Illegal (1932)

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Are there no bounds to a mother’s love?
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UK / 71 minutes / bw / Warner Bros. First National Dir: William McGann Pr & Story: Irving Asher Scr: Roland Pertwee Cine: Willard Van Enger Cast: Isobel Elsom, Ivor Barnard, D.E. Clarke-Smith (i.e., D.A. Clarke-Smith), Margot Grahame, Moira Lynd, Edgar Norfolk, Wally Patch, Margaret Damer, Joy Chatwin, Victor Fairley, Arthur Goullet, J. Lauriston, H. Heath, Hamilton Keene, Leo Raine.

Evelyn Dean (Elsom) has two small daughters, Ann and Dorothy (both uncredited), from her first marriage and a second husband, Franklyn (Clarke-Smith), who knocks her around and has spent all her savings on booze and the geegees. Now, emboldened by her loyal friend and neighbor Albert (Barnard), a waiter at a nearby nightclub, Evelyn has decided it’s time to throw Franklyn out—and throw him out she does, even giving him a one-way ticket she’s bought him for Cape Town:

Evelyn: “I haven’t much pride left, but I’d rather my children didn’t have the disgrace of a stepfather in jail.”

So off he goes.

Evelyn (Isobel Elsom) explains her problems to Albert (Ivor Barnard).

A few hours earlier, though, she paid off Franklyn’s bookie (Patch) with the last of her money, and the good-natured fellow told her he’d put the money on a horse, Scarecrow, running that day; any winnings beyond what Franklyn owed would be hers. And, sure enough, Scarecrow wins—and so does she: to the princely tune of £180!

Evelyn’s two daughters (both uncredited), for whom she’d sacrifice everything.

That’s enough for her to buy and renovate the niterie where Albert has been working but which has now closed down—because, Albert avers, its damnfool owners stuck to the law on gambling and after-hours drinking. Soon The Scarecrow, as Evelyn renames the club, is Continue reading

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After Dark (1933)

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Cattermole-Brompton by name, Cattermole-Brompton by nature!
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UK / 44 minutes / bw / Fox British Pictures Dir & Pr: Albert Parker Scr: R.J. Davis, J. Jefferson Farjeon Story: After Dark (1932 play) by J. Jefferson Farjeon Cine: Geoffrey Faithfull Cast: Horace Hodges, Hugh Williams, George Barraud, Ian Fleming, Gretha Hansen, Henry Oscar, Pollie Emery, Arthur Padbury.

The name that stands out in the credits of this short feature, aside from that of the versatile cinematographer, is J. Jefferson Farjeon, the prolific Golden Age crime novelist and playwright who returned to the limelight in 2014 when the British Library reissue of his 1937 novel Mystery in White became a surprise Christmas bestseller. Continue reading

Cape Forlorn (1931)

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Isolated on a remote lighthouse with a husband and two criminals who crave her!

vt The Love Storm
UK / 82 minutes / bw / British International, Wardour Dir: E.A. Dupont Scr: E.A. Dupont, Victor Kendall Story: Cape Forlorn (1930 play) by Frank Harvey Cine: Claude Friese-Greene, Walter Blakeley, Hal Young Cast: Fay Compton, Frank Harvey, Ian Hunter, Edmund Willard, Donald Calthrop

Cape Forlorn - 0 opener

Although her best friend (uncredited) in the Sydney dance club where they both work as taxi dancers/hostesses is derisive about the idea, Eileen (Compton) decides to marry the much older Captain Bill Kell (Harvey), known as “Captain” or “Skipper,” and go live with him on his remote lighthouse somewhere unappetizing off the coast of New Zealand. On arrival there she discovers that Bill wants her not so much for a wife as for a housekeeper.

Cape Forlorn - 1 Eileen before her marriage

Eileen (Fay Compton) before her marriage.

It soon becomes obvious to the lighthouse’s mate, Henry Cass (Willard), all brawn backed up with very little brain, that Bill is neglecting his connubial duties and, with all the subtlety of a jackhammer, Cass moves in on the frustrated woman: he has £600 in the bank, he tells her, and big plans to buy himself a dairy farm outside Sydney, a venture in which he’d like her to join him. She rebuffs his advances at first, but then comes the night when she tarts herself up alluringly to tempt her husband and he responds by throwing her cosmetics out the window into the raging sea and roughly wiping her facepaint off with a towel.

Cape Forlorn - 2 Cass begins to register the possible availability of Eileen

Cass (Edmund Willard) begins to register the possible availability of Eileen (Fay Compton).

Desperate for physical fulfillment and to get away from the lighthouse, she slips out of their cabin that night and into the tattooed arms of Cass. “Strewth, Eileen, I could push the whole world over for you. That’s the sort of bloke I am,” he tells her at one point. All that and £600 in the bank: what woman could resist?

