The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947)

US / 83 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Henry Levin Pr: Helen Deutsch, Virginia Van Upp Scr: Louella MacFarlane, Allen Rivkin, Devery Freeman Story: Lenore Coffee Cine: Joseph Walker Cast: Rosalind Russell, Melvyn Douglas, Sid Caesar, Betsy Blair, Nina Foch, Charles Cane, Harry Von Zell, Bruce Harper (i.e., Coulter Irwin), Arthur Space, Richard Benedict, Frank Orth, Victoria Horne, Hugh Beaumont, Doreen McCann.

Although sometimes listed as a film noir, The Guilt of Janet Ames is really a philosophical piece ruminating on guilt, morality, the selfishness of grief, redemption; there are some noirish tropes if you care to look for them, but then you could also find parallels with It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) dir Frank Capra if you were desperate enough. (You might, for example, point to the fact that both are Christmas movies, even though they have a completely different feel.)

Rosalind Russell as Janet Ames

But before making any such claims it’s worth noting that The Guilt of Janet Ames is upfront and center concerning the inspiration it owes to George du Maurier’s 1891 novel Peter Ibbetson and in particular the 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

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

Christmas Eve (1947)

vt Sinner’s Holiday

US / 93 minutes / bw / Miracle, UA Dir: Edwin L. Marin Pr: Benedict Bogeaus Scr: Laurence Stallings Story: Laurence Stallings, Richard H. Landau Cine: Gordon Avil Cast: George Raft, George Brent, Randolph Scott, Joan Blondell, Virginia Field, Dolores Moran, Ann Harding, Reginald Denny, Dennis Hoey, Clarence Kolb, Joe Sawyer, John Litel, Konstantin Shayne, Douglass Dumbrille, Carl Harbord, Molly Lamont, Walter Sande, Claire Whitney.

Xmas Eve - 0 Ann Harding excels as Aunt MatildaAnn Harding excels as Aunt Matilda.

Eccentric elderly NYC spinster Matilda Reed (Harding) has permitted some of her estate to be managed by her nephew Philip Hastings (Denny) but has kept control of the main part. Now, horrified by the amounts she’s been giving to charities, Philip has enlisted the aid of Judge Alston (Kolb) in trying to get her declared unfit to handle her own affairs, so that he might take over the entirety of the estate. And indeed, visiting the old woman with psychiatrist Doremus (Harbord) as ballast, the judge has to admit that “Aunt Matilda”—as she’s universally known—is certainly quite dotty: she attracts pigeons into her dining room to feed them, and uses a sophisticated electric train set to serve meals at the dining table.

Aunt Matilda naturally resents the encroachment, and declares that she’d rather her estate were handled by any one of her three adopted sons—all of whom flew the roost to make their own ways in the world but told her that, if ever she needed them, they’d be there for her. Philip, who knows more about the sons than Aunt Matilda thinks, scoffs at the idea. But the judge agrees that, if she can produce all three sons at the house on Christmas Eve, he’ll believe her claims of mental competency.

In turn we see three episodes about the sons, interspersed with scenes of Aunt Matilda, her redoubtable butler Williams (Hoey), and the gumshoe she hires to assist her search, Gimlet (Sawyer).

Xmas Eve - 2 The intriguing shadow of Harriet (Molly Lamont).

The first son up is playboy Michael Brooke (Brent), who’s seeking to solve the problem of his mounting debts by marrying heiress Harriet Rhodes (Lamont). The problem is that Harriet is one of the causes of those mounting debts: he’s been passing off rubber checks all over town to the tune of $75,000 in order to woo her with jewels and raiment. The other problem is that lovely salt-of-the-earth broad Ann Nelson (Blondell) loves him and wants him, and if truth be told he wants her too. Philip finds Continue reading