o/t: “The Right to Murder”

The new edition of the London Review of Books carries a tremendous essay by Gaby Wood discussing Dorothy Hughes’s novel In a Lonely Place and more particularly Nick Ray’s movie of the same title that’s loosely based on it (although, as Wood observes, not that loosely). You can read the essay here.


Sensation Hunters (1945)

The price of rebellion!

vt Club Paradise
US / 62 minutes / bw / Monogram, Associated Artists Dir: Christy Cabanne Pr: Joseph Kaufman Scr: Dennis Cooper Story: John Faxon Cine: Ira Morgan Cast: Robert Lowery, Doris Merrick, Eddie Quillan, Constance Worth, Isabel Jewell, Wanda McKay, Nestor Paiva, Byron Foulger, Vince Barnett, Minerva Urecal, Janet Shaw, Maurice Murphy, Billy Nelson, John Hamilton, The Rubenettes, The Johnson Brothers.

Every now and then Poverty Row studio Monogram got it just right and produced a splendid minor noir, and this was one of those times. Despite the coincidence of title, it bears no relation to the earlier Sensation Hunters (1933) dir Charles Vidor, with Arline Judge, Marion Burns and Preston Foster, a far inferior movie that I plan to cover here next week.

In the opening moments we see a man arrive at a darkened frontage and ring the doorbell. A negligée-clad woman appears at a balcony overhead, and summons him upstairs. Moments later, three shots ring out . . .

The rest of the movie is one long flashback leading us up to this scene. We’re soon pretty sure who the woman was (will be?), but who was the man? And who shot whom? And why? Continue reading

Crime Over London (1936)

Thrills in store!

UK / 63 minutes / bw / Anglo–American, Criterion Dir: Alfred Zeisler Pr: Marcel Hellman Scr: Norman Alexander, Harold French Story: probably Punks Kommt aus Amerika (1929) by Louis de Wohl Cine: Victor Armenise Cast: Joseph Cawthorn, Bruce Lister, Rène Ray, Paul Cavanagh, Basil Sydney, Margot Grahame, David Burns, Edmon Ryan, John Darrow, Danny Green, Googie Withers.

Oxford Street’s department store Selfridges, dressed up as Sherwoods.

A movie that’s littered with noirish tropes and dialogue, plus some noirish cinematography, yet for the most part doesn’t have much of a noirish feel. It nevertheless has lot to interest us, both as a period piece—there are some truly evocative London street scenes—and for some of its cast.

Years ago gangster Eddie “Joker” Finnigan (Sydney) sought career advancement in New York, but now things are getting too hot for him in the States and so he’s come back to London, bringing some of his gang members with him. Although those goons are eager to start pulling off a few heists, Joker insists they bide their time, instead opening up a gambling joint where hostesses Pearl (Grahame) and Miss Dupres (Withers), plus floorwalker Sniffy (Burns), entice the gullible into losing money on the cards.

David Burns as Sniffy.

Googie Withers as Miss Dupres.

Pearl is Joker’s moll, but it’s his sidekick Jim (Darrow) who stokes her fires. The feeling’s mutual, and the two plot secretly and rather clumsily to Continue reading


reblog: Policeman (1933; Tomu Uchida)

***Over at Wonders in the Dark, in his regular “Fish Obscuro” column, Jared Dec has a tremendous account of a movie that should I think be of great interest to many readers of this site. He’s kindly given me permission to reblog it here.

Wonders in the Dark

by Jared Dec

Japan 1933 95m

d Tomu Uchida w Toshihiko Takeda, Eizo Yamauchi photo Soichi Aisaka art Hiroshi Mizutani

Eiji Nakano (Tetsuo Tomioka), Isamu Kosuji (Itami), Taisuke Matsumoto (Miyabe Keikan), Soji Ubukato (Officer Hasimoto), Kenji Asada (Judiciary Chief), Shizuko Mori (Tazuko), Tamako Katsura (Emiko), Isao Kitaoka (Shinchi), Matsuko Miho (Tamiko), Hirotoshi Murata (Yamamura)

We were young then

I am sure every critic in any art medium can be argued to have one artist they hold as being the most underrated they have ever encountered. Allan obviously felt this way about Yoshida and went out of his way to promote his work. Ebert argued strongly for Herzog, and so on. While I don’t think Uchida is anywhere as talented as either of those great directors, if I had to pick one unknown director I relentlessly pursue any film they made that can be found, it would be Uchida. The fact…

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Murder by Rope (1936)

A killer in their midst!

