Shadows on the Stairs (1941)

|
So many seedy secrets behind a boarding house’s doors!
|

vt Murder on the Second Floor
US / 62 minutes / bw / Warner–First National Dir: D. Ross Lederman Pr: Bryan Foy Scr: Anthony Coldeway Story: Murder on the Second Floor (1929 play) by Frank Vosper Cine: Allen G. Siegler Cast: Frieda Inescort, Paul Cavanagh, Heather Angel, Bruce Lester, Miles Mander, Lumsden Hare, Turhan Bey, Charles Irwin, Phyllis Barry, Mary Field, Paul Renay.

shadows-on-the-stairs-0

London, 1937, and on the surface Mrs. Armitage’s boarding house appears tranquil enough. But, as we soon find out, not all is as it seems . . .

The movie opens at the docks. One of Mrs. Armitage’s lodgers, Joe Reynolds (Cavanagh), observes as another, Ram Singh (Bey), helps smuggle a small trunk onto the dock and away. Back at the boarding house next morning, it’s clear that the two are in uneasy, mutually suspicious cahoots.

shadows-on-the-stairs-1-ram-singh-awaits-the-arrival-of-the-smuggled-box

Ram Singh (Turhan Bey) awaits the arrival of the smuggled box.

Not all is well among the building’s other occupants. Startled while clearing away the breakfast things, the maid, Lucy Timpson (Barry), drops a tray of dirty dishes and is promptly and viciously fired by the landlady, ex-actress Stella Armitage (Inescort). Joe has been carrying on a long-term affair with Stella—in fact, it was he who bought the boarding house for her to run ten years ago when her acting days were over. Stella’s chess-fiend husband Tom (Mander), likewise an ex-actor—he boasts he once played the aunt in Charley’s Aunt—is oblivious to the pair’s shenanigans even after a decade. On the other hand, Stella is equally oblivious to the fact that her lover Joe has been canoodling on the side with Lucy.

shadows-on-the-stairs-2-lucy-startled-by-goings-on

Lucy (Phyllis Barry) is startled by various goings-on.

Also living in the house are Miss Phoebe Marcia St. John Snell (Field)—“I usually leave out the Marcia”—a spinster who sublimates her unmentionable yearnings by reading an endless string of fevered romance novels; and a young, would-be playwright, Hugh Bromilow (Lester). Hugh is carrying on with Stella’s daughter Sylvia (Angel), but at least for the moment in what we might call Continue reading

Witness for the Prosecution (1982 TVM)

|
A very good remake of a classic movie!
|

UK, US / 102 minutes / color / United Artists Dir: Alan Gibson Pr: Norman Rosemont Scr: John Gay Story: “Traitor’s Hands” (1925 Flynn’s Weekly) and Witness for the Prosecution (1953 play), both by Agatha Christie, and the screenplay for Witness for the Prosecution (1957) by Billy Wilder, Harry Kurnitz and Larry Marcus Cine: Arthur Ibbetson Cast: Ralph Richardson, Deborah Kerr, Beau Bridges, Donald Pleasence, Wendy Hiller, Diana Rigg, David Langton, Richard Vernon, Peter Sallis, Michael Gough, Frank Mills, Michael Nightingale, Peter Copley, Patricia Leslie, Primi Townsend.

witness-for-the-prosecution-1982-tvm-0

Christie’s play has been filmed several times. The most famous adaptation is quite clearly Billy Wilder’s 1957 movie Witness for the Prosection, featuring Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Tyron Power and, in what’s effectively an unorthodox version of the femme fatale role, Marlene Dietrich.

Because of the fame of the Wilder adaptation, it’s easy to think it must have been the first. Not so. As far as I can gather, the first movie adaptation was Continue reading

Crime Patrol, The (1936)

|
To box in the ring or to bag criminals? A simple Joe must choose!
|

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.

crime-patrol-2-bob-in-the-ring

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

Quan Min Mu Ji (2013)

|
What really happened when a popular singer was murdered?
|

vt Silent Witness
China / 115 minutes / color / 21st Century Wink, Tik, InLook Vision, Shanghai Yinrun, Anhul, Beijing Media, Beijing New Film Association, Shenzen Dream Life, Beijing MaxTimes Dir & Scr: Fei Xing Pr: Xiao Pingkai Cine: Zhao Xiaoding Cast: Sun Honglei, Aaron Kwok, Yu Nan, Deng Jiajia, Zhao Lixin, Ni Hongjie, Chen Sicheng, Tong Liya, Weitong Zhou.

