Crown v. Stevens (1936)

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“Ten million people in London, and it had to be you.”
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UK / 66 minutes / bw / Warner Bros. First National Dir: Michael Powell Scr: Brock Williams Story: Third Time Unlucky (1935) by Laurence Meynell Cine: Basil Emmott Cast: Beatrix Thomson, Patric Knowles, Glennis Lorimer, Reginald Purdell, Allan Jeayes, Frederick Piper, Googie Withers, Mabel Poulton, Billy Watts, Davina Craig, Morris Harvey, Bernard Miles.

The title might make us assume this is a courtroom drama, but in fact this quota quickie—an important stop along the road for director Michael Powell’s early career—is a distinctly noirish piece. In one specific respect it appears to be echoed in Raoul Walsh’s THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940), which had George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart and the immortal Ida Lupino as its stars.

Molly (Glennis Lorimer) and Chris (Patric Knowles) make a good team.

There are no comparable stars here, with the exceptions of Patric Knowles—who would soon go on to have a prominent Hollywood career, sometimes playing opposite his friend Errol Flynn—and of course Googie Withers (in a small role), plus Glennis Lorimer, whose short acting career (she died far too early) is eclipsed by the fact that she served as the young woman in the mocked-up version of Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of Sarah Siddons used as an opening-credits logo by Gainsborough Studios.

Mamie (Mabel Poulton) dances close to Chris . . .

. . . but Joe Andrews (Billy Watts) is her true partner.

Naive paint-company clerk Chris Jansen (Knowles) believes himself in love with floozy Mamie (Poulton), and borrows an engagement ring on approval from Continue reading

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Witness Chair, The (1936)

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Inverted twist!
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US / 64 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: George Nicholls Jr Scr: Rian James, Gertrude Purcell Story: Rita Weiman Cine: Robert de Grasse Cast: Ann Harding, Walter Abel, Douglass Dumbrille, Frances Sage, Moroni Olsen, Margaret Hamilton, Maxine Jennings, William Benedict, Paul Harvey, Murray Kinnell, Charles Arnt, Frank Jenks, Hilda Vaughn, Barlowe Borland, Fred Kelsey, Edward LeSaint.

There’s no way to discuss this very interesting B-movie intelligently without committing a major spoiler, so, if you’re one of those for whom spoilers are anathema, stop reading now.

Do be aware, though, that knowledge of the plot isn’t going to undermine your enjoyment of the movie in any way. While The Witness Chair is presented to us as a murder mystery/courtroom drama, in a sense it doesn’t really fit the bill as either. The movie has sufficient riches Continue reading

o/t: RIP, Peggy Cummins.

***Sad news, via The Hannibal 8. I must get out of the habit I’ve had for years, every time I saw the name Peggy Cummins, of smiling at the cheerful thought that she was still alive after all these years.

The Hannibal 8

Peggy Cummins (Augusta Margaret Diane Fuller)
(December 18, 1925 – December 29, 2017)

Peggy Cummins, who is absolutely incredible in one of my favorite films, Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1949), has passed away at 92. She’s in a couple other favorites — Jacques Tourneur’s Night Of The Demon (1957, Curse Of The Demon in the States) and Cy Enfield’s Hell Drivers (1957).

b111eab68b76e503d3e373ef54559281--simple-art-cummins John Dall, Peggy Cummins and Joseph H. Lewis on the Gun Crazy set.

Was just thinking the other day that Gun Crazy would be a great candidate for a Warner Archive Blu-ray. If it happens, it’s a shame she won’t be around for it.

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o/t: December’s leisure reading

And so another year circles to its end. I read eleven books during December (plus a couple of abandonments) and, although nothing blew me away, a couple came close and I enjoyed most of the rest.

The links go to my often rather scrappy Goodreads notes:

2017 has been a vile year on so many fronts it’s hard to tally them, and the destruction that’s been waged during it by our science- and reality-deficient overlords will redound for decades to come: our descendants are going to have to cope somehow with a severely damaged world. (My own book Corrupted Science — in a new edition nearly double the size of the 2007 one and coming in May — discusses a lot of this.) If this weren’t too much of a hostage to fortune, I’d say 2018 could hardly be worse than its predecessor. As it is, I guess we just have to hope for the best, while working each in our own way to improve things.

Gloomy, I know. Even so, here’s hoping the coming year brings you joy.

Happy Hogmanay!

