Millie (1931)

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Helen Twelvetrees in a melodrama for the ages!
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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

Speed Devils (1935)

vt Thru Traffic
US / 60 minutes / bw / Melbert, Perfect Circle, Warner, Hoffberg Dir: Joseph Henabery Scr: Burnet Hershey Cine: E.B. DuPar, Ray Foster Cast: Marguerite Churchill, Paul Kelly, Russell Hardie, Leo Curley, Walter Fenner, Earl Mitchell.

speed-devils-0

After a crash at the Madison County Fair Ground, rival racecar drivers Marty Gray (Kelly) and Dan Holden (Hardie) find themselves in adjacent beds in the Harristown Hospital. When Dan’s told his injuries mean he must give up racing for life, Marty, whose injuries are less debilitating but still likely to keep him out of the game for a while, suggests they Continue reading

Return from the Ashes (1965)

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After her return from the death camps, does her unscrupulous husband want to love her . . . or kill her?
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UK, US / 107 minutes / bw / Mirisch, UA Dir & Pr: J. Lee Thompson Scr: Julius Epstein Story: Le Retour des Cendres (1961) by Hubert Monteilhet Cine: Christopher Challis Cast: Maximilian Schell, Samantha Eggar, Ingrid Thulin, Herbert Lom, Talitha Pol, Vladek Sheybal, Jacques Cey, Jacques Brunius, Eugene Keeley.

Return from the Ashes - 0a

Occupying the same sort of territory as The THIRD MAN (1949), this is the first of—to date—three screen adaptations of Monteilhet’s novel. The other two are:

The latter is covered here.

Return from the Ashes - 0b

It’s the winter of the liberation of France from the loathed Nazi occupation. Aboard a train bound for Paris, a disobedient small boy, Robert (Keeley), opens the door and falls out into the night and presumably his doom. All of the passengers in the compartment are distraught, save one. The woman in the corner (Thulin) seems completely unmoved by events. The others are prepared to be critical of her until they notice the numbers tattooed on her forearm; she’s a Jewish survivor of the concentration camps, and her seeming imperturbability is born not from heartlessness but from traumatic alienation and the crude reconstructive surgery that’s been done on her face.

Arriving in Paris, she books herself into a cheap hotel under the name Julia Robert, even though, as the desk clerk (Cey) points out, according to her papers her name is Michele Wolff-Pilgrin. She tells him she wishes to hide under an assumed name for a while . . .

Return from the Ashes - 1 The Michele we first meet bears the scars of her ordeals

 The Michele we first meet (Ingrid Thulin) bears the scars of her ordeals.

Soon, in a prolonged flashback, we learn her story—and that the face she now bears is not the one she had a few years ago, before the torment of the camps and a clumsy reconstruction job after injury.

A widow, by the latter half of the 1930s she was working as a successful X-ray clinician in a Paris hospital. From her late husband she inherited a stepdaughter, Fabienne, whom she rarely saw, just shuffling her around from one English boarding school to another.

One night at her local chess club Michele ran into the impoverished would-be professional chess player Stanislas “Stan” Pilgrin (Schell), who took her for three games of chess to the tune of ninety francs. Later that night, even though she recognized he was a scoundrel, she Continue reading

Taste of Evil, A (1971 TVM)

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Was someone trying to drive her . . . insane?
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US / 71 minutes / color / Aaron Spelling, ABC Dir: John Llewellyn Moxey Pr: Aaron Spelling Scr: Jimmy Sangster Cine: Arch Dalzell Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Barbara Parkins, Roddy McDowall, William Windom, Arthur O’Connell, Bing Russell, Dawn Frame.

Taste of Evil - 0 opener

“Once upon a time there was a family who lived in a big house all by itself in the middle of great big woods. There was Mommy. She was very beautiful. Everyone loved her—especially Uncle Harold. He wasn’t my real uncle—just make-believe. Mommy made people laugh, because she was so happy herself. Then there was Daddy. He was very handsome and very kind. Everybody was mad about him. And last of all, because she was the youngest, there was Susan. She had no brothers or sisters, so she was on her own a lot. But she didn’t mind it, because she had her own special house in the woods that her daddy had built for her when she was a very little girl . . .”

