vt Hollywood Jungle
US / 61 minutes / bw / Amart Dir & Pr & Scr: Phil Tucker Cine: Saul Resnick Cast: Norman Wright, June Gilmore, George Robeleto, Bruno Metza, Hal Braun, Delia Figueroa, Val Russell, Earl Graves, Eve Miller, Paul Doro.
A movie to keep in mind should you ever discover you’ve run out of Ed Wood movies to watch.
In Hollywood, fledgling director Fletcher Mathering (Wright), harassed by the landlord for rent, explains that he has finally found a backer for his new movie, Death Takes a Spree, and so should soon be flush. That backer proves to be George “Georgie-boy” Gomez (Robeleto), a local hood who, we discover, has stolen the money he’s proposing to pay to Fletcher from Boss (uncredited), a vicious gangster. Georgie-boy’s sole provision is that the movie should star Lena Little (Gilmore), an actress whose star has faded for all but a certain hood who will always carry a gun in his pocket for her.
Boss, having discovered the theft, sends a mute hitman, Bruno (Metza), to rub Georgie-boy out. Considerately, Bruno waits until Georgie-boy has had a romp with Lena (we even—gasp!—see a flash of breast during this sequence, but you have to watch closely and be adroit with the Pause button to catch it) before chasing after him through the streets and finally cornering him in an alley. There Bruno waits an unconscionable amount of time until at last a bystander arrives on the scene to distract him from the hit; Georgie-boy gets three bullets in the shoulder but, taken to the hospital through the good agencies of the bystander and the cops, is released later that evening.
Or is it that evening? Due doubtless to budget exigencies dictating when there could be shooting, sometimes these proceedings seem to be taking place mid-afternoon (or even morning), sometimes after dusk.
During all of this boffing and running about and shooting and hospitalizing, we’ve seen interspersed scenes keeping us up to date on Fletcher’s progress with Death Takes a Spree. His lucky break is when a young woman (uncredited) turns up and tells him she’s going to be his assistant director; she also informs him that the first thing he should be doing is casting. So we see him go through a casting call.
A young blonde Italian actress (uncredited) storms off after he suggests an assignation to “discuss her role.” Box-office star John Humberstone (uncredited) storms off after Fletcher tells him this movie is being made not for money but for art. An extraordinarily pretty Spanish (?) woman (uncredited) explains she has no acting experience at all, but Fletcher hires her anyway for $1,000 a week; after she exuberantly throws her arms around his neck and treats him to an extended smooch, he tells the camera: “Better make that fifteen hundred.”
How to do casting: you smooch. Norman Wright with an uncredited actress.
Finally an elderly actress (uncredited, but the best thing in the movie) tells him he’s going to hire her. When he asks about her experience, her response is: “I’ve done everything from the Ten Commandments to the Ten Commandments—I’ve broken all twenty of them.”
The amazing (but alas uncredited) fat lady.
Some of the stuff in these interpolated sequences, although clumsily—laboriously—done, could have sat well in a movie like Merton of the Movies (1947). What they’re doing in a putative noir/dreadful warning movie is anyone’s guess.
Meanwhile, back in the grit, Boss tells his two head flunkies to take Bruno off and kill him somewhere in the country; obviously the killing of Georgie-boy is a job he’s going to have to do himself. He has heard on the radio that Fletcher Mathering is the name of the director Georgie-boy has paid the contentious money to, and so he deduces that obviously Georgie-boy will be at the studio where Fletcher is conducting his first rehearsal; heavens to Betsy, if Georgie-boy weren’t there, there might be no one to drool at Lena. Or something.
Bruno (Bruno Metza) does a good job of looking shifty in all directions.
So Boss hides himself in the rafters with a revolver that has a rubber appliance on the end that presumably functions as a silencer, because the first clue the rehearsing crew and cast get that someone’s fired a shot is when Georgie-boy falls over dead. They decide to call the cops.