Repeat Performance (1947)

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Can we change the past by reliving it?
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US / 92 minutes / bw / Bryan Foy Productions, Eagle–Lion Dir: Alfred Werker Pr: Aubrey Schenck Scr: Walter Bullock Story: Repeat Performance (1942) by William O’Farrell Cine: Lew W. O’Connell Cast: Louis Hayward, Joan Leslie, Virginia Field, Tom Conway, Richard Basehart, Natalie Schafer, Benay Venuta, Ilka Gruning.

Every now and then one comes across a movie that ought to have the status of at the very least a minor classic yet has somehow been largely forgotten. Repeat Performance is such a movie. It tells a highly intriguing, emotionally involving story and, in so doing, hardly puts a foot wrong.

It’s a few minutes before the start of 1947 and the streets of New York are full of merry celebrants. In her luxury apartment nearby, however, famous Broadway actress Sheila Page (Leslie) stands over the corpse of husband Barney (Hayward); in her hand is the gun with which she’s just shot him. What could have brought her to this pass?

There’s a thunder of fists on the apartment door and a chorus of shouts from beyond it. Casting the gun aside, Sheila flees—out into the streets and to a club where her friend, the poet William Williams (Basehart, whose first screen role this was) is drinking with actress Bess Michaels (Venuta) and English playwright Paula Costello (Field). Sheila tells the sympathetic William what she’s done, and he suggests they go ask the advice of Broadway producer John Friday (Conway), a kind and generous man who’s an angel in more senses than one . . . especially to Sheila, whom he clearly adores from, figuratively speaking at least, afar.

Paula (Virginia Field) tries to pretend she and Sheila are all pals together.

However, as Sheila and William approach the door of Friday’s apartment, she wishes aloud that 1946 had never happened at all, that she could relive it avoiding all the pitfalls that made it such a rotten year for her—and, in fact, for William. She turns on the stairs to discover that William is no longer with her.

And, speaking moments later with a bewildered Friday, she slowly begins to cotton on to the fact that the new year that’s just beginning isn’t 1947 after all: it’s 1946. Just as she wished for, she’s been given the chance to relive the year.

John Friday (Tom Conway) is bewildered by Sheila’s claims that it’s 1947.

What errors will she avoid making? For one, she’ll Continue reading

A Gun for Christmas (1952 TVM)

vt The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas
US / 26 minutes / bw / Mark VII, NBC Dir: Jack Webb Pr: Michael Meshekoff Scr: James Moser, Jack Webb Cine: Edward Colman Cast: Jack Webb, Herbert Ellis, Wm. Johnstone, June Whitley, Sammy Ogg, Virginia Christine, Rennie McEvoy, Olan Soulé, George Fenneman (voiceover), Hal Gibney (voiceover).

Ladies and gentlemen, the story you’re about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The series opening (voiced by George Fenneman) is famous; for the even better-known radio series upon which Dragnet’s TV incarnation is based, it was of course “the story you are about to hear.” Both series can trace their origins to Alfred Werker’s HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948).

Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday.

For this particular episode (season 2, episode 7, first aired December 18 1952), Jack Webb, in his role as Sergeant Joe Friday of the LAPD, adds a voiceover that wastes no time in getting us into the Christmas spirit:

This is the city. All year around it wears work clothes. On holidays it dresses up. To most people, Christmas brings happiness and prayer. To some it brings heartbreak. Then my job gets tougher. I’m a cop.

Admit it. You’re starting to feel that festive glow of good cheer already. But don’t relax too much into Continue reading

The Christmas Caper (1952 TVM)

US / 26 minutes / bw / Showcase, CBS Dir: Erle C. Kenton Pr: Hal Roach Jr, Carroll Case Scr: Arthur Orloff Cine: Norbert Brodine Cast: Reed Hadley, Lloyd Corrigan, John L. Coogan (i.e., Jackie Coogan), Alan Dexter, John Phillips, Willie Best, Louis Lettieri, Jeri Lou James, Paul Keast, Argentina Brunetti, Frances Drew, William Fawcett.

Produced at the Hal Roach studios and (alas) sponsored by tobacco giant Philip Morris Inc., Racket Squad ran for a total of 98 episodes between 1951 and 1953. (The Christmas Caper, series 3 episode 15, was first aired on December 25 1952.) As its series hero, Captain John Braddock (Reed Hadley), explained at the outset of each episode,

What you are about to see is a real-life story taken from the files of the police racket and bunko squad, the business protective associations and similar sources all over the country. It is intended to expose the confidence game, the carefully worked-out frauds by which confidence men take more money each year from the American public than the bank robbers and thugs with their violence.