Cape Forlorn - 3a Eileen slips out of her bedroom for an assignation with Cas

Cape Forlorn - 3b

 Eileen (Fay Compton) slips out of her bedroom for an assignation with Cass.

They’re interrupted that first night, though, by Continue reading

Crime Unlimited (1935)

Preamble: I never talk politics on this site but, just this once:

A moment of solidarity with Paris, please. The French are our oldest allies (despite congressional clowns and their cries of “Freedom Fries”). If we want to uphold freedom then tonight we must say, very loudly, that Nous sommes Francaises. And then, when we’ve said it, we should say it again but more loudly, and again, until eventually the message gets through to not just the death cultists but our masters, who, even while pretending not to, promote those cults.

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An Edgar Wallace-like romp that keeps us on our toes throughout.

UK / 71 minutes / bw / Warner–First National Dir: Ralph Ince Pr: Irving Asher Scr: Brock Williams, Ralph Smart Story: Crime Unlimited (1933) by David Hume Cine: Basil Emmott Cast: Esmond Knight, Lilli Palmer, Cecil Parker, George Merritt, Richard Grey, Raymond Lovell, Ben Soutten, Peter Gawthorne, Wyndham Goldie, Jane Millican, Stella Arbenina, Bellenden Clarke, Sara Allgood, Wally Patch.

Crime Unlimited - 01 opener 1

Crime Unlimited - 02 opener 2

Crime Unlimited - 03 opener 3

Crime Unlimited - 04 opener 4

The documentary evidence builds up.

An entertaining quota-quickie romp of a crime movie, very much in the Edgar Wallace mold. It’s noteworthy as the English-language debut of Lilli Palmer.

The Maddick gang has been terrorizing London with a series of ingenious jewel thefts; we see one of these, as Continue reading

Channel Crossing (1933)

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Fog in the Channel, and a plutocrat’s nightmare!

UK / 66 minutes / bw / Gaumont–British Dir: Milton Rosmer Scr: W.P. Lipscomb, C. Campion Story: W.P. Lipscomb Cine: Philip Tannura Cast: Matheson Lang, Constance Cummings, Anthony Bushell, Dorothy Dickson, Nigel Bruce, Edmund Gwenn, Douglas Jefferies, H.G. Stoker, Max Miller, Viola Lyel, Clare Greet, Ellen Pollock, Mignon O’Doherty, George Ridgwell, Gerald Barry, Stanley Vilven, Hay Plumb, Cyril Smith, Elizabeth Corcoran, Elizabeth Jenns, Rodney Millington, Bernard Miles, Michael Wilding.

Channel Crossing - closer

International magnate and philanthropist Jacob Van Eeden (Lang) needs to get to Paris in a hurry to secure his latest merger deal. There’s fog over the English Channel so all flights are grounded; instead he must take the Dover–Calais ferry. So he and secretary Marion Slade (Cummings) board the good ship Canterbury and set out for the continong.

Channel Crossing - 1 Marion Slade

Constance Cummings as loyal secretary Marion Slade.

Marion is pursued aboard by her fiancé, shipping clerk Peter Bradley (Bushell). He’s convinced she’s in a carnal relationship with Continue reading

Silent Passenger, The (1935)

UK / 63 minutes (but see below) / bw / Phoenix, Associated British Dir: Reginald Denham Pr: Hugh Perceval Scr: Basil Mason Story: Dorothy L. Sayers Cine: Jan Stallich Cast: John Loder, Peter Haddon, Mary Newland (i.e., Lilian Oldland), Austin Trevor, Aubrey Mather, Donald Wolfit, Leslie Perrins, Ralph Truman, Gordon McLeod, Ann Codrington, Dorice Fordred, Annie Esmond, George de Warfaz, Vincent Holman.

A relatively early screen example of the inverted mystery story ‑‑ wherein, rather than try to puzzle out whodunnit, we know the truth from the outset and watch as the detective deduces what we already know ‑‑ this was Lord Peter Wimsey’s first screen outing. Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote the original story upon which it was based, apparently hated it both because of what she felt was a travesty of an adaptation and because her darling Lord Peter was portrayed as an aristocrat of very considerable vacuity. In this latter complaint she was in one respect absolutely correct ‑‑ the movie was obviously designed to be a vehicle for Haddon, whose specialty was effete, upper-class, seemingly perpetually squiffy twits, like Guy Bannister in Death at Broadcasting House (1934) ‑‑ but in another she was either being duplicitous or blinding herself to the true nature of her creation. At least in the early novels, Wimsey is depicted as, whatever his true intellectual abilities, an outwardly vacuous Bertie Wooster-like buffoon, and that’s more or less how he’s been characterized on screen ever since.

