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7/10
Lively comedy with likeable characters
12 August 2019
Ralph Bellamy and Margaret Lindsay investigate a murder and have a good time doing it in this entertaining comedy.

Bellamy is a clever and playful Ellery Queen. "Did you buy this book?" he teases the police detective who asks him to autograph his latest book. "I've missed several from my study lately."

Lindsay is also fun as Nikki Porter, a would-be mystery writer herself. She has a shelf full of Ellery Queen's books but claims she can't stand him. Naturally the two soon meet, start bickering immediately, and only gradually become friends and allies.

The plot includes a murder but it's mainly an excuse to get Ellery and Nikki together. Nikki gets herself trapped in the outer office of a cranky millionaire who then dies mysteriously in the inner office. Ellery helps Nikki escape before the cops arrive. While the police look for Nikki, who has left her fingerprints all over, she hides out in Ellery's house--which of course is also the home of Ellery's father, Inspector Queen, who is investigating the murder.

That sounds like a dangerous ordeal but Nikki proves she is game: "You know something, Ellery?" she says after a narrow escape. "I'm beginning to like being a murder suspect. As long as they don't catch me."

Charley Grapewin is a colorful and fast-talking Inspector Queen. James Burke is fun as loyal assistant Sergeant Velle.

The murder suspects barely appear--this really is much more a comedy than a traditional whodunit. The stars eventually do some detecting but the focus is almost always on lively banter rather than murder clues. Overall, it's no showcase for amazing skills of deduction...but it is very easy to watch.
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Eight Bells (1935)
7/10
Fast-moving ocean drama
12 August 2019
Cargo ship captain Ralph Bellamy is all set for the next voyage. If they complete the trip in good time, it will mean a big contract for the company. "If I don't bring her in by June 12th," he promises, "it'll be because the bottom's dropped out of her."

Unfortunately for Bellamy, the ship owner's daughter is engaged to John Buckler, who's not an experienced sailor but comes from an upper crust family. Buckler is appointed captain and Bellamy, a good sport, accepts the demotion to first mate for this one voyage.

Ann Sothern is very good as the spoiled and obnoxious shipping magnate's daughter. She stows away on the ship, Bellamy snaps at her for stealing his cabin, and the two are enemies--at least for now.

The plot is nothing too original but it's handled nicely: As Sothern realizes that fiancé Buckler's gentlemanly polish isn't much use in a crisis, she also learns to appreciate the qualities that the crew respect so much in Bellamy. An especially effective moment is a scene where Buckler chats blithely to Sothern about moonlight....while she watches Bellamy tend to wounded and exhausted workers.

The supporting cast offers a bit of humor (Franklin Pangborn as the captain's valet) and a crew of sensitive souls who dream about their families and futures back home. The production is fine, with sea storms and boiler room emergencies providing excitement. Bellamy and Sothern work together nicely--their initial animosity softens convincingly and without seeming to rush it, which is a good trick in a 70-minute story.

Overall, it's a well done B adventure picture that gets better as it goes along.
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4/10
Strong cast can't cheer up dreary drama
28 July 2019
Ralph Bellamy is just out of prison, back home in his little cabin and grimly determined to be left alone. His old girlfriend sneaks over to see him, even though her father the sheriff has warned Bellamy to stay away from her.

If that isn't dangerous enough, here comes glamorous Fay Wray stumbling along the dark country road in a shimmering long gown, right to Bellamy's door. She's obviously running from someone, but when she enters Bellamy's living room, disheveled and distressed, Bellamy stands scowling, leaning his elbow on the mantel, pipe in hand, unconcerned. Moments later, oily playboy Melvyn Douglas comes looking for her with his drunken pal Reed Brown. Words are exchanged and Bellamy knocks Brown into a wall where he cracks his head. Fearing the worst, parolee Bellamy goes on the run--accompanied by Wray, who just wants to get away.

The plot is actually not bad: Bellamy and Wray hide out with prison buddy Roscoe Ates and his wife Ruth Gillette, while sheriff Granville Bates tracks them and shady Melvyn Douglas pursues his own sinister ends.

Wray and Bellamy establish a gloomy rapport that almost passes for a romance. Wray is pretty good as the down-on-her-luck beauty who has no good options and throws in with Bellamy. Unfortunately, Bellamy's gruff character is just not especially likeable. The rest of the characters are even more unpleasant: the mean-spirited sheriff, sleazy lawyer, crooked cops.

