Hotel Imperial (1927)

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Pola Negri stars in a high melodrama!
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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.

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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)

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

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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).

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

Alas, waiting therein is her brutish lover, Continue reading

Hell Harbor (1930)

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An early role for the “Mexican Spitfire” in a tale of Caribbean derring-do!
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US / 83 minutes / bw / Inspiration, UA Dir & Pr: Henry King Scr: Fred DeGresac, Clark Silvernail, N. Brewster Morse Story: Out of the Night (1925) by Rida Johnson Young Cine: John Fulton, Robert M. Haas, Mack Stengler Cast: Lupe Velez, Jean Hersholt, John Holland, Gibson Gowland, Harry Allen, Al St. John, Paul Burns, George Bookasta, Ulysses Williams, Ruth Hall, Rondo Hatton, Sextetto Habanero.

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Velez’s second talkie—after Tiger Rose (1929) dir George Fitzmaurice—is a comedy- and music-laced melodrama that, despite suffering some problems of pacing, is really quite entertaining, primarily because of Velez’s effervescent presence.

Hell Harbor, a colony somewhere in the Caribbean, is largely populated by the descendants of pirates. One of these is Anita Morgan (Velez), daughter of Henry Morgan (Gowland), the several-times-great grandson of the famous pirate likewise called Henry Morgan. Anita’s dream is to escape from her often abusive father and the cesspit of Hell Harbor to live in Havana, Cuba, which she regards as a sort of heaven on earth:

Anita: “I want to see Havana now! Havana, with its music, its riding carriages . . . and wash all over every day!”

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Peg Leg (Harry Allen) strikes a bargain with Horngold for the pearls.

Her father is not just a brute but a murderer. In the movie’s opening scenes we see an English drifter called Peg Leg (Allen) sell a Continue reading

Crime Patrol, The (1936)

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To box in the ring or to bag criminals? A simple Joe must choose!
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US / 59 minutes / bw / Mayfair, Empire Dir: Eugene Cummings Pr: Harry S. Knight Scr: Betty Burbridge Story: Arthur T. Horman Cine: Bert Longenecker Cast: Ray Walker, Geneva Mitchell, Herbert Corthell, Hooper Atchley, Wilbur Mack, Russ Clark, Max Wagner, Virginia True Boardman, Henry Roquemore, Snub Pollard, Kernan Cripps.

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Bob Neal (Walker) is an up-and-coming boxer who, despite being the genial type and fundamentally honest, sees no harm in hanging out with some pretty nasty lowlifes. One of these, Vic Santell (Mack), tells him he must throw his next fight, against a cop called Morley (uncredited), in the fourth round. Although it goes against the grain, Bob does his best to obey, but mistimes his “knockout” so that he’s saved by the bell for the end of the round. In the fifth, Morley taunts him and Bob, his dander up, delivers a knockout blow that Continue reading

Bad Company (1931)

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A psycho mobster falls for his sidekick’s wife, with lethal consequences!
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US / 76 minutes / bw / RKO Pathé Dir: Tay Garnett Pr: Charles R. Rogers Scr: Tom Buckingham, Tay Garnett Story: Put on the Spot (1930) by Jack Lait Cine: Arthur Miller Cast: Helen Twelvetrees, Ricardo Cortez, John Garrick, Paul Hurst, Frank Conroy, Harry Carey, Frank McHugh, Kenneth Thomson, Arthur Stone, Emma Dunn, William V. Mong, Edgar Kennedy, Robert Keith.

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It has been claimed that this is the first movie to feature what would later become an iconic cinematic figure in such movies as WHITE HEAT (1949): the psycho gang boss. That boss is played here by Ricardo Cortez, an actor whom one might have assumed to be too bland, too suave, for the role, but in fact he renders it excellently.