Silent Witness - 0 opener

This is generally billed as a courtroom drama, and the description’s not incorrect. But it’s not complete, either. Most of the movie happens outside the courtroom, and in the convoluted narrative we’re given not one but three or arguably four interlocking interpretations of events. (This sounds more similar to RASHOMON [1950] than it actually is.) The effect is rather like one of those old John Dickson Carr novels where the detective gives what seems a watertight solution to the mystery only to break it down, expose why it couldn’t be true, and then present a completely different explanation. But Quan Min Mu Ji isn’t a light-hearted Carr exercise; there’s a genuine noirish sense throughout that no one here is going to find a happy ending, that the best anyone can hope for is a choice of tragedies.

Silent Witness - 3 Yang Dan makes her point in the underground garage

Yang Dan (Weitong Zhou) makes her point in the underground garage.

Singer Yang Dan (Zhou), unfaithful mistress of the powerful businessman Lin Tai (Sun), has been murdered in an underground parking garage, and the evidence is overwhelming that it was Lin’s daughter Mengmeng (Deng) who committed the crime. Mengmeng hit the chanteuse with Continue reading

Moglie, La (2007)

|
If she isn’t his wife, who is she?
|

Italy / 23 minutes / color / Imperium, Lupin Dir: Andrea Zaccariello Pr: Riccardo Neri, Emiliano Bellini, Gianluca Mainquà Scr: Paolo Rossi, Andrea Zaccariello Cine: Fabio Zamarion Cast: Valeria Solarino, Enrico Silvestrin, Remo Remotti, Stefano Mondini (voice).

La Moglie - 0

In a pseudish modern art gallery a young man whom we’ll learn to call Valerio (Silvestrin) takes a phonecall. We hear only his side of the conversation, but it’s immediately apparent that he’s talking about a hit on his wife:

“Who, my wife? No—I’ll pick her up. Look, it’s not easy for me to pay that sort of money. . . . Whatever happens, I never want to see her again. See you on Monday.”

That evening he picks her up in his car, and hardly has Simona (Solarino) climbed aboard than she’s started kvetching at him: she was unfairly passed over for a promotion at the office, the buses are too crowded, she’s going to have to get a driving license whatever he says, and why aren’t they going straight home? Eventually he tells her: “Will you shut up?” It’s all pretty standard domestic bickering, underlain by obvious affection; it’s hard to relate this to the notion that he’s taken out a hit on her.

La Moglie - 1 Simona looks round to find Valerio waiting for her

Simona (Valeria Solarino) looks round to find Valerio waiting for her.

He takes her not home but to a beach house that we assume he’s rented for the weekend—a beach house that we recognize because we saw it earlier illustrating a newspaper story about a man who killed his wife. He tells her that Continue reading

Too Late for Tears (1949)

|
Lizabeth Scott triumphs in an underrated noir classic!
|

vt Killer Bait
US / 100 minutes / bw / Hunt Stromberg, UA Dir: Byron Haskin Pr: Hunt Stromberg Scr: Roy Huggins Story: Too Late for Tears (1947, originally serialized in Saturday Evening Post) by Roy Huggins Cine: William Mellor Cast: Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy, Kristine Miller, Barry Kelley, Smoki Whitfield, David Clarke, Billy Halop.

Too Late for Tears - 0 opener

If there was any single movie or actor that set me off on the long and winding course toward writing A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir, Too Late for Tears was that movie and Lizabeth Scott was that actor.

I first watched the movie sometime in the early 2000s. Before that I’d written quite extensively on animation—in fact, I’d not so very long before seen publication of my book Masters of Animation—and on fantasy movies, for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, edited by John Clute and myself. I’d been playing around with various ideas for more books on animation and/or the cinema of the fantastic, but then, for some reason—perhaps just because it came on TCM while I was sitting on the couch, who knows?—I found myself watching Too Late for Tears for the first time.

And it felt like coming home.

Of course, I’d watched countless films noirs before then, and liked them a lot—The BLUE DAHLIA (1946) was a particular favorite (have I ever mentioned my longtime crush on Veronica Lake?)—but Continue reading

Wall Street Mystery, The (1931)

|
“Well, there’s nothing mysterious about a killing in Wall Street. I know—I made one myself.”
|

US / 17 minutes / bw / Vitaphone, Warner Dir: Arthur Hurley Scr: Burnet Hershey Story: S.S. Van Dine Cine: E.B. DuPar Cast: Donald Meek, John Hamilton, Frances Dale, Hobart Cavanaugh.