Ates and Gillette have a couple of moments that come close to comic relief, and an exciting climax lifts spirits a bit....but all in all there aren't that many bright spots in this picture.
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7/10
Frantic comedy has many funny moments
28 July 2019
Lucille Ball and Eddie Albert would like to get married and buy a model house. They both work for shady boss Jerome Cowan, who has a plan to use Albert for a crooked scheme and then fire him.

When a friend selling cosmetics visits the office, switchboard operator Lucy decides to get started right away selling Fuller products door-to-door herself. Unfortunately she spills powder and lotion all over the switchboard and burns it up--having first splashed the powder all over Cowan. It's not subtle but how can you not laugh?

Lucy's adventures selling door-to-door include a funny cameo by Red Skelton, as well as a hilarious episode selling perms to four bridge ladies, whose hair falls out when a kid next door gets the hair rinse mixed up with his chemistry set.

Meanwhile, boss Cowan's shady deal leads to multiple murders...and the police discover that Lucy is leaving her fingerprints everywhere. Can our heroes get to the bottom of things before the cops catch up with them?

The plot is ridiculous but really of secondary importance; Lucille Ball's antics are the main attraction here, and Lucy does a pretty good job of keeping us watching. While the picture has some dry spells, the funny parts are very funny indeed. Albert's rooftop fight with John Litel is one highlight--they keep bumping into TV antennas and mixing up everybody's TV shows in the apartments below them.

Eventually everybody winds up on a cargo ship full of bananas, wine barrels, and a couple of parrots. (Mel Blanc as a parrot delivers several of the picture's funniest lines.)

Eddie Albert is solid as Lucy's loyal but slightly dopey boyfriend. The rest of the cast is fine but they're really just support. It's no classic but Lucille Ball is certainly fun to watch.
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6/10
Murder on the movie set
5 July 2019
Movie star Helen Stanley is jumpy, nervous. She checks the gun in her dressing room desk drawer. She calls up her friend Inspector Trent and urges him to come to the studio. By the time Trent arrives, Helen Stanley has been murdered while filming a dance scene. Inspector Trent investigates.

Gail Patrick is only on screen for about 15 minutes as the temperamental Helen Stanley, but that's plenty of time for Patrick to establish her character as one of those mercurial celebrities who race through life making enemies.

It's up to Ralph Bellamy, as Inspector Trent, to sort through those enemies and identify which of them is the murderer. His long list of suspects includes everyone on the set--cameraman, director, bodyguard, crew members. Shirley Grey has a nice role as a script girl who is engaged to cameraman Kane Richmond. Lucien Prival is the veteran movie director, Phillip Trent an assistant, Bradley Page an agent, Ward Bond a crew member--and all seemingly had reasons to do away with the much-hated actress.

Bellamy is fairly low-key as the pipe-chewing Inspector Trent. He offers a few nuggets of detective wisdom ("Those open and shut cases sometimes are the toughest ones to crack") but mainly hangs around the studio asking the obvious questions. That leaves the focus on plot, which along with all of those suspects involves a lost diary and a missing murder weapon. It all moves fairly quickly from one short scene to the next. Overall it's pretty standard, a reliably entertaining B mystery.
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5/10
Unconvincing ocean liner mystery
25 June 2019
Reporter Lloyd Nolan is frustrated. Every time he has a hot date with girlfriend Nancy Carroll, his editor orders him out on a story. Nolan grumbles ("I've stood Helen up three times in a row already") but covers the big fire as ordered.

One day, desperate to meet Carroll for lunch, Nolan skips the press conference at the D.A.'s office. Of course he's late for the lunch so Carroll dumps him...and then the D.A. gets shot at the press conference that Nolan is skipping, so he gets fired too.

That's a pretty bad day but by that same evening Nolan is down at the pier snooping around the S.S. Gigantic, accompanied by his sidekick and photographer Harry Langdon, who has managed to bring Carroll along too. They all end up on board the ship when it sails for Southampton--and Nolan is sure that this is his big chance to get back his job (and his girl) by capturing the D.A.'s killer, who may be fleeing the country on the ship.

This whole plot line is wildly improbable but the story does take some interesting twists. Besides the escaping murderer, a couple of crooks are on board carrying a stash of stolen diamonds, and yet another pair of crooks is spying on them. Carroll gets mixed up in the mystery when somebody hands her an envelope full of cash, apparently mistaking her for one of the gang.

The various crooks are actually kind of fun, as are the ship's very British officers, who are not amused by their American passengers' shenanigans. Harry Langdon's comic relief consists mainly of making funny faces.

Both Lloyd Nolan and Nancy Carroll are energetic and look good. However, the roles don't quite work--Carroll's character is smart and generally self-sufficient, so what does she see in overconfident dunce Nolan? And why does she keep letting him boss her around?