Helen King (Twelvetrees) is in love with Steve Carlyle (Garrick), and when he proposes to her aboard the Dalton—the yacht belonging to her brother Markham “Mark” King (Conroy)—she says “Yes!” with all her heart. What she doesn’t know and won’t learn until very much later is that Steve is the protégé of mob leader Goldie Gorio (Cortez). What Steve doesn’t yet know is that King is in actuality the mysterious “Mr. Davis,” the mob boss who has control of the city’s West Side—the East Side is Gorio’s—and that the two bosses have been covertly maneuvering the lovers toward each other:

King: “In the old days, when two powers were at war, the daughter of one royal family was given in marriage to the son of the other. The result was permanent peace.”
Gorio: “So, besides getting the dame you want, Goldie Gorio and, uh, King gets themselves a setup with no interference, hijacking or rough stuff.”
Steve: “That’s great.” [to King] “And you’re willing to hold still for your own sister marrying a hoodlum that’s liable to ‘get his’ any minute?”

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Goldie Gorio (Ricardo Cortez) is full of faux charm.

Steve wants out, so that he and Helen can live a normal life together, but that’s not an option:

Gorio:You’re getting out? There’s only one way out, and you’re too young and beautiful to Continue reading

Unashamed (1932)

US / 76 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Harry Beaumont Scr: Bayard Veiller Cine: Norbert Brodine Cast: Helen Twelvetrees, Robert Young, Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt, John Miljan, Monroe Owsley, Robert Warwick, Gertrude Michael, Wilfrid North, Tommy Jackson, Louise Beaver (i.e., Louise Beavers).

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Naughty nightclub life.

This was the first of two movies released in 1932 to be based on a celebrated Philadelphia murder case, in which Eddie Allen killed Francis “Skinny” Donaldson, the lover of Eddie’s younger (in fact, underage) sister Rose. The other was Two Against the World (1932) dir Archie Mayo, with Constance Bennett, Neil Hamilton, Helen Vinson, Allen Vincent and Gavin Gordon, which I haven’t seen but obviously should. Although the Eddie Allen/Skinny Donaldson case was widely described as an honor killing, justified under the so-called “unwritten law,” there seems from my limited reading about it to have been a good deal more involved—it was a sort of premeditated self-defense killing. In Unashamed it’s reworked as something akin to a crime passionnel.

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Joan (Helen Twelvetrees) dreams of romance as she dances with Harry.

Rich man’s daughter Joan Ogden (Twelvetrees) has contracted an unsuitable relationship with wide boy Harry Swift (Owsley), whose main talents are gambling, playing polo and spending money he doesn’t have. Although Continue reading

Phantom in the House, The (1929)

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Spurned by the wife for whom he took a murder rap!
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US / 62 minutes / bw / Continental Dir: Phil Rosen Pr: Trem Carr Scr: Arthur Hoerl Story: The Phantom in the House (1928) by Andrew Soutar Cine: Herbert J. Kirkpatrick Cast: Ricardo Cortez, Nancy Welford, Henry Walthall, Grace Valentine, Jack Curtis, Thomas Curran, John Beck, John Elliott, Larry Steers, Henry Roquemore.

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Margaret “Peggy” Milburn (Valentine), convinced that husband Boyd is an inventive genius, has been leading on the rich Roger Stanwick (uncredited) in hopes of persuading him to invest in Boyd’s ideas. When she breaks it to Stanwick that all she’s offering in return is friendship, and Not What He Thought, he attempts to take what wasn’t on offer and she kills him in self-defense.

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Peggy (Grace Valentine) and Boyd (Henry Walthall) stare down aghast at the man she’s killed.

Boyd (Walthall) is almost immediately on the scene. For the sake of their toddler, Dorothy, and in the belief that a child needs her mother, Boyd takes the rap in Peggy’s place, and is sentenced to life in the pen. While there he regularly sends the blueprints for new inventions to Peggy so she can use them to support herself and Dorothy. He also befriends the thug in the neighboring cell, Biffer Bill (Curtis), who’s fond of promising that on his release there’s gonna be Continue reading

Letter, The (1929)

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A shot in the night, a faithless wife, a vengeful woman and a damning billet-doux!
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US / 61 minutes / bw / Paramount Famous Lasky Dir: Jean de Limur Pr: Monta Bell Scr: Garrett Fort Story: The Letter (1927 play) by W. Somerset Maugham Cine: George Folsey Cast: Jeanne Eagels, Reginald Owen, Herbert Marshall, Irene Brown (i.e., Irene Browne), O.P. Heggie, Lady Tsen Mei, Tamaki Yoshiwara.