Wall Street Mystery - 1 The cleaner discovers the corpses

Two stockbrokers, Clive West (uncredited) and his junior partner Edwin Homer (uncredited), are found shot dead in their office one morning by the cleaner (uncredited). Inspector Carr (Hamilton), who’s leading the investigation, decides to call in his old pal, criminologist Dr. Amos Crabtree (Meek), to Continue reading

Stolen Identity (1953)

|
An unjustly neglected noir out of post-WWII Vienna that’s sometimes compared to The Third Man.
|

Austria, US / 84 minutes / bw / Schoenbrunn, Trans-Globe, Helen Ainsworth Dir: Gunther Fritsch (i.e., Gunther von Fritsch) Pr: Turhan Bey Scr: Robert Hill Story: Ich War Jack Mortimer (1933) by Alexander Lernet-Holenia Cine: Helmuth Ashley Cast: Donald Buka, Joan Camden, Francis Lederer, Adrienne Gessner, Inge Konradi, Gisela Wilke, Hermann Erhard (i.e., Hermann Erhardt), E. von Jordan, Manfred Inger, Louis Ousted.

Stolen Identity - 0 opener

This was the English-Language version made in parallel with ABENTEUER IN WIEN (1952; vt Adventures in Vienna) dir Emile E. Reinert, with Gustav Fröhlich and Cornell Borchers rather than the US actors Donald Buka and Joan Camden in the two leading roles, but with the rest of the cast roughly the same. In A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir I gave basic details of Stolen Identity in the Abenteuer in Wien entry, but didn’t have room to give it an entry of its own. So here’s a redressal of that lack. I was prompted to dig the movie out for a rewatch, for the first time in many years, by a fine review by MarinaSofia of the source novel on her findingtimetowrite blog.

It’s New Year’s Eve in Vienna. Karin Manelli (Camden), unhappy wife of the celebrated concert pianist Claude Manelli (Lederer), is expecting the arrival of Jack Mortimer (Ousted), who will whisk her away from the husband who seems so charming but in fact, because of his egocentricity, subjects her to endless psychological cruelty. Unfortunately, Continue reading

Gambling Daughters (1941)

|
How bad men lead defenseless girls astray!

US / 63 minutes / bw / PRC Dir: Max Nosseck Pr: George R. Batcheller, T.H. Richmond Scr: Joel Kay, Arnold Phillips, Genevieve Hogan Story: Sidney Sheldon, Ben Roberts Cine: Mack Stengler Cast: Cecilia Parker, Roger Pryor, Robert Baldwin, Sigi Arno, Gale Storm, Charles Miller, Al Hall, Eddie Foster, Janet Shaw, Marvelle Andre, Dick Russom, Joe Ortiz, Judy Kilgore, Gertrude Messinger, Roberta Smith.

Gambling Daughters 1941 - closer

Two students at the swanky Lakeside School for Girls, Lillian Harding (Storm) and Katherine Thompsen (Shaw), one night on impulse follow their French teacher, le professeur Bedoin (Arno), and discover he’s gone to an illicit gambling joint called the Angel’s Roost. The girls swank into the club there with the entitled air of two virginities looking for the quickest way to lose themselves. (Presumably in order to save money on acting fees, the bustling clientele at the Angel’s Roost are here and elsewhere represented primarily by off-camera chortles and coughs.)

Gambling Daughters 1941 - 1 Prof Bedoin at casino with piano duo Russom & Ortiz behind

Le professeur Bedoin (Sigi Arno) at the Angel’s Roost gambling den with the piano duo of Dick Russom and Joe Ortiz as backdrop.

Encouraged by the club’s manager, Chance Landon (Pryor), the two girls soon get completely hooked on the roulette wheel. In no time at all, they Continue reading

Flat Two (1962)

|

Another tangled tale from Edgar Wallace!

 

UK / 58 minutes / bw / Merton Park, Anglo-Amalgamated Dir: Alan Cooke Pr: Jack Greenwood Scr: Lindsay Galloway Story: Flat 2 (1927) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Bert Mason Cast: John Le Mesurier, Jack Watling, Bernard Archard, Barry Keegan, Ann Bell, Campbell Singer, Charles Lloyd Pack, David Bauer, Russell Waters, George Bishop, Gerald Sim, Andre Mikhelson, Monti de Lyle, Adrian Oker, Gordon Phillott, John Wilder.

Flat Two - 0 opener

I gave this movie basic coverage in A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir, but at the time I hadn’t seen it myself (although I had read the novel). Recently I was able to watch it as part of the UK-released EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERIES Vol 3 DVD set (thanks, Stan!), one of seven volumes containing the complete series of these UK B-movies, originally released during 1960–64.

Susan Martin (Bell) has been losing hand-over-fist at the gambling club owned by slimy Emil Louba (Bauer), and he tells her that her IOUs have now added up to a staggering £10,000, money she doesn’t have. He offers to throw the IOUs away, however, if she’ll go on holiday with him to the continent and become his mistress. Susan, although visibly nauseated by the prospect, doesn’t see that she has much choice.

When she breaks it to her architect fiancé Frank Leamington (Watling) that she’s not going to marry him after all, he Continue reading