Madame Sin (1972 TVM)

UK / 76 minutes / color / 2X, ITC, ABC Dir: David Greene Pr: Julian Wintle, Lou Morheim Scr: Barry Oringer, David Greene Story: Lou Morheim, Barry Shear (creators) Cine: Tony Richmond Cast: Bette Davis, Robert Wagner, Denholm Elliott, Gordon Jackson, Dudley Sutton, Catherine Schell, Pik-Sen Lim, Alan Dobie, Roy Kinnear, Al Mancini, Paul Maxwell, Charles Lloyd Pack, Paul Maxwell, David Healy, Burt Kwouk.

When retired spy Anthony “Tony” Lawrence (Wagner) turns down a recruitment offer made to him by sophisticatedly scuzzy Malcolm de Vere (Elliott), he’s electronically disabled and flown to an island castle somewhere off the Scottish coast that fronts for the hi-tech lair of Ernst Blofeld Madame Sin (Davis).

Bette Davis as Madame Sin.

Madame Sin is a criminal mastermind who’s surrounded herself with scientists, at least one of them officially dead, who’re capable of doing the most alarming things with technology. It’s through using one of their gadgets, an ultrasound gun capable of sending people into a seemingly drugged semi-coma, that de Vere’s henchwomen, disguised as fetching nuns, disabled Tony so de Vere and sidekick Monk (Sutton) can abduct him.

Robert Wagner as Tony.

Denholm Elliott as de Vere.

Tony was lucky, Madame Sin assures him. Turn up the volume on the gadget and it can Continue reading

The Decision of Christopher Blake (1948)

US / 75 minutes / bw / Warner Bros. Dir: Peter Godfrey Pr & Scr: Ranald MacDougall Story: Christopher Blake (1946 play) by Moss Hart Cine: Karl Freund Cast: Alexis Smith, Robert Douglas, Cecil Kellaway, Ted Donaldson, John Hoyt, Harry Davenport, Mary Wickes, Art Baker, Lois Maxwell, Peter Godfrey, Charles Middleton.

A B-feature of curious ingenuity. Part of me says it’s in no conceivable way noirish; another part of me suggests that, because of the ingenuity I mentioned, it’s of at least borderline interest to the genre. My mental jury is still out.

Ted Donaldson as Chris.

Young Christopher Blake (Donaldson) arrives home from summer camp to discover, even though they try to hide it from him, that parents Ken (Douglas) and Evelyn (Smith) are separating and intend to divorce. Ken does try to explain matters to his son, but . . .

Chris: “I hope you’re not going to tell me about babies, Dad. I took a course on that in school.”
Ken: “You did? I mean, uh, you did. Oh, ah, that’s fine, fine.”
Chris: “Anyhow, I don’t believe it.”

In the end the person who inadvertently breaks the news to Chris is a stranger, Evelyn’s lawyer’s secretary, Miss McIntyre (Maxwell).

Lois Maxwell as Miss McIntyre.

Chris doesn’t take the news well. Living at home with Continue reading

The Bad Sister (1931)

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Well, baddish . . .
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US / 65 minutes / bw / Universal Dir: Hobart Henley Pr: Carl Laemmle Jr Scr: Edwin Knopf, Tom Reed, Raymond L. Schrock Story: The Flirt (1913) by Booth Tarkington Cine: Karl Freund Cast: Conrad Nagel, Sidney Fox, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Charles Winninger, Emma Dunn, ZaSu Pitts, “Slim” Summerville, Bert Roach, David Durand, Helene Chadwick.

This was the third time Booth Tarkington’s novel The Flirt had been brought to the screen—the precursors had been

  • The Flirt (1916) dir Phillips Smalley, with Lois Weber, Marie Walcamp, Grace Benham and Juan de la Cruz, and
  • The Flirt (1922) dir Hobart Henley (who also directed The Bad Sister), with Eileen Percy, Helen Jerome Eddy and Lloyd Whitlock.

The movie has many great strengths and a few weaknesses, but really The Bad Sister is one of those pieces whose significance goes far beyond the artistic creation itself. Here we have the first screen role for Bette Davis and an early screen role for Humphrey Bogart, and it could so easily have been the last screen role for both. It was also the first screen role for poor Sidney Fox, the Star Who Never Was.

Sidney Fox as Marianne.

In Council City, Ohio, realtor John Madison (Winninger) is respected throughout the community as a man of utmost probity. With his wife (Dunn) he has raised three daughters: Amy (Chadwick), now married to plumber Sam (Summerville), vivacious, “highly strung” Marianne (Fox) and the drabber Laura (Davis). Much younger is son Hedrick (Durand). Rounding out the household is the long-suffering maid, Minnie (Pitts).

Although her parents cannot see this, Marianne is a 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.

The Letter 1929 - 0

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

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

Deadly Duo (1962)

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Identical twins, one a sweet young widow and the other a sexpot stripper, and the fortune that only one of them wants!

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US / 69 minutes / bw / Harvard, UA Dir: Reginald LeBorg Pr: Robert E. Kent Scr: Owen Harris Story: The Deadly Duo (1959) by Richard Jessup Cine: Gordon Avil Cast: Craig Hill, Marcia Henderson, Robert Lowery, Dayton Lummis, Carlos Romero, Irene Tedrow, David Renard, Marco Antonio, Peter Oliphant.