UK / 63 minutes / bw / Ambassador Film Productions, British & Dominions Film Corporation Dir: George Pearson Scr: Ralph Neale Story: Ralph Neale Cine: Ernest Palmer Cast: D.A. Clarke-Smith, Sunday Wilshin, Wilfred Hyde-White (i.e., Wilfrid Hyde-White), Dorothy Hamilton, Constance Godridge, Guy Belmore, Daphne Courtney, Ronald Read, Alban Conway, Philip Hewland, William Collins.

A movie of two halves—or, rather, a movie of a first one-quarter and a subsequent three-quarters. The opening quarter comprises an extended setup for the main narrative; where Murder by Rope has a problem is that this setup—which has a sort of Edgar Wallace oddity about it—is considerably more intriguing than the rest.

Which is not to say that the movie as a whole doesn’t offer rewards, especially since its closing scenes—after forty minutes of what might best be thought of as country-house-romantic-comedy-with-free-added-murders—once again return to an Edgar Wallace-style eccentricity. Also to enjoy is the spectacle of a Wilfrid Hyde-White young enough to be a plausible romantic hero.

First, that setup.

When the murderer Burford (uncredited) is sentenced to death at the Old Bailey by Justice Sir Henry Paxton (Hewland), the prisoner in the dock disconcerts the court by simply laughing derisively. The secret of why he did so goes with him to the gallows.

The Laughing Murderer (uncredited) smirks as his death sentence is handed down . . .

. . . which makes Judge Paxton (Philip Hewland) vewy cwoss.

Some while later, Scotland Yard receives a letter that’s apparently from the dead man. As the Yard’s Major Walker (uncredited) says Continue reading


o/t: February’s leisure reading

The usual mix of excellent, good and not-so-good books this past month, with the Himes and the Tran probably being the standouts. The links are as usual to my Goodreads notes.


Jennifer (1953)

Is the truth about a young woman’s disappearance being covered up? Ida Lupino thinks maybe so . . .

US / 73 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Joel Newton Pr: Berman Swarttz Scr: Richard Dorso, Bernard Girard Story: Virginia Myers Cine: James Wong Howe Cast: Ida Lupino, Howard Duff, Robert Nichols, Mary Shipp, Ned Glass, Kitty McHugh, Russ Conway, Lorna Thayer, Matt Dennis.

Thirtysomething secretary Agnes Langley (Lupino) eagerly accepts a job as caretaker of the old Gale estate outside Montecito, somewhere within striking distance of Santa Barbara, Southern California.

Ida Lupino as Agnes.

According to Lorna Gale (Shipp), the family member who shows Agnes round the mansion and interviews her for the post, the previous caretaker, Lorna’s cousin, Jennifer Brown, simply upped and disappeared one day. Agnes isn’t Continue reading


reblog: The Blaxploitation Era: A Scrapbook from the ’70s

Over on his film and anime blog, Brian Camp has an extensive — and copiously illustrated — personal essay on the 1970s blaxploitation scene, complete with plenty of discussion of one of my personal icons, Pam Grier.

Here’s the start of it:


In going through old file boxes from the 1970s, I found a number of clippings that effectively illustrate the Blaxploitation era of Hollywood filmmaking, a period from roughly 1971-75, when action and other genre films showcased black heroes and heroines, usually in reworkings of standard genre formulas. They were made quickly and cheaply to capitalize on a trend that could fade out at any time as it eventually did after its peak in 1972-73. These films played grindhouses and neighborhood theaters but also, for a time, premiered at the biggest Broadway movie palaces and commanded ads and constant press coverage. I usually saw them at Bronx neighborhood theaters where they were often paired with Italian westerns and, later, kung fu films, a trend which gradually displaced Blaxploitation. I’d like to share some of what I clipped 45 or so years ago, supplemented by movie stills from my collection and posters copied from IMDB and other sites.

BLACULA opened on August 25, 1972 at the Criterion Theater, the same theater where LAWRENCE OF ARABIA had played for over a year a decade earlier and FUNNY GIRL the same just four years earlier. I went with some friends from the Bronx to see the film at the Criterion on its second weekend and it may have been my first trip to the theater. The film starred William Marshall, a classically trained actor, whom we knew from roles in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and “Star Trek” and a handful of movies, such as DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, in which he played one of the gladiators and a close associate of Demetrius, and THE BOSTON STRANGLER, in which he’d played Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts. In BLACULA, he plays an African king who defies Count Dracula in the 19th century and is turned into a vampire who is revived in 1972 Los Angeles where he has a series of adventures and romance with a young woman who resembles his long-dead queen (Vonetta McGee). I remember enjoying the film a great deal although one overzealous audience member took exception to the scene where the vampire-hunting heroes use fire to burn attacking vampires. “You burn witches, not vampires!,” he shouted from his seat. That was a memorable evening. After the film we went to eat at Child’s House of Pancakes on 46th St. and Seventh Ave. and then walked a few feet to the Embassy Theater to see Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. I should add that the Broadway movie houses had just recently raised their prices to $3.50 per ticket and this was the first time we were confronted with that. We were not pleased!

