Lugosi is a ruthless, deceptive criminal. Tom Neal is very believable as a serial killer ("homicidal maniac") who stalks the dark Bowery with utter malevolence.
The producers obviously had little money but they didn't need much- "Bowery at Midnight" is a lurid crime ring/serial killer movie requiring little budget or adornment.
Cheap, black and white, 1940's in the dark thriller style. A classic film? Of course not, but it works for me because it delivers exactly what I expected.