Not very believable but it mostly moves fast.
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6/10
Well-plotted mystery is a little slow moving
11 June 2019
Inspector Trent arrives at the old dark house on a stormy night, having been summoned by rich old Mr. Arnold. Trent gets right down to business:

Trent: "What's the trouble?" Arnold: "Somebody wants to kill me." Trent digs deeper: "What makes you think that?" Arnold: "I've been warned in the most peculiar way."

Plenty of clichés pop up in this generally enjoyable murder mystery. Inspector Trent quickly learns about the old legend of the house--years ago, the big grandfather clock stopped right before the current Mr. Arnold's great-grandfather was murdered. Sure enough, just when Trent has gathered the household in the hall, somebody exclaims that the clock has stopped. Suddenly the windows blow open and the lights go out--and when they come back on, there's a dead body on the floor.

Ralph Bellamy doesn't waste many words as the methodical Inspector Trent. A full roster of suspects includes the dead man's personal secretary, the secretary's wife (who may be a blackmailer), and beautiful June Collyer, the old man's ward who may or may not stand to inherit a big chunk of his money. The doctor, the banker, the lawyer--all behave suspiciously.

The plot involves a case of switched identities, a stolen diary, and an ink pen. The dead man was poisoned by a hypodermic needle in the left arm...or if not by a hypodermic, how?

Bellamy is a self-assured but rather single-minded inspector--this serious criminologist has no time for light-hearted banter with the suspects.

The plot is carefully laid out but not especially thrilling--which I guess is why the picture is interesting but never terribly exciting.
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Ladies' Day (1943)
5/10
Madcap baseball comedy is loud but unconvincing
11 June 2019
The Sox are in a pennant race. The ballplayers' wives are more excited than the players: they need that extra Series money for their winter plans. The team's chances center around star pitcher Wacky Waters, who is not married and--according to his manager--needs to swear off dames and concentrate on pitching.

When Wacky meets glamorous movie star Pepita Zorita, who is making a ballpark appearance to sell war bonds, it's love at first sight. Wacky and Pepita are quickly married; Wacky's pitching suffers; the team sinks into a losing streak. The player's wives decide that something must be done.

Eddie Albert smiles a lot as the overly enthusiastic Wacky, but the character really is a dunce. Lupe Velez at least shows some spirit as Pepita, and has a couple of good scenes where she displays her skills as a fast-talking spitfire.

Patsy Kelly, Joan Barclay, and Iris Adrian are the players' wives who decide that if the Sox are to have a chance at winning, then Wacky and Pepita must be separated. They waylay Pepita in a hotel in Kansas City and make plans to keep her there until the Series is over.

Jerome Cowan is kind of amusing as the team owner who knows nothing about baseball. Cliff Clark is predictably hard-boiled as the team manager. Tom Kennedy is funny as a suspicious hotel detective. Max Baer is actually pretty good as the burly ballplayer who is completely intimidated by wife Patsy Kelly.

As the leader of the wives, Patsy is loud but at least looks like she knows what she's doing. Unfortunately, most of the picture is not so convincing. Albert and Velez are fine but their characters are just not very interesting, and the whole goofy plot just doesn't really have any surprises. That's too bad because it is a fun cast.
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Air Hawks (1935)
6/10
Far out plot packs a few surprises
27 May 2019
Ralph Bellamy runs a small fleet of mail planes but his company needs to land the big contract to outdo Consolidated, their powerful competitor. Some crooks from Consolidated want to buy out Bellamy's business--and when he refuses to sell, they turn to dirty work.

Douglass Dumbrille is enthusiastically nasty as the head bad guy. The plot of this aerial adventure veers into sci-fi when Dumbrille hires mad scientist Edward Van Sloan to build a working version of his experimental ray machine that can destroy bridges and airplanes. Van Sloan eagerly starts shooting down Bellamy's airplanes, jeopardizing the big contract.

Meanwhile, Bellamy finds time to exchange corny banter with beautiful Tala Birell, a club singer who is mixed up with the crooks. Bellamy explains to her how airplanes are like women: "They take you up in the skies and then without any warning they let you down with a crash." Birell's quick reply: "But aren't most of the crashes the cause of the men at the controls, who try to go too far or too fast?"

The plot has plenty of twists, some of which make little sense.... For example, when the beleaguered airline is about ready to fold under the mysterious attacks, Bellamy decides it's time for a publicity stunt: He will save his business by attempting a cross country speed record. This is baffling until a few minutes later, when famed pilot Wiley Post wanders into the picture and agrees to take the flight himself.

