Sensation Hunters (1933)

|
Unsuitable liaisons?
|

US / 73 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Charles Vidor Pr: Robert Welsh Scr: Paul Schofield, Albert E. DeMond Story: “Cabaret” (original story) by Whitman Chambers Cine: Sid Hickox Cast: Arline Judge, Preston Foster, Marion Burns, Kenneth McKenna (i.e., Kenneth MacKenna), Juanita Hansen, Creighton Hale, Cyril Chadwick, Nella Walker, Harold Minjir, Finis Barton, Zoila Conan, Sam Flint, Walter Brennan.

This bears no relation to Sensation Hunters (1945) dir Christy Cabanne, with Robert Lowery, Doris Merrick, Eddie Quillan, Constance Worth, Isabel Jewell, Wanda McKay and Nestor Paiva. Where the later movie is a good minor film noir, this one is a pre-Code romantic melodrama punctuated by a couple of musical interludes.

On a ship bound for Panama from San Francisco, pausing at Los Angeles, demure Dale Jordan (Burns) attracts the attention of the male passengers, such as the exaggeratedly English uppercrust blowhard Upson (Chadwick) and the snobbish Hal Grayson (Minjir), who’s traveling with his even more snobbish sister (Barton) and his quite terminally snobbish mother (Walker).

Cyril Chadwick as Upson.

When the Graysons discover Dale is to join the troupe of cabaret artistes that’s joining the ship at Los Angeles, the two women drop her like a hot potato and Hal, after unsuccessfully trying his luck—because “everyone knows” cabaret girls are easy— Continue reading

Advertisements

Love Bound (1932)

|
A beautiful and ruthless extortionist — does she have a heart?
|

vt Murder on the High Seas
US / 61 minutes / bw / Peerless, Hollywood Film Exchange Dir: Robert F. Hill Pr: Al Herman Scr: Robert F. Hill, George Plympton Story: J. Gilbert Cine: E. Fox Walker Cast: Jack Mulhall, Natalie Moorhead, Clara Kimball Young, Edmund Breese, Tom Rickets (i.e., Tom Ricketts), Alice Day, Bill Mong, Montague Love, Dick Alexander, Roy D’Arcy, Lynton Brent, Gordon De Main, Sidney Bracey.

Attractive singer Verna Wilson (Moorhead) has just taken rich elderly magnate John Randolph (Love) to court to the tune of $100,000 for seducing her with false promises, and Randolph’s wife of thirty years, Jane (Young), is preparing to leave him because of his supposed infidelity and her abhorrence of scandal. But their son Dick (Mulhall) believes his father is innocent of impropriety and that Verna is a serial blackmailer who’s pulled off this sort of stunt before.

Natalie Moorhead as Verna.

He’s right.

Abetted by cheap gigolo type Juan de Leon (D’Arcy) and crooked lawyer Howell (Mong), Verna has made quite a career out of Continue reading

Witness Chair, The (1936)

|
Inverted twist!
|

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

For the Defense (1930)

|
“Ten o’clock? What do you think I am—a milkman?”
|

US / 63 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: John Cromwell Scr: Oliver H.P. Garrett Story: Charles Furthmann Cine: Charles Lang Cast: William Powell, Kay Francis, Scott Kolk, William B. Davidson, Thomas E. Jackson, Harry Walker, James Finlayson, Charles West, Bertram Marburgh, Ernie Adams, John Elliott, Syd Saylor, Billy Bevan.

So successful is New York City defense attorney William B. “Bill” Foster (Powell) at getting his clients off, by fair means or foul—usually foul—that the DA, Herbert L. Stone (Davidson), is moved to describe him to the Bar Association as the greatest single threat to the city’s law enforcement. A cop named Daly (Jackson) has made it his life’s work to catch Bill perverting the course of justice and put him behind bars.

Daly (Thomas E. Jackson) on the trail.