And let’s not forget that at one point toward the end a character says: “You know, I don’t think Lord Peter’s quite such a fool as he looks.”

Maurice Windermere (Perrins), a professional blackmailer, has persuaded married Mollie Ryder (Newland) to run away with him to the Continent. However, while they’re waiting in London at the station hotel to catch the boat train that’ll take them to the cross-Channel ferry, she has second thoughts. He forces her to continue with the scheme by holding over her head some compromising letters she was foolish enough to send to him. He then goes up to his room ‑‑ Room 9 ‑‑ to finalize the packing.

Silent Passenger - 1 Mollie, 'You have to give me those letters back'

Mollie Ryder (Mary Newland/Lilian Oldland) tells her blackmailer, “You have to give me those letters back!”

Wimsey (Haddon) is planning to be on that train too. While he’s chatting up the desk clerk (Codrington) he notices a porter carrying a Continue reading

Death at Broadcasting House (1934)

vt Death at a Broadcast
UK / 69 minutes / bw / Phoenix, Associated British Dir: Reginald Denham Scr: Basil Mason Story: Death at Broadcasting House (1934) by Val Gielgud, Holt Marvell (i.e., Eric Maschwitz) Cine: Gunther Krampf Cast: Ian Hunter, Austin Trevor, Mary Newland (i.e., Lilian Oldland), Henry Kendall, Val Gielgud, Peter Haddon, Betty Davies, Jack Hawkins, Donald Wolfit, Robert Rendel, Gordon McLeod, Bruce Lester; plus Hannen Swaffer, Vernon Bartlett, Eric Dunstan, Gillie Potter, Elisabeth Welch, Eve Becke, Ord Hamilton, the Gershom Parkington Quintette, Percival Mackey and his Band, all as themselves.

Death at Broadcasting House - 0 opener

A murder-mystery movie filled with evocative shots of BBC Broadcasting House in London (in fact the interiors were recreated elsewhere) and cameo appearances by a number of broadcasting celebrities of the day as themselves—Hannen Swaffer, Vernon Bartlett, Eric Dunstan, Gillie Potter, singers Elisabeth Welch and Eve Becke, and musicians Ord Hamilton, the Gershom Parkington Quintette and Percival Mackey and his Band. The opening shot, heralding the credits, shows the mast atop Broadcasting House in what’s perhaps intended as a parody/homage of the RKO logo.

During the live broadcast from Broadcasting House of Murder Immaculate, a new radio play by Rodney Fleming (Kendall), a cast member, Sydney Parsons (Wolfit), is strangled on air; as he was working in a remote studio and as his character was supposed to be strangled at that point in the play, no one thinks twice about the ghastly cries and gurgles except to remark that Parsons is doing a better job of it than he did at rehearsal. In due course the body is found and Inspector Gregory (Hunter) of the Yard rounds up the suspects in the traditional manner.

Death at Broadcasting House - 1 The strangler creeps up on Parsons

The strangler creeps up on Parsons (Donald Wolfit).

As radio controller Sir Herbert Farquharson (Rendel) remarks to his producer, Julian Caird (Gielgud), “Oh, it’s Continue reading

Tiger Bay (1934)

UK / 68 minutes / bw / Wyndham Dir: J. Elder Wills Pr: Bray Wyndham Scr: John Quin, Billie Bristow Story: J. Elder Wills, Eric Ansell Cine: Robert G. Martin, Alan Lawson Cast: Anna May Wong, Henry Victor, Lawrence Grossmith, Margaret Yarde, Rene Ray, Victor Garland, Ernest Jay, Wally Patch, Ben Souten, Brian Buchel, Judy Kelly, Ruth Ambler.

During the years in which, weary of the racially stereotyped parts she was being offered and of seeing made-up Caucasian actresses being preferred to her for leading Asiatic roles, Wong deserted Hollywood for Europe, she made some good movies and some that were . . . not so good. This movie falls into the latter category, yet it’s not entirely without merit: it has a fairly good turn from Victor as the psycho villain, it has some nicely snappy one-liners (“She couldn’t poison your guts—you ain’t got none”), with an obviously limited budget for sets it manages to create a similarly claustrophobic, culturally diverse environment to the one seen in the much more prominent movie PÉPÉ LE MOKO (1936) a couple of years later, it has some excellent little cameos from the supporting players (including the ragamuffin children), it has some fairly good music, and, most of all, it has Anna May Wong.

Tiger Bay - A M Wong

“When Anna May Wong is onscreen, no one in the audience is looking anywhere else.”