Continue reading

Too Late for Tears (1949)

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Lizabeth Scott triumphs in an underrated noir classic!
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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

Out of the Rain (1991)

US / 95 minutes / color / Acme, Artisan Dir & Pr: Gary Winick Scr: Shem Bitterman Story: Out of the Rain (19?? play, possibly unproduced) by Shem Bitterman Cine: Makoto Watanabe Cast: Bridget Fonda, Michael O’Keefe, John E. O’Keefe, John Seitz, Georgine Hall, Al Shannon, Michael Mantell, Kathleen Chalfant, Mary Mara, Kirk Baltz, Chris Norris. Out of the Rain 1991 - 0 opener In a small town in upper New York State (the movie was actually filmed in Fulton County there), young Jimmy Reade has apparently killed himself with a double-barreled shotgun. His wastrel elder brother Frank (Michael O’Keefe), who left town after a career of hooliganism but who has evidently calmed down a lot while traveling the world, returns to see Jimmy buried and to make some sort of attempt—in the event, extremely brief—to restore relations with his father Nat (Seitz) and mother Tilly (Hall). He starts living in Jimmy’s old trailer, where one night he’s visited as he sleeps by a mysterious young woman who Continue reading

I’d Give My Life (1936)

vt The Noose
US / 80 minutes / bw / Astor, Paramount Dir: Edwin L. Marin Pr: Richard A. Rowland Scr: George O’Neil, Ben Ryan Story: The Noose (1926 play) by H.H. Van Loan and Willard Mack Cine: Ira Morgan Cast: Sir Guy Standing, Frances Drake, Tom Brown, Janet Beecher, Robert Gleckler, Helen Lowell, Paul Hurst, Charles C. Wilson, Charles Richman, Tom Jackson, Charles Judels, Robert Elliott.

I'd Give My Life - 0 opener

This movie is a remake of the silent The Noose (1928) dir John Francis Dillon, with Richard Barthelmess (who received an Oscar nomination for his role), Thelma Todd, Montagu Love and Robert E. O’Connor. Both movies were based on the play The Noose (1926), which was of especial significance in that its Broadway director and co-author Willard Mack took a gamble on casting a young chorus girl called Ruby Stevens in the role of romantic lead. Ruby Stevens soon adopted a new professional name: Barbara Stanwyck.

Orphan Nickie Elkins (Brown) and chanteuse Mary Reyburn (Drake), who both work at the niterie Club Gordon, are very much in love; Nickie hopes to be an airline pilot one day and thereby able to keep Mary in the manner she deserves. A chance encounter at an airport introduces him to Stella Bancroft (Beecher), the wife of the state governor, and the two immediately take a liking to each other—he regarding her as a “swell lady” while clearly sparking off the maternal instinct in her.

I'd Give My Life - 1 Nickie & Mary

Nickie (Tom Brown) and Mary (Frances Drake), very much in love.

Meanwhile, recently elected Governor John Bancroft (Standing)—Stella’s husband—has been telling the press that all his pre-election talk of cleaning up the state and ousting the racketeers has not been just so much hot air: he really intends to come through on his promises. The reporters, as they leave, are disconcerted to recognize Buck Gordon (Gleckler), the dirtiest crook in the state, waiting to meet with the Governor. At that meeting, Continue reading

Drag-Net, The (1936)

US / 62 minutes / bw / Burroughs–Tarzan Dir: Vin Moore Pr: W.N. Selig Scr: J. Mulhauser (i.e., James Mulhauser) Story: play by Willard Mack Cine: Edward Kull Cast: Rod La Rocque, Marian Nixon, Betty Compson, Jack Adair, John Dilson, Edward Keane, Donald Kerr, Joseph W. Girard, John Bantry, Ed LeSaint, Allen Mathews, Sid Payne.

The Drag-Net - hardworking social report Kit Van Buren (Nixon)

Hard-working, hard-partying social reporter Kit Van Buren (Marian Nixon).