Bellamy looks uncomfortable during a couple of silly melodramatic scenes but he is generally easy to watch as the hero. Victor Kilian has a fun if predictable role as the newspaper reporter who has a hunch, sneaks into the crooks' hideout, and has a narrow escape. Douglass Dumbrille is just fine as the villain always ready with a dastardly scheme.

The story is kind of wild and sometimes it feels like it's just barely holding together...but the picture's second half is quite enjoyable and moves at a nice steady clip.
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5/10
Uneven B mystery with a few laughs
27 May 2019
The world's most valuable stamp is arriving in port. Reporters crowd the dock to welcome the beautiful Miss Templeton, who owns the stamp and carries it in her purse. At the same time, noted mystery writer Ellery Queen is at the dock. He accidentally tosses some flowers into Miss Templeton's lap while she is being interviewed, which is apparently a cute way to meet.

The plot develops quickly: Miss Templeton visits a hotel to meet a collector who may buy the stamp. A stranger sneaks into Miss Templeton's room, steals the stamp out of her purse...and moments later he is murdered in a side room. We don't really think Miss Templeton killed him but she did come running out of that same room with the stamp in her hand.

The murder investigation is led by Inspector Queen, with inevitable help from his son Ellery, who after all is already acquainted with the leading suspect. Other suspects include the collector, his nieces, a boyfriend....

Charlotte Henry is earnest and cute as Miss Templeton but the character doesn't offer many surprises. Eddie Quillan is a mischievous and energetic Ellery who talks nonstop. His confident banter is sometimes humorous but often merely obnoxious.

Franklin Pangborn has a moderately amusing bit as the flustered hotel manager. Wade Boteler comes across well as the irascible Inspector Queen, and this picture's best moments are probably those that feature interplay between the two Queens.

Overall, Quillan is fun in the role but not especially convincing as a master of deduction. And the mystery itself--involving counterfeit stamps, a missing tangerine, and a locked door--is hard to get too excited about.

One funny line, though: Ellery pounds on the door of a hotel room that he knows is full of cops, and says, "Open in the name of the law!"
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5/10
Okay attempt at spooky comedy
8 May 2019
Breakout at the insane asylum: No one knows how the dangerous inmate escaped, but while the sheriff and warden stand discussing it, the escapee sneaks into the sheriff's rumble seat and waits to be driven off the grounds.

The dim sheriff heads over to the mansion where the escaped killer's sister lives. He tells Aunt Lorinda to watch out for her crazy brother but she says she's not afraid of him--and we soon discover that it was she who actually arranged the escape. She needs her brother's help: All their greedy relatives are coming over and she is going to test them to decide if she should leave them her money. She assigns the crazy brother to pose as a butler and they wait for visitors.

Milton Parsons is a little creepy but mostly just goofy as the insane brother. Cecil Cunningham is enthusiastically unbalanced as rich old Aunt Lorinda. Her scheme to test the relatives seems promising and includes an odd sequence in which she takes a sleeping potion to convince everyone that she is already dead. Unfortunately the relatives are generally a bit bland, as are the handsome young lawyer and secretary (Craig Stevens and Elizabeth Fraser) who strike up a romance while also trying to investigate. Willie Best is stuck as usual playing the timid servant who is scared of everything.

It's a passable plot even if there's nothing real original about it. Overall, unfortunately, it just doesn't quite work....It's not really funny enough to be a comedy or scary enough to be a thriller. This Warner Bros. B production looks polished but it might have worked better as one of those unabashedly amateurish bargain basement PRC productions.
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6/10
Good-natured low budget comedy
6 May 2019
Iris Adrian and Frank Jenks are partners in a bail bond business. Adrian is happy bailing out small time crooks but Jenks dreams big and rashly drops $25,000 on a single client. When Adrian points out that if the client jumps bail, it will put them out of business, the pair quickly agree that they had better track down that client and keep an eye on him.

Douglas Fowley is the expensive client. Accused of embezzling, he is doing a little investigating, hoping to find the real culprit. When his former boss is found strangled in his office, Fowley is a suspect again, and (after much confusion) he joins forces with Adrian and Jenks to capture the real killer.

It's a super cheap production but the chemistry is actually pretty good among the three leads, who do their best to give life to some really silly dialog. (Jenks: "We're sitting on top of the world!" Adrian: "Yeah, well, go on before we fall off.")

Eventually our heroes and the five suspects wind up at a lodge where the stolen securities may be hidden. A secret vault and a suit of armor figure into the story, which doesn't offer many surprises but certainly moves along quickly.