Apparently the movie was intended to be set in the Limehouse district of London, but the UK censors vetoed the notion that a British city could harbor such a den of vice and iniquity, even though it actually did. The tale was thus, with some ease, transplanted to Continue reading

Shadow, The (1933)

UK / 71 minutes / bw / Real Art, UA Dir: George A. Cooper Pr: Julius Hagen Scr: H. Fowler Mear, Terence Egan Story: The Shadow (1932? play) by Donald Stuart (i.e., Gerald Verner), novelized by the author as The Shadow (1934) Cine: Sydney Blythe Cast: Henry Kendall, Felix Aylmer, John Turnbull, Ralph Truman, Dennis Cowles, Vincent Holman, Cyril Raymond, James Raglan, Gordon Begg, Viola Compton, Jeanne Stuart, Elizabeth Allan, Charles Carson.

London is enduring a rash of suicides of prominent figures, which suicides can be linked to their being blackmailed by an enigmatic figure called The Shadow: either they pay up on time or he’ll reveal their dreadful secrets. In the early minutes of the movie we see The Shadow deliver this ultimatum to the lawyer Sir Edward Hume (Carson), who at least has the gumption to phone Scotland Yard before putting a bullet through his brain.

The Yard’s Chief Inspector Elliot (Truman) reckons he’s worked out the identity of The Shadow, and is given reluctant permission by Sir Richard Bryant (Aylmer), Scotland Yard’s Chief Commissioner, to tackle the man on his own; the result is that Elliot is shot dead. When the cops arrive, they find that Elliot is clutching an unusual gold-and-platinum charm made in the shape of a clenched fist.

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The Shadow spies darkly through the window of Sir Richard’s stately pile.

The dead Elliot’s place as chief investigator is taken over by Chief Inspector Fleming (Cowles), who introduces some new ideas to the investigation: he suggests The Shadow could be a woman (“All [blackmail] requires is cunning and, as far as cunning is concerned, women, in my opinion . . . well, gentlemen, you’re all married, I think?”), or could even be not an individual but an organization. These interesting ideas are unfortunately soon forgotten.

Sir Richard decides, oddly, to spend the weekend at his country house rather than pursuing the most urgent case on his blotter. Similarly odd is that Fleming has a hunch that The Shadow will be among Sir Richard’s weekend guests: Continue reading

Riverside Murder, The (1935)

UK / 64 minutes / bw / Fox Dir & Pr: Albert Parker Scr: Selwyn Jepson Story: Six Hommes Morts (1930) by André Steeman (i.e., Stanislas-André Steeman) Cine: Alex Bryce Cast: Basil Sydney, Judy Gunn, Zoë Davis, Alastair Sim, Reginald Tate, Ian Fleming, Tom Helmore, Martin Lewis, C.M. Hallard, Aubrey Mallalieu.

Steeman’s novel was later filmed again as the far better and more ambitious Les Dernier des Six (1941), dir Georges Lacombe. (There was also a version for the small screen: L’Inspecteur Wens: Six Hommes Morts [1975], an episode of the French/WG TV series Les Grands Détectives [1974–5].) The 1935 version is pretty poor stuff, with a clumsily constructed plot, an extremely tiresome female lead, a waste of Alastair Sim’s talents, and a profoundly silly tagged-on romantic ending.

Someone murders successful financier Robert Norman (Mallalieu) in the library of his riverside home, River House. Inspector Philip Winton (Sydney) of the local constabulary is called in to investigate, which he does with Sergeant “Mac” McKay (Sim) alongside him as his obsequious assistant. It soon emerges that five years ago, after Norman had harmed four of his friends with bad financial advice, he gave each of them cash by way of compensation; the five agreed on The Pact, a sort of faux-tontine whereby they all—or at least all the survivors—would assemble here at an agreed date and share equally among them the wealth they’d earned in the intervening period. With Norman now dead, each of the remaining four will gain one-quarter of his not inconsiderable fortune. That agreed date is now: The Pact has until midnight tomorrow to run . . .

Two of those four have already arrived and are staying in River House: writer Hubert Perrin (Tate) and the rather retiring Henry Sanders (Fleming). Soon a third turns up, the wastrel William Gregg (Lewis); it’s said that the dead man had recently wearied of Gregg’s endless requests for “loans” and had cut off the money supply. Finally the fourth appears, Alfred Jerome (Helmore), freshly arrived from the Far East; he’s plainly terrified, displaying on his shoulder the bullet graze that he apparently received last night when someone took a potshot at him. As he talks about this in Norman’s library to Sanders and Claire Haines (Gunn), a headstrong young journalist who has butted into the case and keeps returning despite the best efforts of Philip and Mac to eject her, he moves nervously to the French windows to close them and is promptly shot down from the darkened garden beyond.

Riverside Murder -

A shot rings out and Jerome (Tom Helmore) clutches his chest . . .

Sanders runs for help. When he returns he finds Continue reading