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Charlie Chan's Lucky Director: H. Bruce Humberstone (2006)

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5 December 2006 (USA)  »

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Humberstone Deserved To Be Luckier In The Film Business
18 March 2008 | by See all my reviews

"Lucky" in the title is a bit misleading. It doesn't mean than Charlie Chan had a director who brought good luck to his films, rather it refers to H. Bruce Humberstone's nickname. Early in his life, Humberstone got the moniker, "Lucky," and it stuck with him his whole life.

Actually, after you watch this documentary, you almost feel Humberstone was not really lucky because he deserved fame for all the good films he directed. However, he never got much of a chance to be a big-name director, thanks to Darryl Zanuck who held him to a number of "punishment" movies. "Punishment" was whenever the outspoken Humberstone said something Zanuck didn't like and he'd demote the director to some "B" film. Thus, he rarely got the budgets to make "A" movies, despite the fact everyone agreed his "B" films were well- crafted.

Another reason most people don't know this man's name, according to Scott McIsaac, film historian, is that Humberstone was more of a "generalist," meaning he didn't specialize in genres, making a name for himself like Hitchcock did with his thrillers. Yet Humberstone was one of the prolific directors in history with over 40 full-length films."

A big contributor to this documentary was Humberstone's daughter, Jordana Gainsworth, who has very fond remembrances of her dad. She's biased, but that's understandable considering her dad raised her alone and spent hours and hours with her. She had a very loving, devoted dad.

I liked two of her stories which paint Hollywood back "in the old days" as a pretty wild place with wild characters. For instance, she said, one day Humberstone and some friends (guys like director Raoul Walsh) went back to the cemetery after John Barrymore's funeral, took the body and brought it to Errol Flynn's house, getting inside and propping it up in the living room. When Flynn came home later that night, he freaked out and ran screaming from his house!

She also mentions one reason people had no trouble calling her dad "Lucky." It seems one day in the Roaring Twenties, her dad smashed up the Model T after a wild, drunken party complete with nude bodies everywhere. He was going 70 m.p.h. and hit a telephone pole....and went unscathed!

A lot of this documentary, which is a bonus feature on the "Charlie Chan At The Opera" DVD, deals with Humberstone's film history and how meticulous he was in every phase of movie-making, whether it was an "A" film like "Sun Valley Serenade" or a "B" Tarzan or Charlie Chan effort. By the way, Johnny Sheffield is interviewed briefly on here. Tarzan fans will know that name.

It's pointed out here that Humberstone, although being an outspoken man which got him in trouble a few times, overall still had a lot of friends, some famous ones, too: best friends such as Ronald Reagan, Caesar Romero and Betty Grable.

Also interesting was that, according to his daughter, if Humberstone had his wish, he would have been able to make a lot of film noirs. He loved that genre but, being under contract with Zanuck, usually couldn't do what he wanted.


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