We see Bill’s technique in action early in the movie when, defending palpably guilty Eddie Withers (Adams), he throws to the floor the key piece of the state’s evidence, a bottle supposedly containing Continue reading

Millie (1931)

|
Helen Twelvetrees in a melodrama for the ages!
|

US / 85 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: John Francis Dillon Pr: Chas. R. Rogers Scr: Chas. Kenyon, Ralph Murphy (i.e., Ralph Morgan) Story: Millie (1930) by Donald Henderson Clarke Cine: Ernest Haller Cast: Helen Twelvetrees, Lilyan Tashman, Robert Ames, James Hall, John Halliday, Joan Blondell, Anita Louise, Edmund Breese, Frank McHugh, Charlotte Walker, Franklin Parker, Charles Delaney, Harry Stubbs, Louise Beavers, Harvey Clark, Aggie Herring, Geneva Mitchell, Hooper Atchley, Lillian Harmer.

Willows University student Jack Maitland (Hall) captures the heart of poor but lovely redhead Millicent “Millie” Blake (Twelvetrees) and persuades her to elope with him. Three years later they’re installed in a luxury New York apartment with Jack’s mother (Walker) and the couple’s infant daughter Connie (uncredited). In theory Millie should be content that she has all the good things in life, but in reality Jack is neglecting her—being frequently away “on business”—and she’s much of the time forced to relinquish her child to the cares of a governess (Harmer). So she’s delighted when one day, out of the blue, she gets a phone call from her childhood friend Angie Wickerstaff (Blondell).

Angie (Joan Blondell) and Helen (Lilyan Tashman) are cutting corners.

Angie has come to NYC to live with her pal Helen Reilly (Tashman), and suggests the three of them meet up at a local café; what she doesn’t mention on the phone is that Continue reading

The Black Raven (1943)

|
It is a dark and stormy night . . .
|

US / 61 minutes / bw / Sigmund Neufeld Productions, PRC Dir: Sam Newfield Pr: Sigmund Neufeld Scr: Fred Myton Cine: Robert Cline Cast: George Zucco, Noel Madison, Byron Foulger, Robert Middlemass, Charlie Middleton, Robt. Randall, Wanda McKay, Glenn Strange, I. Stanford Jolley.

the-black-raven-0

Years ago Amos Bradford (Zucco) was a criminal mastermind known as The Black Raven. Now he runs a remote inn, also called The Black Raven, somewhere near the border with Canada. Tonight a stranger arrives, Whitey Cole (Jolley)—although he’s no stranger to Amos, but the partner he left to carry the can when he evaded the cops one final time before assuming the mantle of respectability. Whitey’s escaped from the pen with ten years of his sentence still to go. Now he wants to settle up with Amos one last time . . .

the-black-raven-1-whitey-arrives-on-the-scene

Whitey Cole (I. Stanford Jolley) arrives on the scene.

But then Amos’s dimwit handyman, Andy (Strange), bursts in out of the howling gale, and between the two of them Amos and Andy (yes, really) subdue Whitey:

Andy: “What was the matter? Didn’t he like the service?”
Amos: “He’s suffering from rabid delusions aggravated by a moronic mentality.”
Andy: “Is that bad?”

Other guests arrive seeking shelter from the storm, all of them in one way or another relying on the inn’s reputation as the last stopping point on the way to refuge in Canada. First to arrive is gangster Mike Bardoni (Madison)—his name spelled “Baroni” in a newspaper headline we see, but that’s B-movies for you. He knows of Amos’s past as The Black Raven and wants his aid in Continue reading

Suspense (1913)

US / 10 minutes / bw / Rex Dir: Lois Weber, Phillips Smalley Scr: Lois Weber Story: Au Téléphone (1902 play; vt At the Telephone) by André de Lorde Cast: Lois Weber, Valentine Paul, Douglas Gerard, Sam Kaufman, Lule Warrenton.

suspense-1913-0

A short but—just as it says on the label—surprisingly suspenseful silent movie.

Mamie the maid (Warrenton) walks out on her job because she’s fed up of living in the middle of nowhere. She leaves behind her employer, the Wife (Weber), and the Wife’s small baby; the Wife’s Husband (Paul) is at work—at a guess he’s a banker. Finding Mamie gone, the Wife gets a bit nervous, especially when she looks out the window and discovers that a sinister-looking Tramp (Kaufman) has approached the house and seems intent on Continue reading