Not bad, really--it's nothing profound but makes for a fun hour.
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Below the Sea (1933)
6/10
Totally corny but exciting sea adventure
23 April 2019
Expert deep sea diver Ralph Bellamy is hired by German sailor Fredrik Vogeding and shady seaside hotel proprietor Esther Howard to help locate and bring up a cache of WWI gold bars from the bottom of the sea. Vogeding has the map; Howard finances the plan; and Bellamy will do the diving.

Ralph Bellamy scowls his way through most of this watery adventure. As the "best diver there is," he is marginally more honest than his two partners, who immediately begin making plans to double cross him and each other. The partnership grows darker and bleaker the longer the two men work together: "I used to figure all the things I'd do with that gold," Bellamy tells Vogeding. "But now it only means one thing to me, Schlemmer. Gettin' rid of you."

The plot thickens when the trio wind up on a scientific expedition financed by rich girl Fay Wray. Noticing that Bellamy never smiles, Wray of course is smitten with him, and the sparring between this pair begins. Finally he embraces her and kisses her, then is shocked when she likes it. Wray: "I suppose you would have liked it better if I'd slapped your face." Bellamy: "Yeah, I would." She slaps his face. He smiles. Wray: "Good heavens! You do know how to smile!"

Some of this dialog is kind of nauseating but it doesn't seem necessary to take it too seriously. Fay Wray looks beautiful but out of place on a heavy duty marine expedition; Ralph Bellamy looks good too but isn't completely convincing as a hard boiled sailor. However, if the dramatic bits are shaky, the adventure scenes really are exciting: a big ocean storm early in the picture is impressively loud and wet, and the climactic rescue attempt at the bottom of the sea is exactly where the whole picture was headed but thrilling just the same.

Pretty silly but lots of fun. And the moment right near the end when Bellamy grabs the binoculars and has a look--that is a brilliant twist.
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7/10
Entertaining B mystery
23 April 2019
A rich family and a houseful of squabbling guests occupy a ritzy oceanfront mansion down on Spanish Cape. Beautiful Helen Twelvetrees and her eccentric uncle step outside to talk, only to be kidnapped and driven to a strange house down the road. The kidnapper knocks the uncle unconscious, then ties Twelvetrees to a chair, leaving her alone in the dark house while he hauls off the uncle somewhere in a boat.

Meanwhile, renowned mystery writer Ellery Queen is on vacation, accompanied by the retired judge who shares his interest in crime solving. They plan to get away from sleuthing but you know how it is for these amateur detectives....When they arrive at their vacation house, the first thing they discover is Helen Twelvetrees tied up in the bedroom. Like it or not, they're soon on the case.

Donald Cook is a flashy and debonair Ellery Queen. Berton Churchill is part assistant, part comic relief as his friend the judge. Helen Twelvetrees is fine as the young woman whose charming personality and family mystery both capture Ellery's attention. "Mr. Queen," she tells him at one point, "you have the oddest way of mixing romance and murder."

There is a murder and any number of suspects down at the mansion. A bumbling local sheriff sets out to untangle things ("Sit down a minute, Mr. Queen. I'll show you how a real detective solves a case") but soon enough welcomes Ellery's help. It all builds rather nicely to a climactic gather-the-suspects scene in which Ellery presents his deductions.

Overall it's very good, with just enough humor and a rather complex plot that actually makes sense.
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7/10
Comedy-mystery with songs
11 April 2019
A ritzy party celebrates a dusty old mansion's reopening. A ghost bursts in and scares everybody, but it's just a guest in a costume having a little joke. There's dancing and singing and we meet the usual characters:

Anne Gwynn, whose father died mysteriously in the house's "blue room" 20 years ago, at which time the place was shut up; mystery writer Donald Cook, who has been invited to the party to look into the legend of the blue room; and John Litel, who is Gwynn's stepfather and the house's current owner.

We also meet the Three Jazzybelles, a singing trio who've been hired to entertain and find it difficult to leave.

The plot is familiar but entertaining. One bold guest announces that he's sleeping in the blue room in order to disprove the ghost stories...and then in the morning, he's disappeared. Police detective Regis Toomey is called in and the rest of the picture is Toomey asking everybody questions, Cook and Gwynn doing their own investigating, and the Jazzybelles rummaging around the house looking for clues while also singing a couple of cute songs.

