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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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5/10
Murder by radio tube
6 September 2018
A chemical company executive visits Charlie Chan: He's being followed, he says, and suspects a plot to intercept his company's shipments. While Chan listens politely, Birmingham Brown and Tommy Chan eavesdrop from the hall, hoping to get in on this case from the beginning.

Sure enough, the executive dies mysteriously. Charlie Chan and team investigate.

Roland Winter looks comfortable and confident in his second outing as the famous detective. The famous Chan aphorisms flow regularly--some good, some bad. ("Patience! Must harvest rice before can boil it.")

The plot is okay but there's not much to it....it's never real clear just who these suspects are or how Chan sorts them all out. The murder device is ingenious if far-fetched: a radio tube that bursts and releases poison gas at the sound of a particular musical note.

Mantan Moreland as chauffeur Birmingham and Victor Sen Yung as number three son Tommy are amusing as assistant detectives. Overall it's a minor series entry but hard to dislike too much.

One great scene: Birmingham and Tommy do a piano-and-violin boogie woogie duet.
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Dive Bomber (1941)
7/10
Gorgeous Technicolor and impressive stars
31 August 2018
Fred MacMurray is a Navy flight instructor. Errol Flynn is a Navy doctor who signs up for flight doctor training. Ralph Bellamy is Flynn's gruff superior. These personalities clash but eventually earn each other's respect and join forces. Their big problem: How to prevent blackouts and high altitude sickness in fighter plane pilots.

Outstanding photography and stirring music back up the excellent star performances in this high class Warner Bros. production. The opening sequence contains amazing footage of the fleet in Hawaiian territory (less than a year before Pearl Harbor); the skies are filled with impressive planes and maneuvers throughout the picture, right through to a beautiful closing shot.

Flynn is totally charismatic in a role that's less flamboyant than his usual swashbuckler but no less heroic. Bellamy's lead doctor approaches his job with gravity and complete dedication. MacMurray is brash, demanding, loyal to both his work and his men.

The solid supporting cast includes Regis Toomey in a good role as MacMurray's pilot buddy. Not essential to the plot but adding pizzazz are Alexis Smith as a sort of off-and-on love interest and Allen Jenkins as a corpsman who spends the picture hiding from his wife. Cliff Nazarro also contributes comic relief with his double-talk bit.

Plot and dialog are solid...but this picture's main appeal is that everything in it just looks so good.
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The Big Steal (1949)
8/10
Clever plot and excellent cast in lively chase adventure
26 July 2018
Exciting opening scene: William Bendix bursts into Robert Mitchum's ship cabin. He demands something, Mitchum says he hasn't got it, they fight. Mitchum knocks out Bendix, takes his wallet and runs out.

The events that led up to this bout are gradually revealed as the story moves forward, and things aren't always what they seem. What does become apparent fairly soon is that 1)Mitchum is chasing Patric Knowles, 2)Jane Greer is also chasing after Knowles for a different reason, 3)Mitchum and Greer are going to join forces, and 4)Bendix is coming along furiously bringing up the rear.

It's a neatly-contrived plot, with performances that are just dandy from these four stars. Ramon Navarro is delightful in a supporting role as a Mexican inspector general who enjoys his encounters with these volatile Americans as they give him excellent opportunities to practice his English.

Mitchum and Greer look good together as they go through the usual process of getting in each other's way before realizing they can do better together. "Are you always so chivalrous to strange women?" she asks him at one point. He replies, "We'll kick that around some other time." --Sure, it's dialog that's fairly standard but it sounds great when delivered just right.

Fast-paced and suspenseful, with an especially great downhill chase sequence on a curvy mountain road.
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7/10
Undercover agents track shipyard saboteurs
24 July 2018
Pat O'Brien shows up on the docks, down and out and in need of a job. His brother Chester Morris, construction manager, reluctantly hires him on. Very soon we discover that O'Brien's real job here is not building ships.