Deadly Duo - 0 opener

Racecar driver Robby Spence dies in a spectacular crash. A month later, unsuccessful California lawyer Preston “Pres” Morgan (Hill) is recruited for a mysterious task by highly successful corporate attorney Thorne Fletcher (Lummis), acting on behalf of the mighty Spence Industries—or, more accurately, for that company’s steely owner, Leonora Spence (Tedrow). Leonora was appalled when, a few years ago, her late son Robby married Sabena Corwen (Henderson), one half of the dancing act The Corwen Sisters, the other half being Sabena’s identical twin sister Dara (Henderson again). The irate mother cut her son off without a penny. Now she wants to take her grandson, Billy (Oliphant), from Sabena and raise him herself as future CEO of Spence Industries. Pres’s task is to take a contract to Acapulco, where Sabena and Billy live, offering the mother $500,000 to relinquish all rights in the child.

Deadly Duo - 1 Leonora is initially suspecious of Pres

Leonora (Irene Tedrow) is initially suspicious of Pres.

There’s a quite effective scene in which Pres, his righteous indignation roused, tells Leonora firmly what she can do with her offer of employment, that he would never stoop so low as to collaborate in what he sees as the buying and selling of an infant . . . then discovers that his fee for the service will be $50,000.

Arrived in Acapulco, Pres goes to Sabena’s home. There he meets not just Sabena but twin sister Dara and Dara’s husband Jay Flagg (Lowery). There he marvels over the fact that the two sisters are not just beautiful but so very identical except that Sabena has shortish brunette hair while Dara has longer blonde hair. He soon notices, too, that there are behavioral differences between the rather prim Sabena and the clumsily vamping Dara.

Deadly Duo - 2a Nasty . . .

Naughty Marcia Henderson . . .

Deadly Duo - 2b . . . or Nice[Q] -- sisters Dara and Sabena

. . . or nice Marcia Henderson?

Sabena refuses Leonora’s contract point-blank—no way is she going to give up her son—and throws him out of the house.

This is to the huge displeasure of Jay and Dara, who desperately need the money. After the breakup of The Corwen Sisters, Dara struggled along on her own as best she could, which Continue reading

It Couldn’t Have Happened (But It Did) (1936)

US / 70 minutes / bw / Invincible, Chesterfield, First Division Dir: Phil Rosen Pr: Maury M. Cohen Scr: Arthur T. Horman Cine: M.A. Andersen Cast: Reginald Denny, Evelyn Brent, Jack La Rue, Inez Courtney, John Marlowe (i.e., Hugh Marlowe), Claude King, Bryant Washburn, Robert Homans, Crauford Kent, Robert Frazer, Miki Morita, Emily La Rue.

It Couldn't Have Happened - 0 opener

Rehearsals are underway for the new play by Gregory Stone (Denny), a mystery called The Pointing Finger with fabled Beverley Drake (Brent) in the leading role. Beverley is married to the much older Ellis Holden (King), half of Holden–Carter Productions, which is producing the play—the other half being Norman Carter (Washburn), with whom Beverley’s having an affair. This is no great triumph for Carter to chalk up, because Beverley’s having an affair also with young actor Edward Forrest (Marlowe), another cast member, and the list very likely doesn’t stop there.

It Couldn't Have Happened - 1 Bev and Edwards

Beverley (Evelyn Brent) makes googoo eyes at Edward (Hugh Marlowe).

Local gangster Smiley Clark (Jack La Rue) is keen that Holden hire his latest babe, Lisa De Lane (Emily La Rue, about whom I’ve been able to find out nothing), in a starring role. The two producers try to fob him off but, Continue reading

Phone Call from a Stranger (1952)

US / 96 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Jean Negulesco Pr & Scr: Nunnally Johnson Story: I.A.R. Wylie Cine: Milton Krasner Cast: Shelley Winters, Gary Merrill, Michael Rennie, Keenan Wynn, Evelyn Varden, Warren Stevens, Beatrice Straight, Ted Donaldson, Craig Stevens, Helen Westcott, Bette Davis, Hugh Beaumont, Tom Powers.

Phonecall from a Stranger 0a opener

Phonecall from a Stranger 0b second opener of pair

Iowa lawyer David L. “Dave” Trask (Merrill) leaves his wife Janey (Westcott), plus their two daughters, to take a flight for LA to try to sort his head out; he can no longer live with her or the memory of the “little slip” she committed. He books himself on the plane under the name Joseph H. Collins so that Janey can’t track him down.

Phonecall from a Stranger 1 Janey reads Dave's goodbye note-

Janey (Helen Westcott) reads Dave’s goodbye note.

The weather’s appalling, and the flight suffers various delays. Dave becomes one of a disparate quartet of passengers thrown together by circumstances; Continue reading

Hell’s House (1932)

US / 72 minutes / bw / Astor Dir & Story: Howard Higgin Scr: Paul Gangelin, B. Harrison Orkow Cine: Allen G. Siegler Cast: Bette Davis, Pat O’Brien, Junior Dirkin (i.e., Junior Durkin), Junior Coughlin (i.e., Frank Coghlan Jr), Emma Dunn, Charles Grapewin, Morgan Wallace, Hooper Atchley, Wallace Clark, James Marcus, Mary Alden.

Hell's House - 1 Young Jimmy helps with the laundry

Young Jimmy (Junior Durkin) helps Mom with the laundry.

After seeing his widowed mother Lucy (Alden) die in a hit-and-run, 14-year-old country boy Jimmy Mason (Dirkin) comes to the big city to throw himself on the mercy of his aunt and uncle, Emma (Dunn) and Henry Clark (Grapewin). They goodheartedly take him in, but Henry has just that morning lost his job so things look grim. However, the Clarks’ fast-talking lodger Matt Kelly (O’Brien) takes the boy under his wing, even offering him a job at $25 a week just to answer the phone at Kelly’s scabby center of operations. Unknown to Jimmy and the Clarks, Kelly’s business is as a Continue reading