The music and plenty of silly dialog keep things light. The house full of dark shadows and secret passages is not all that scary but there are a couple of suspenseful moments. Cook and Gwynn are fine leads although we never get to know them particularly well. The rest of the cast is pretty predictable, I suppose, but deliver laughs as expected. Nothing too original or exciting but it is lots of fun.
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6/10
Low budget Charlie Chan is not that bad
3 April 2019
Charlie Chan and number one son Lee doze on a plane trip. Lee wakes up and discovers that the passengers and crew are all out cold. Everyone has been drugged (except for him and his pop, who didn't drink their coffee). A dead body is lying up near the cockpit and a large packet of cash has vanished.

The Chans investigate, of course, and suspects include a pilot and his stewardess girlfriend, a pair of suspicious-looking passengers who appear to be stalking a different stewardess, and a security guard in charge of transporting the now missing money. Back on the ground, the action flows from a nightclub to the Chan home and finally back to the airplane, where Mr. Chan gets everybody back on board to explain his deductions and draw out the killer....

Roland Winters and Keye Luke are just fine as the Chan father-son team. Unfortunately the script doesn't offer them much in the way of clever dialog, but they dutifully investigate the case and manage to keep it fairly lively. Mantan Moreland offers support as chauffeur Birmingham Brown. Tim Ryan as a detective and Milburn Stone as the airline pilot are among the other vaguely familiar faces in the cast.

It's not particularly exciting or surprising but at least the plot makes sense. So it's no classic--but heck, it is kind of fun.
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6/10
Camping out with the Chans
21 March 2019
In a Mexican village, a team of Americans plan a trip into the mountains to search for an ancient treasure and two missing scientists. Charlie Chan stumbles into the case and joins their expedition, along with his number one and number two sons and chauffeur. Soon they are all tenting it, spying on each other and sneaking in and out of camp.

Bob Livingston is part of the search party but we soon discover that he actually heads a gang that's after the treasure. They have kidnapped the missing professor and are holding him in a secret temple whose hidden door swings open when you step on a certain big rock.

Roland Winters does okay in a fairly active role as the great detective. Keye Luke is a rather mature and serious Lee Chan. Victor Sen Young and Mantan Moreland, as Tommy Chan and chauffeur Birmingham Brown, are teamed up as usual to handle the comic relief. No explanation is offered for Keye Luke's surprising return to the series; we can only note that at the beginning of the picture the Chans are setting out on a family vacation, and guess that Lee must have been invited.

The plot is a little different from most in this series--we know who the villain is from early on. The production, of course, is cheap and the dialog seems hastily hashed out, although Mr. Chan does offer one or two of his wise sayings. ("Very difficult to estimate depth of well by size of bucket.") Overall it's really not very good...but enjoyable enough for fans.

Note: a fun double feature would be this picture preceded by 1937's Riders of the Whistling Skull. Not only is this Chan picture is a remake of that Three Mesquiteers western, but the earlier movie also featured Bob Livingston--as one of the good guys, in that case.
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6/10
More laughs than thrills in lightweight murder mystery
19 March 2019
Newspaper writer Paul Kelly gets a tough assignment from his editor: Crash a party at a famous mansion and spend the night in the "blue room"--the site of a notorious murder 20 years ago.

Kelly's breezy manner sets the tone for this fast paced mystery that contains plentiful comic relief and just a bit of suspense. The old dark mansion is re-opening after all these years. Owner Selmer Jackson and his daughter Constance Moore are hoping to put aside the rumors that the place is haunted. Among the guests at their bash is William Lundigan, a handsome young family friend who is in love with Moore, and Edwin Stanley as the family doctor who seems to know a lot of the family history, including the story of the death in the blue room.

Having sneaked into the party, Kelly is discovered and thrown out, but appears again in the morning, having bribed a servant--anything to avoid facing his editor and being put back on the women's advice column. And the plot quickly thickens: Lundigan, having volunteered to debunk the ghost stories by spending the night in the blue room himself, has disappeared.

Paul Kelly is convincing enough as the irreverent hero. Constance Moore is earnest and smart as the beautiful damsel; not at all surprisingly, she and Kelly team up as soon as he convinces her that he's on the level: "At first I did think this ghost stuff was a gag. Now I'm beginning to wonder. You know, we could break this case in a minute if you'd help me."

Enjoyable if not exactly a classic.
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6/10
Dude ranch visit for Mr. Chan and associates
19 March 2019
Charlie Chan's old friend from Arizona thinks that someone is trying to kill him. Chan travels to the friend's dude ranch and digs into the mystery, which he quickly discovers is tied up with a nearby gold mine.

Roland Winters is solid if unexciting as the famous detective in this passable series entry. Victor Sen Young and Mantan Moreland are featured in sizable roles this time around; as number two son Tommy and chauffeur Birmingham Brown, they liven up their portions of an otherwise rather bland production.