This WWII spy thriller has a bit of romance thrown in and features an assortment of characters whose personal and wartime lives often overlap: Carole Landis and Ruth Warrick are both quite good as women doing jobs that take precedence--at least during wartime--over their personal lives or relationships. Landis is a fellow agent who poses as O'Brien's wife; Warrick is Morris's assistant in the shipyard office. Morris would like to marry Warrick but she may still have feelings for her old flame, O'Brien--whose professional regard for Landis may grow into something more.

Wallace Ford, always fun to watch, is part of "the team"--his main job being spotting Nazis at the shipyard. Barton MacLane is excellent as a rough-edged yard worker whose eventual friendship with O'Brien is hard fought.

The plot is solid: O'Brien and Ford keep an eye out for saboteurs while Morris and Warrick, realizing that O'Brien is no ordinary dock worker, keep an eye on him. There's some comic relief that isn't too funny, unfortunately, and also some cute scenes involving a couple of war orphans that just aren't real convincing.

It's a great role for O'Brien, though, as that rugged American everyman who doesn't say much but performs awesome feats.
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7/10
Solid adventure set in Damascus, center of intrigue
10 July 2018
Newspaper reporter George Sanders hurries through the airport--he's heading home from an assignment but is keeping his eyes open. In the first moments of his stay in Damascus, he encounters a number of questionable characters:

Lenore Aubert, inscrutable and beautiful in an exotic outfit complete with tall head wrap. Virginia Bruce, who hangs around the hotel looking nervous and appears to have some connection with Gene Lockhart, a gambler with dubious morals.

Robert Armstrong gets to the point as an American foreign service agent sent to keep Sanders from stirring up local mischief:

"You're a troublemaker," Armstrong tells Sanders bluntly. Sanders replies: "That's what Herr Goebbels said about me once. I was deeply flattered."

The plot is fairly straightforward. One of Sanders' colleagues is found murdered; Sanders sticks around to investigate. Soon Sanders realizes he is working to identify and thwart Nazi operatives. Determining who's who among the other players is neither simple nor safe.

Sanders is excellent--suave, clever and tough, this character is more serious-minded than the Saint or Falcon. Some good aerial photography over the desert adds excitement as the action builds.

Mystery, thriller, patriotic WWII picture....Overall, a solid and efficient production.
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5/10
Familiar murder mystery lacks spark
9 July 2018
The doorbell rings. A woman wants to see Mr. Chan. She gives no name but hands an ornate ring to the butler and says, "Take this to him." While waiting for Chan in his study, she is shot through the window with a poison dart. Who was she and why was she killed? Charlie Chan investigates.

The plot of this late series entry is about as original as that opening scene. Clues include an inscription on the ring and an unfinished note scrawled by the dying woman.

Mr. Chan is assisted by handsome young police sergeant Warren Douglas, who chews gum all the time. Also on the case is perky newspaper reporter Louise Curry, who climbs in Chan's study window looking for clues. Douglas spends most of his time trying to keep Curry out of his way...and of course they have one of those love-hate romances that is totally nauseating.

Roland Winters makes his debut as Charlie Chan and he is not bad, though he takes some getting used to. He moves more quickly than poor Sidney Toler did in his last few pictures; this Chan is more vigorous, less grandfatherly, and ultimately less interesting, too, since unfortunately his stock of wise old sayings in this picture is practically nil.

Mantan Moreland is fine as Birmingham Brown. The one-time chauffeur seems to have taken on butler duties as well. Sen Yung helps out as number two son Tommy Chan--he's energetic as always but for some reason he is absent (and missed) during a long middle section.

The story moves at a decent pace but it's really just too predictable, and generally weak dialog probably makes the familiar plot seem worse. Interesting for Chan fans but not one of the series' highlights.
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Raffles (1939)
7/10
Dogged inspector tracks classy robber
6 July 2018
Scotland Yard inspector Dudley Digges opens up a wooden cabinet next to his desk...and turns on the television set. The cricket match is on and the star player is fan favorite A.J. Raffles.