Ne’er-do-well playboy Lawrence “Larry” Thomas Jr. (La Rocque) is turfed out of the family legal practice by his father (LeSaint) for his idleness and decadent habits. Instead he must take a job as assistant to DA Thomas J. Harrison (Girard). The night before joining the DA’s office Larry takes his society-reporter girlfriend Katherine “Kit” Van Buren (Nixon) to a dancing/gambling niterie called The Dover Club, run by notorious hoodlum Joe Ross (Adair):

Larry: Tonight we celebrate.
Kit: Celebrate? But that’s what we do five nights in a week, isn’t it?

The Drag-Net - Mollie (Compson) arrives at the Dover Club

Mollie (Betty Compson) arrives at the Dover Club.

That evening Mollie Cole (Compson) arrives to see Ross. Her husband Fred (Bantry) is doing eight years for a crime he committed with Ross and crooked shyster Arnold Crane (Dilson); Crane promised he’d Continue reading

Baby Face (1933)

US / 76 minutes (cut on initial release to 71 minutes) / bw / Warner Dir: Alfred E. Green Pr: William LeBaron, Raymond Griffith Scr: Gene Markey, Kathryn Scola Story: Mark Canfield (Darryl F. Zanuck) Cine: James Van Trees Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Theresa Harris, Donald Cook, Henry Kolker, Margaret Lindsay.

(The Encyclopedia does in fact have an entry on Baby Face but, as befits the movie’s protonoir status, that entry’s somewhat truncated.)

Nick Powers (Barrat) runs a speakeasy in which he essentially pimps his daughter Lily (Stanwyck). After he attempts to set her up with sleazy local hoodlum Ed Sipple (Hohl), Lily packs to leave, but before she can do so the boiler explodes, killing Nick. Encouraged by friendly old local cobbler Adolf Craag (Ethier) to seek her fortune in the big city, Lily and her father’s servant Chico (Harris) hop a freight train to New York City. There Lily seduces her way into a job in the Filing Dept. of the Gotham Trust Company. Well, if it worked once . . .

Thanks to supervisor Jimmy McCoy Jr. (a very young John Wayne), promotion ensues to the Mortgage Dept., where office manager Brody (Dumbrille) is next to topple. When they’re caught in flagrante by the boss of the Accounts Dept., Ned Stevens (Cook), it’s his turn: “Oh, I’m so ashamed,” says Lily, with the kind of innocence that can blister paint. “It’s the first time anything like that has ever happened to me.” Even though engaged to Ann Carter (Lindsay), daughter of one of the company’s directors, Ned sets Lily up in an apartment. The father himself, J.R. Carter (Kolker), is next on Lily’s list of conquests, and fixes her up in an even grander apartment. But then disaster strikes: mad with jealousy, Stevens shoots Carter dead and then himself.

Lily ducks out of the scandal, but is rusticated to the company’s Paris HQ until things cool down a bit. There she snares the company’s new president, Courtland Trenholm (Brent), and marries him, a union that brings her his fortune. When the company faces bankruptcy, Lily refuses to give him his money back to bail it out . . .

Baby Face was made just on the brink of the introduction of the Production Code, and by the time it was ready for release the Code was coming into effect. The movie’s theme was obviously scandalous in the new, prim context; perhaps every bit as scandalous was the fact that Lily’s one true friend throughout was the black woman Chico: the affection between the two is almost palpable when they’re on screen together (and at these times Harris at least matches Stanwyck and indeed comes close to stealing scenes from her—something few players could ever boast!). It’s clear that Lily regards Chico almost as a sister; this cannot have pleased the bigots of the time.

Whatever, the New York State Board of Censors rejected the movie unless a number of changes were made: the released movie was a full five minutes shorter than the full version. In 2004, however, an uncut copy was discovered, and so Baby Face was able to have its true premiere on January 24 2005, in New York.

Even the cut version has a quite astonishing amount of sexual charge. Stanwyck was not an especially beautiful woman, but here she succeeded in projecting such an aura of female sexuality that there seems nothing improbable at all in her being able to seduce any—and every—man she chooses; despite the monochrome, despite the passage of over seven decades, despite the fact that all undress and explicit impropriety are of course absent, there have been few sexier screen performances. No wonder the New York Censors were startled.

On Amazon.com: Baby Face and TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Collection – Volume One (Waterloo Bridge (1931) / Baby Face / Red-Headed Woman)