BLACULA had one sequel, SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM (1973), which co-starred Blaxploitation diva Pam Grier and managed not to replicate the thrills of the original. I saw it at a neighborhood theater on a double bill with the Lee Van Cleef Italian western DAY OF ANGER, the better film.

Speaking of Pam Grier, we had seen her in a Filipino women’s prison thriller, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE (1970), on a double bill with SHAFT back in 1971 and she’d died a bloody death in that one. And then we saw her in two 1972 thrillers, COOL BREEZE, which I don’t remember well enough to describe her role in, and HIT MAN, starring Bernie Casey, where she comes to a bad end after betraying Casey–he kicks her out of his car in a safari park and she gets mauled by lions. Poor Pam! American International Pictures decided to make her the co-star of her next movie, BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (1973), a gender-switching variation on THE DEFIANT ONES, with Grier and Margaret Markov as escaped prisoners chained together in the Philippines. I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know her fate in it, but it made for a great ad.

(Notice Jonathan Demme’s name in the credits and the prominent billing given to location filming in the Philippines.)

The film did well enough for AIP to give Grier her own starring vehicle, COFFY (1973), which I saw on a double bill with the sci-fi comedy, THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972), which happened to star Grier’s cousin, former football player, Roosevelt Grier.

COFFY was a tight little hard-edged crime thriller with Grier coming off pretty badass as a nurse-turned-avenging angel out to take down the drug dealers in her neighborhood by any means necessary. She gets quite a shock when she learns that someone close to her is in league with them and she shows him no mercy. The film was directed by Jack Hill, who had also directed Grier in THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and the similarly-themed THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) and would go on to direct her in her next starring vehicle, FOXY BROWN, which I didn’t see until I got it on VHS decades later. Her last two starring roles in the 1970s were


Now scuttle across to Brian’s blog and read the rest. It’s a great read.


Bergère d’Ivry, La (1913)

Passions run high in rural France!

France / 29 minutes / bw / Société Française des Films Éclair Dir: Maurice Tourneur Story: La Bergère d’Ivry (1839 play) by Gabriel de Lurieu and Michel Delaporte? Cast: Renée Sylvaire, Paulette Noizeux, Henry Roussel, Albert Decoeur.

An early outing from noted director Maurice Tourneur—it may be his oldest surviving work—La Bergère d’Ivry is loosely based on a true story that’s well known in France.

In 1827 19-year-old orphan Aimée Millot was a shepherdess—in fact a goatherd—in Ivry-sur-Seine, then a rural region but now a suburb of Paris. According to the accounts she was both beautiful and maidenly, and who is to say the accounts were Continue reading


Judgment Deferred (1952)

When the legal system fails, let a court of down-and-outs decide!

UK / 84 minutes / bw / Associated British-Pathé Dir & Pr: John Baxter Scr: Geoffrey Orme, Walter Meade Story: screenplay for Doss House (1933) by C.G.H. Ayres Cine: Arthur Grant Cast: Hugh Sinclair, Helen Shingler, Abraham Sofaer, Leslie Dwyer, Joan Collins, Elwyn Brook Jones, Harry Locke, Marcel Poncin, Wilfrid Walter, Martin Benson, Bransby Williams, M. Martin Harvey, Harry Welchman, Maire O’Neill, Fred Griffiths, Harold Goodwin, Bud Flanagan, Edmundo Ros and His Latin American Orchestra.

A tale that shares elements with M (1931) dir Fritz Lang (remade by Joseph Losey in 1951 as M) and with Margery Allingham’s novel Tiger in the Smoke (1952), filmed as TIGER IN THE SMOKE (1956) dir Roy Baker, and owes a very great deal to the movie Doss House (1933), which was directed by John Baxter himself and whose scripter, C.G.H. Ayres, is acknowledged in the opening credits of Judgment Deferred. The narrative’s embellished with a few comic interludes (mercifully few) and some musical numbers, including a cameo by Bud Flanagan and a couple of songs from Edmundo Ros; Continue reading