The inspector and his colleagues have just been discussing the baffling case of "the Amateur Cracksman," a clever thief who leaves a signed note at the scene of each crime. Little do the Scotland Yard men realize that Raffles and the Amateur Cracksman are one and the same--celebrity by day, burglar by night.

David Niven is excellent as Raffles, that adventurous character who decides to hang up his secret life, finds it necessary to do one last job, and feels the pressure build as his cover is slowly chipped away. Pensive, charming, sly, quick-thinking....it's a great role for Niven.

Olivia de Havilland is fine as the socialite who loves the dashing Raffles but begins to wonder about his puzzling behavior. (However, her top billing just under Niven does not reflect her actual role in the picture; the two main roles belong to Niven and Digges.)

Dudley Digges is lots of fun as the steadfast inspector who doesn't miss much. He follows his suspects down to one of those large country houses where Dame May Whitty's jewels are a temptation to more than one would-be crook.

The plot is really nothing much but it's certainly entertaining watching these characters watch each other.

Bonus: Laurel and Hardy fans will enjoy seeing the great James Finlayson as a cab driver. And a note: Apparently the first televised cricket match was in 1938. Not sure if Scotland Yard offices really had TV yet.
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7/10
Cute story with predictable plot rescued by lively performances
2 July 2018
Joan Blondell is waiting in a restaurant. "Honestly, I should have my head examined," she says. "The world is full of nice normal men and I become engaged to a crazy cop."

The crazy cop is Melvyn Douglas, ambitious young police detective constantly tugged between his job on the one hand and his fiancée on the other. Blondell wants a little of Douglas's time - but for some reason homicide chief Clarence Kolb is intent on making Douglas work as many nights as possible, causing him to miss dates with Blondell.

Kolb's wicked plots to keep Douglas focused on his job involve enthusiastic assistance from goofy fellow cops Don Beddoe and Donald MacBride. Blondell herself works in the mayor's office across the courtyard from the cops, with co-worker Ruth Donnelly on hand to supply sardonic cracks.

A hilarious early episode features Douglas escorting convict Ed Brophy to prison to begin a 40-year stretch. Not wanting to miss an appointment with Blondell, Douglas stops off at her apartment, introduces Brophy as a pal, and they go out for a day at the beach....

Blondell's frustration with Douglas and his darn detective work builds and builds - until suddenly Douglas is arrested and it's up to Blondell herself to track down a key clue and save an innocent man. All of a sudden she's gung ho:

Donnelly: "You're crazy - what do you know about being a detective?" Blondell: "Everything! Watch me."

It's a silly story but this cast sure makes it a lot of fun - right down to the closing gag, which you can see coming from a mile away but is hilarious nevertheless.
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8/10
Amiable reporter tracks mysterious umbrella man
25 June 2018
It's a foggy night. A man with an umbrella enters a London shop. Loud threats are heard and the shopkeeper disappears. A note is found that reads PAY OR BE SEEN NO MORE.

The plot is forgettable but this sleek mystery-comedy from MGM is about as smooth as 1930s B movies get. Reporter George Murphy sticks his nose into the missing person case and tangles with Scotland Yard man George Zucco and rich girl Rita Johnson.

Everything happens very quickly: Murphy sees a man with an umbrella climbing in a window, so he follows him in and tackles him in the hall. Turns out the intruder is Rita Johnson's butler and next thing you know Murphy and Johnson are exchanging silly dialog:

Johnson: "Frankly, I'm disappointed in you, Mr. Dennis. You've been on this case almost two hours, and what have you done besides attacking my poor butler?" Murphy: "I've met you."

George Zucco is fun to watch as a detective instead of the villain for once; he and Murphy enjoy the typical friendly inspector-reporter rivalry. Virginia Field has a colorful role as a barmaid. Leo G. Carroll as the butler is also worth keeping an eye on.