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This is the first screen adaptation of Maugham’s famous stage play; it was remade in 1940 as the far better known movie The LETTER, dir William Wyler, with Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall and James Stephenson. (Intriguingly, Marshall played the adulterous lover in the first version, the wronged husband in the second.) Until 2011 the 1929 adaptation was effectively a lost movie, all of it that survived being a nitrate work print (which you can view here); but in that year it was restored and released as part of the Warner Archive Collection. I’ve included a couple of screengrabs from the work print below to give you an idea of the near-miraculous job the restorers have done.

We’re on a Singapore rubber plantation, and a wonderful long approach shot takes us through the plantation to a bungalow room where Leslie Crosbie (Eagels) is Continue reading

Painted Faces (1929)

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A courtroom drama—think 12 Angry Men but with a circus clown as holdout juror!
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US / 70 minutes / bw / Tiffany–Stahl Dir: Albert Rogell Scr: Frederic Hatton, Fanny Hatton Story: Frances Hyland Cine: Jackson Rose Cast: Joe E. Brown, Helen Foster, Barton Hepburn, Dorothy Gulliver, Lester Cole, Richard Tucker, Purnell Pratt, Mabel Julian Scott, Allan Cavan, Jack Richardson.

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Not Henry Fonda.

As the stage manager (Richardson) welcomes the various new acts backstage at a vaudeville theater, it’s plain there’s an ongoing “situation” between the conjurer The Great Roderick (not seen) and a freshly arrived pair of hoofers, Bobby Barton (Hepburn) and Lola Barnes (Gulliver). Although Bobby and Lola coyly insist on separate dressing rooms, they are clearly an item . . . and, equally clearly, The Great Roderick is the fly in the ointment of their love. As Bobby tells Lola, uncaring of the flapping ears around them,

“We won’t play on the bill if that rat is here, making a play for you the way he has for two months now. . . . If he puts his hands on you again I’ll get him if it’s the last thing I do!”

So, when a shot rings out one night during a Continue reading

Daring Daughters (1933)

US / 61 minutes / bw / Tower Dir: Christy Cabanne Pr: Sig Neufeld Scr: Barry Barringer, F. Hugh Herbert Story: Sam Mintz Cine: Harry Forbes Cast: Marian Marsh, Kenneth Thomson, Joan Marsh, Bert Roach, Lita Chevret, Allan Vincent, Richard Tucker, Arthur Hoyt, Florence Roberts, Charlotte Merriam, Bryant Washburn Jr.

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Terry Cummings (Marian Marsh), working at the cigar counter in the Cortez Hotel lobby, has been living in the Big City—New York, in this instance—for long enough to know that men, young and old, rich and poor, want Just One Thing. She’s tried to inculcate the same wariness in her kid sister Betty (Joan Marsh), who’s recently arrived from the country to live with her, but to no avail: Betty has fallen hook, line and proverbial for garage mechanic Roy Andrews (Washburn).

Terry’s right about most of the men she meets: as soon as they set eyes on her they develop extra hands. She uses them for the gifts they give her—groceries, nights out—then fobs them off easily when they try to go further. She’s invented a sick old grandmother with whom she supposedly lives as a means of quenching the passions of those who suggest going back to her place.

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Daring Daughters - 1b . . . and they look like this (Betty on r)

Alan Preston (Kenneth Thomson) sees the two Cummings sisters, Terry (Marian Marsh) and Betty (Joan Marsh), side by side for the first time.

One night Terry arrives home with playboy Alan Preston (Thomson) and they run into Betty. Preston positively drools over Betty, who has the aura of being an order of magnitude more virginal than Continue reading