Reed Hadley as Captain John Braddock.

In this particular instance:

Tonight I’m going to tell you a story that’s a little different from the ones you’ve been seeing. It exposes a racket just as the others have done, and it’s a nasty racket that takes hard-earned money from honest people and puts it into the pockets of thieves. But still it’s a different story, first because it’s a Christmas story and second because it put me on a spot I never want to be put on again: I had to arrest Santa Claus . . .

In a poor quarter of the large city where Braddock’s Racket Squad operates, elderly Charlie Dooley (Corrigan) lives alone with his dog Monster. Alone? Well, not so much. All the kids Continue reading

Christmas Story (1956 TVM)

US / 26 minutes / bw / ZIV Dir: Herbert L. Strock Pr: Vernon E. Clark Scr: Donald A. Brinkley Cine: Monroe Askins Cast: Broderick Crawford, William Leicester, Jeanne Baird, Michelle Ducasse, Morgan Jones, Elmore Vincent, Billy Wayne, Art Gilmore (voiceover).

When this was first aired in 1956 it came not during the Christmas period, as one might have expected, but on June 25. It was Season 1, Episode 39 of a successful series, Highway Patrol, that ran for four seasons (1955–9) and a grand total of 156 episodes. The star throughout was Broderick Crawford as Dan Mathews, head of the Highway Patrol in an unnamed state that looked uncommonly like California—not surprisingly, since the series was instigated at the suggestion of the California Highway Patrol, which is acknowledged in the opening credits and served as technical consultant for the first two seasons.

Broderick Crawford as Captain Dan Mathews of the Highway Patrol.

You can get the flavor of the series from the introductory narrative, spoken by Art Gilmore:

Whenever the laws of any state are broken, a duly authorized organization swings into action. It may be called the State Police, State Troopers, the Militia, the Rangers . . . or the Highway Patrol. These are the stories of the men whose training, skill and courage have enforced and preserved our state laws.

Of course, in real life the Highway Patrol is concerned with things like Continue reading

o/t: The Beautiful Refugees of Casablanca

***Over at Silver Screenings, Ruth recently posted a splendid piece about an aspect of Casablanca that I’d never really thought about. She has kindly permitted me to reblog it here.

Silver Screenings

The beautiful people of Rick’s Cafe. Image: The Source

Look at the people in the above photo.

These are actors portraying refugees in a fashionable nightclub in French Morocco during WWII. This photo was taken in Soundstage 7-8 at Warner Bros. Studio in California.

Look at how these actors are dressed. These are refugees of Means; they are not poor. If they were poor, they would be mired in war, not sipping cocktails in Rick’s Café Américain.

Even so, these folks are stuck in the Moroccan desert, pawning jewellery and making sordid deals with local officials for a seat on The Plane to Lisbon (i.e. The Plane to Freedom). When this plane flies overhead, activity ceases while people gaze at it longingly:

Watching the plane to Lisbon. Image: The World

The film Casablanca (1942) – written in a hurry, filmed in a hurry, released in a hurry – explores the…

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By Whose Hand? (1932)

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Killer on a train!
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US / 65 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Ben Stoloff Scr: Isadore Bernstein, Stephen Roe Story: Harry Adler Cine: Teddy Tetzlaff Cast: Ben Lyon, Barbara Weeks, Kenneth Thomson, Ethel Kenyon, William V. Mong, Dolores Rey (i.e., Dolores Ray), Nat Pendleton, Tom Dugan, Dwight Frye, William Halligan, Helene Millard, Lorin Baker, Oscar Smith, Tom McGuire, DeWitt Jennings, Buddy Roosevelt, Polly Walters.

Through the 1930s and 1940s, the bottom half of the cinema bill was thronged with—was almost defined by, if you ignored the oaters—comedy-crime movies like this one. Some of them were pretty good and are fondly remembered. Others, like the godawful BOSTON BLACKIE series starring the godawful Chester Morris—through all of which your correspondent has glumly sat—were, well, you heard it here first: godawful.

By Whose Hand?, which has the probably illusory feel of being a pilot for an unmade series starring ace journalist Jimmy Hawley, Continue reading