There's a bit of suspense but nothing too intense--and certainly more comedy than mystery. Unpretentious fun.
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The Trap (1946)
7/10
Amateurish, convoluted and great fun
24 May 2018
An acting troupe rents an oceanfront mansion to stay in while they get ready for the show. Before you know it, the star of the show has disappeared and a fellow actress is found murdered. The situation seems grim.

Luckily, one of the cast members named San Toy has an idea: "I met a detective. The world's greatest detective. His name is Jimmy Chan. Great Chinese detective. He'll protect his countrywoman."

Soon Jimmy Chan is on the case, accompanied by associate Birmingham Brown, and you know that Charlie Chan himself cannot be far behind. Sidney Toler moves a little slowly but is wise as ever in his final appearance as the great detective. Sen Yung and Mantan Moreland are energetic if not exactly inspired as Jimmy and Birmingham.

The supporting cast is pretty standard and features an assortment of young women who seem to be designated by type (the French one, the hysterical one, the cute flirty sarcastic one). The suspects, of course, all accuse each other of murder and lesser crimes, and it's up to Mr. Chan eventually to sort it all out.

The whole thing appears to have been put together pretty quickly, and I'm not at all sure the plot makes any sense...but it's undeniably fast moving and contains a bit of humor. There are also some great shots of oceanfront highway and beach in the picture's opening moments. For those who are not sticklers for tight plot or strong production values, this picture is actually a lot of fun.
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5/10
Attractive stars but not much of a story
9 May 2018
Wealthy and beautiful Loretta Young is all set to marry Broderick Crawford and settle down to a normal life, but for a lark she takes her gang of socialite friends to see the Great Arturo, the magician in town. Next thing you know, she's ditched her family and friends, married Arturo, and joined his traveling magic act.

David Niven is that charming showman Arturo and his bride quickly realizes that he's not only a showman but a thrill seeker--and a party animal, as well. One morning Young and Niven are both surprised to read in the paper that he has drunkenly promised to jump out of an airplane in handcuffs.

Niven thinks, I can't disappoint my audience! I have to do it even if it kills me! Young thinks, Wouldn't it be sweet to have a nice quiet home in the country? Therein lies the conflict that, unfortunately, drags on for the rest of the picture.

Young is fine as the earnest young woman in love with a disaster waiting to happen. And Niven is quite convincing as the out-of-control daredevil who just can't stop himself. However, the question is - What exactly do they see in each other? The characters just don't seem to have any reason to be together.

The strong supporting cast includes Billie Burke, Ray Walburn, Zasu Pitts, and C. Aubrey Smith. Hugh Herbert is very good as Niven's assistant.

It's a handsome production but while the stars do look good it's too bad that neither of their characters seems very bright.
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5/10
Movie star demands publicity, agent organizes road trip
23 April 2018
Temperamental movie star Annabel Allison demands publicity--any publicity. Despite the mess that her old press agent Lanny Morgan recently got her into, she insists that the studio hire him back on: At least he got her picture in the papers.

Jack Oakie is boisterous agent Lanny Morgan, and he is indeed available for more work with Annabel. Lucille Ball, wacky and imperious, is Annabel. Their cross-country publicity tour doesn't make much sense but it sure is noisy. Along the way, Lucy decides she would like to have a romance with a viscount because a rival movie star is romancing a nobleman. She meets Ralph Forbes, who meets her requirements but seems rather baffled. Oakie attempts to drum up some photo opportunities with mixed results. The love-hate relationship between Lucy and Oakie seems to be the main story line but unfortunately it just doesn't really go anywhere.

Studio secretary Ruth Donnelly accompanies Lucy on the train trip and is solid as always. Donald MacBride has a couple of funny bits as a train conductor who hates the movies.

Overall it's pleasant enough but there sure isn't much to it....And an abrupt ending sneaks up just when you are expecting something interesting finally to happen.

Funniest scene: Jack Oakie attempts to mount a tall horse but has trouble because the stirrup is too high.
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