Gang Smashers (1938)

vt Gun Moll
US / 59 minutes / bw / Toddy Dir: Leo C. Popkin Pr: Harry M. Popkin Scr: Hazel Barnes Jamieson, Phil Dunham, Zella Young Story: Ralph Cooper Cine: Robert Cline Cast: Nina May McKinney (i.e., Nina Mae McKinney), Lawrence Criner, Monte Hawley, Mantan Moreland, Reginald Fenderson, Eddie Thompson, Vernon McCalla, Charles Hawkins, Everett Brown, Neva Peoples, Arthur Ray, Bo Jenkins, Phil Moore and His Orchestra.

gang-smashers-0

I’m sure I’ve ranted about this on Noirish before, but it’s way past time that someone made a determined effort to recover and restore the “race movies.” Made between about 1910 and the early 1950s, these typically featured all-black casts and were shown to all-black audiences, and were produced outside the Hollywood system on budgets that made Poverty Row enterprises seem positively DeMillean. Because of the cheapness, the production standards generally weren’t high and the acting could on occasion be amateurish; moreover, there was a reluctance to tackle genuine African American problems in the race movies, probably because most of the studios creating work in this genre were white-owned. Despite all this, the movies often show great verve, and some of the acting is top-notch; here you can see many fine African–American actors in leading roles who could get nothing but bit parts, often racially demeaning caricatures, in Hollywood productions.

Because the race movies flew under the radar of cinema historians until relatively recently, they were neglected to the point that only about 20% of the five hundred or so thought to have been made still survive, and most do so only in pretty appalling condition. So far as I know—and I confess a deal of ignorance here!—none of them have been restored in Criterion-like fashion. Please advise in the comments if I’m wrong.

gang-smashers-1-mantan-moreland-as-gats-sidekick-gloomy

The great Mantan Moreland as Gat’s sidekick, Gloomy.

Gang Smashers is, I gather, a tad unusual among race movies in that it focuses on the relatively contentious (for the late 1930s) issue of black-on-black crime. In other words, in any other context you’d regard it as a thriller, a borderline noir. I admit it was Continue reading

Hotel Imperial (1927)

|
Pola Negri stars in a high melodrama!
|

US / 77 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Mauritz Stiller Pr: Erich Pommer Scr: Jules Furthmann, Edwin Justus Mayer Story: Hotel Imperial (1917 play) by Lajos Biró Cine: Bert Glennon Cast: Pola Negri, James Hall, George Siegmann, Mickael Vavitch, Max Davidson, Otto Fries, Josef Swickard, Nicholas Soussanin.

hotel-imperial-0

The opening title of this intriguing silent movie sets the time and place:

“Somewhere in Galicia, March, 1915—when Austrian fought Russian on Austrian ground.”

This is worth remembering because, according to the Turner Classic Movies online database, the movie is set in Hungary. The same site shows a capsule review by Leonard Maltin, which summarizes the plot thus:

“As WW1 floods over the map of Europe, a squad of Austrian soldiers seeks sanctuary in a small village inn, only to find it occupied by enemy Russians. Chambermaid Negri holds the key to their survival.”

This is less worth remembering because, while it does bear some similarities to the movie’s plot, they’re no more than similarities. Also less worth remembering is that IMDB renames Vavitch’s character—calling him Tabakowitsch rather than Petroff—with the result that TCMDB and Wikipedia call him Tabakowitsch as well. I suspect he may have Continue reading

Shadow of the Law (1930)

|
Can William Powell really be the hardened criminal he seems?
|

US / 70 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Louis Gasnier Scr: Max Marcin, John Farrow Story: The Quarry (1913) by John A. Moroso Cine: Charles Lang Cast: William Powell, Marion Shilling, Natalie Moorhead, Regis Toomey, Paul Hurst, George Irving, Frederick Burt, James Durkin, Richard Tucker, Walter James, Oscar Smith, Harry Strang.

shadow-of-the-law-0

After a night on the town—seemingly their first date—young engineer Jim Montgomery (Powell) brings home his somewhat hatchet-faced upstairs neighbor at the swanky Franklin Apartments on NYC’s 72nd Street, Ethel George (Moorhead), and inveigles his way into her apartment on the pretext of “a last cigarette” (“or cigar,” he suggests in a Pre-Code manner).

shadow-of-the-law-1-jim-and-ethel-come-across-ethels-lover-lew

Jim and Ethel come across Ethel’s lover Lew (Richard Tucker).

Alas, waiting therein is her brutish lover, Continue reading