Tim Ryan attempts to add color as a tipsy ranch guest whom Chan quickly recognizes as his friend Lieutenant Mike from San Francisco. Lieutenant Mike, it turns out, is undercover at the ranch and investigating the same funny business at the mine.

Other story elements include a smuggling ring, a suspicious mine shaft accident, a miner's shack with a trap door in the floor leading to a secret tunnel.... It really doesn't make much sense but it's mildly entertaining.
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7/10
Entertaining old dark house adventure
14 March 2019
The clock strikes midnight. It's Gloria Stuart's 21st birthday and she is celebrating over a late dinner with her father and three eager suitors.

The happy conversation soon turns to the castle's blue salon, a room that has been locked for 20 years. Three people died mysteriously in that room, all those years ago. One of the suitors proposes a challenge: he plans to spend the night in the blue room if his each of his rivals will do the same over the next two nights.

Things happen pretty quickly over the next several scenes: Suitor number one disappears, the butler converses in low tones with a stranger at the kitchen door, a mysterious attacker frightens the daughter, suitor number two is shot....

The plot is pretty standard but it's fast paced and has a couple of twists. The usual old dark house corners and shadows are put to good use. There's also the classic shot where the camera pans slowly across the suspects' faces, one by one, close up.

Gloria Stuart is fine as the beautiful daughter. Lionel Atwill is appropriately suspicious as her shifty father. Paul Lukas is rather dashing as the best of her suitors (although his accent is a bit distracting). Midway through the picture, Edward Arnold enters the scene as a clever and dogged police detective who's determined to get to the bottom of things.

Lively characters, plenty of suspense, a bit of humor - exactly what you would expect from a Universal picture with this title. Lots of fun.
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7/10
Delightful cast in show business comedy
14 March 2019
Small town girl Rosemary Lane heads off to NYC to become a famous actress. Boyfriend Eddie Albert follows her, bringing his family's life savings and a vague plan to buy a hotel. It's not long before this sweet and naïve couple encounter....

Wayne Morris and Ronald Reagan - a couple of stage producers who have a play but no money to produce it. Their friends and acquaintances are not forthcoming with cash. "Isn't it a wonderful thing," Morris notes, "how poor people can get when you're trying to raise some dough?"

Jane Wyman is hilarious as Reagan's wife. We meet her in his office, all dolled up, feet on his desk. She has won a big sweepstakes and is loaded--but she's not going to let Reagan blow her money on another lousy play. She hands him some bills: "Cuddles, there's your daily allowance." Reagan smiles delightedly. "TWO bucks?"

When our producers encounter Albert and his money, they quickly convince him to invest in their show and readily agree to hire Lane for the lead role. Complications set in when Ruth Terry shows up--she was the big star of their last flop and wants to star in this one too. She can't easily be brushed off because her boyfriend has taken an interest: "He's getting out of Alcatraz in three weeks. And boys? The kind of pineapples he throws don't come from Honolulu."

The great cast also includes Milburn Stone as the tough boyfriend and Tom Kennedy as his dim but enthusiastic henchman.

It's very funny, with lots of fast talking and a couple of neat plot turns. Rosemary Lane and Eddie Albert are just fine as the attractive lead couple--even though they are at times nearly drowned out by all the wackiness around them.
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5/10
Not very good but strangely enjoyable Chan mystery
7 November 2018
A mysterious figure sneaks into a judge's study and stabs him. Another stealthy figure enters the room--he answers the phone when it rings and is promptly conked on the head by the shadowy murderer, who then flees.

It's the judge's nephew who wakes up on the floor and pulls the knife out of the body right at the moment the cops walk in. It looks bad for him--until a recently executed criminal's fingerprints are found on the knife. The plot thickens when a district attorney is murdered next and the same dead man's fingerprints are found....

Soon enough, Charlie Chan is on the case, with assistance once again from number two son Tommy and chauffeur Birmingham Brown. Chan thinks the case has something to do with an insurance racket; Tommy doesn't actually help much but Birmingham is called on to climb through several windows.

Roland Winters is getting comfortable as Charlie Chan but there's really not much to the role...he reads the lines just fine but the script doesn't give him a whole lot of personality. Victor Sen Yung and Mantan Moreland are familiar and amusing as Tommy and Birmingham but they don't have much new to offer either.

Tim Ryan adds a little color as a police lieutenant who joins forces with Chan. And an actress named Deannie Best is actually kind of good as the murdered judge's slinky secretary.