The cops seem uninterested in the usual cop procedure of interviewing potential witnesses. Fletcher goes home, gets harassed yet again by the landlord, discovers the bank won’t honor Georgie-boy’s check because of Georgie-boy’s unfortunate deadness, and takes Lena to a nightclub to get juiced with her. When he prevails upon her to pay the check, she realizes she left her purse back in the studio.
Here you need to follow the plotting carefully. If the furrow on your brow is not a deep one, you’re not concentrating hard enough. Ready?
The cops have searched the studio and many hours have passed. Nevertheless, Boss is still in there. Two cops are guarding the doorway. They agree to let Lena in to fetch her purse; it doesn’t occur to either to go in with her. Inside the studio there is, for no apparent reason, a slowly flashing light—at least it helps Lena look for her purse, because without it she’d be in total darkness, not having learned how to switch a ceiling light on. Boss, who has hidden successfully from cop search parties all this time, decides the best thing he could do is leap from cover to strangle Lena very noisily.
As noted above, Broadway Jungle has a certain Ed Woodian splendor. The plot makes less sense than a Deepak Chopra profundity. The acting is, with a few exceptions, execrable: Wright hams (but is a veritable Olivier alongside whoever’s playing Boss), Gilmore’s clearly clueless, and so on. The pacing is dreadful: for example, as he drives to the studio to kill Georgie-boy, Boss is stopped by a cop for speeding, and so we spend several minutes watching as the cop writes in his notebook, tears the page from the notebook, hands the citation to Boss, puts his gun in his holster . . . dang, I dropped off for a moment there.
Even less entrancing is the rehearsal scene in the studio. Fletcher is concerned to get his sweaty little—in fact, big—mitts on the underclad loveliness of an obviously reluctant Lena, and so keeps trying to demonstrate to the male romantic lead how this should be done. Keeps trying, keeps trying, keeps trying. By the time we’re ready to brain him not just for being an arrant groper but for his constant repetition of “you want to make lurve to this woman,” the only thing keeping us going is the hope that Boss’s bullet might hit the wrong target.
Fletcher (Norman Wright) conducts his ghastly couch rehearsal with Lena (June Gilmore). “You want to make lurve to this woman.”
Lena’s vocals are dubbed almost throughout the movie, and very badly so. If you thought the dubbing of some anime series was, well, not so hot, you have a learning curve awaiting you here. I assumed Gilmore must be a foreign actress whose thick accent was a problem, but no. Toward the end, in the scene where Boss is threatening her in the darkened studio, Lena’s voice seems suddenly undubbed, and we get a clue as to why the dubbing was thought necessary. Her cries of panic sound more like a vexed response to being goosed at a party.
Director Phil Tucker’s first movie was the skiffy legend Robot Monster (1953); it’s treasured today for its unwitting hilarity. He also made Dance Hall Racket (1953) with Lenny Bruce and Bruce’s wife Honey Harlow; this seems clearly an item that I should write about here. After much depression—and a suicide attempt—over his inadequacies as a director (or, rather, the cruel world’s failure to appreciate his genius), Tucker became a highly respected film editor. The surprising thing is that the editing here is appalling. During a studio rehearsal of Fletcher’s movie, for example, we see an actor get up from a couch despite the fact that he has already done so a few moments before. The sound engineering is appalling too. Late on, as Fletcher and Lena are getting juiced at the Crossroads niterie, it’s almost impossible to catch what he’s saying because the musical act (economically kept off-screen) drowns the words out. Lena’s crudely dubbed words, by contrast, drown out the music.
Supposedly Eve Miller appears here. The only character I think she could possibly be is the unnamed assistant director (certainly an acting highlight of this often poorly acted movie). I have difficulty, though, in believing that the actress who just two years earlier, in 1953, costarred with Kirk Douglas in The Big Trees, could have suddenly fallen so far.
The main title is incomprehensible: this is a movie that happens in Hollywood, not on Broadway.
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