Overall the picture is oddly watchable...nothing much happens but at least the story keeps on moving. A typical scene is the one where our main characters go to a cemetery to dig up the executed criminal's body: Of course they go at night, of course the grave is empty, of course Birmingham and Tommy are scared...but it's all done and past before we even have a chance to be bothered by how silly it all is.
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7/10
Pretty good thriller despite low budget and stolen plot
30 October 2018
Newspaper reporter Hugh Beaumont visits business magnate Russell Hicks, hoping for an interview. Instead he encounters Ann Savage, who starts right in flirting with him.

Her rich husband, she says, is always nagging her about money...she can't divorce him unless she wants to give up everything and she thinks she has earned his dough...so maybe Beaumont would like to help him have an accident? "It wouldn't be an accident then," Beaumont points out. Her reply: "But you could help me make it look like one."

It's really impossible to watch this tawdry murder tale without thinking of Double Indemnity, whose plot it brazenly copies. On its own merits, though, this is not a bad little thriller, featuring some sharp dialog, a compact story line, and a cast of B movie stalwarts:

Hugh Beaumont is quite good, dragged into a plot against his better judgment then trying haplessly to play it cool when his editor assigns him to write about the murder; Charles D. Brown is fine as the editor who smells something fishy; and Ann Savage is very unlikable but completely irresistible as the deadly female.

It's a cheap production but the story moves along swiftly. Savage's role is especially juicy in the passages in which she has to cajole Beaumont. And there are some great dialog exchanges--

Beaumont: "Sure, I know how you feel. But believe me, murder's not the right answer." Savage: "I guess you never really loved me."
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Fallen Angel (1945)
7/10
Dark tale of deception and disappointment
29 October 2018
Drifter Dana Andrews hops off a bus on a lonely night in a little coastal town. He walks into a diner called Pop's and makes himself at home. It's not long before Andrews encounters two women:

Sultry Linda Darnell is Stella, a waitress at Pop's. She is hot stuff--every man who meets her instantly falls in love. Andrews catches Stella's attention pretty easily but she's not interested in a man with only one dollar in his pocket. He tells her he knows where he can get $12,500--and starts hanging around...

Prim Alice Faye, who lives with her sister in a large house that their father has left them. Andrews has discovered that Faye and sister share a $25,000 estate just waiting to be cashed in. He befriends and pursues her, planning to marry her, grab her money, and run off with Darnell.

Dana Andrews is kind of a rat in this story. The men he meets at Pop's are equally unsavory: Salesman Bruce Cabot, who seems to be Stella's current boyfriend; former policeman Charles Bickford, crotchety and vaguely menacing; and Pop himself, Percy Kilbride, who is even more obsessed with Stella than everybody else.

Darnell is outstanding as Stella, and it helps that she gets the best close ups and dialog. Alice Faye, on the other hand, has a role that is just not convincing....why does she fall for such an obvious crook as Andrews? We just don't know. (The theory that studio brass insisted on boosting Darnell's role at Faye's expense seems to make sense, though--if Faye's part was cut way down, no wonder she seems like such a dolt.)

Andrews gives a good performance as the scheming, dreaming, irresistible drifter...his sometimes-despicable character is indeed almost sympathetic. Anne Revere has a small but important role as Faye's not-so-gullible sister.

The plot includes not only Andrews's wicked plans but other characters' jealous schemes as well, leading up to an eventual murder. The picture's pace is deliberate but never boring; it seems like no matter which combination of characters is on screen, we are watching them do their best to deceive and dissemble.

Not completely satisfying but definitely worthwhile, especially for the beautiful photography and Darnell's breezy command of all these men's emotions.
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Crack-Up (1946)
6/10
Tense drama of trains and forgeries
12 October 2018
Art expert Pat O'Brien escapes a train wreck and then deliriously breaks into the museum where he works. His memory is shaky. Is he cracking up--or does somebody just want him to think he is?

Confused but convinced he's not nuts, O'Brien sets out to investigate. He takes another train ride and gradually uncovers dirty work involving the fate of art masterpieces that had been stolen in the war and begun gradually turning up again--as forged copies.

O'Brien is almost the whole show here but an interesting supporting cast helps out. Wallace Ford is a grim and tight-lipped police lieutenant. Claire Trevor writes for an art magazine and hangs out with O'Brien some evenings. Herbert Marshall is a visiting art authority--like O'Brien, he has experience retrieving stolen paintings and exposing forgeries. These three all appear to have O'Brien's best interests at heart but they may not be telling him all that they know.

The story keeps us guessing but O'Brien is assisted more than once by luck or coincidence--so the plot doesn't quite work. The suspense builds nicely, though, to an exciting final sequence.
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