Intruder, The (1933)

vt Horror in the Night
US / 54 minutes / bw / Allied Pictures Dir: Albert Ray Pr: M.H. Hoffman Scr: Frances Hyland Cine: Harry Neumann, Tom Galligan Cast: Monte Blue, Lila Lee, William B. Davidson, Gwen Lee, Arthur Housman, Sidney Bracy, Mischa Auer, Harry Cording, Wilfred Lucas, Lynton Brent, John Beck, Allan Cavan.

The Intruder (1933) - 0 opener

Belonging to a grade that requires an extension of the alphabet beyond the letter Z—arguably quite far beyond—this can’t seem to decide which horse to back: should it be a murder mystery or a castaways-on-a-jungle-island Tarzan riff? It ends up being a bit of both but, alas, not very much of either.

The ship the Intruder is weathering heavy seas when it’s reported to Captain Rush (Cavan) that there’s been a terrible murder. He rushes to the scene and finds that the dead man is being guarded by Detective-Lieutenant Samson (Davidson) of the San Francisco PD. The corpse was a jewel thief named Gardiner, and Samson has been on his trail—and that of a trove of diamonds he stole—for months. He instructs a ship’s officer to Continue reading

Crime Nobody Saw, The (1937)

US / 62 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Charles Barton Pr: Adolph Zukor Scr: Bertram Millhauser Story: Danger, Men Working (1935 play) by Ellery Queen, Lowell Brentano Cine: Harry Fischbeck Cast: Lew Ayres, Ruth Coleman, Eugene Pallette, Benny Baker, Vivienne Osborne, Colin Tapley, Howard C. Hickman, Robert Emmet O’Connor, Jed Prouty, Hattie McDaniel, Ferdinand Gottschalk, Terry Ray (i.e., Ellen Drew).

Crime Nobody Saw - 2 The deed is done

The dastardly deed is done.

Despite being able to list Ellery Queen (i.e., Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee) as co-author, the stage play upon which this slight filler was based was a flop. Watching the movie, it’s not hard to see why. The plot’s very self-referential—it’s about these three guys, you see, trying to write a mystery play. The intention is obviously comic, yet gags are thin on the ground and the only cast member really capable of raising a smile is the redoubtable Hattie McDaniel; it’s wryly amusing that although, because of the conventions of the time, she had to Continue reading

A Quartet of Shorties

Although I’ve been charged with including too many borderline noirs in the Encyclopedia  (odd for an encyclopedia to be accused of encompassing too much rather than too little!), in fact quite a few of the entries I wrote I decided later to reject. Some of those then got stuck back in again. In the absence of the usual collegial team you expect to be able to draw on when constructing an encyclopedia of this size, I had to be, as it were, my own collegiate: I conducted many internal debates over what to keep in and what to kick out, and often there were second thoughts.

The entries here on Noirish are in general far longer than I had space for in the encyclopedia. Here, just for interest, are my original entries for a few movies that got thrown out and stayed out; all the entries are very short because, of course, I already regarded the movies as borderline. That’s not to say these movies, especially The Velvet Touch, may not get fuller coverage here in due course.

The movies concerned are:

Sweet Revenge (1976; vt Dandy, the All American Girl)

There’s Always a Woman (1938)

The Unsaid (2001)

The Velvet Touch (1948)

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Sweet Revenge (1976)

vt Dandy, the All American Girl

US / 89 minutes / color / MGM Dir & Pr: Jerry Schatzberg Scr: Marilyn Goldin, B.J. Perla, Jor [sic] Van Kline Story: B.J. Perla Cine: Vilmos Zsigmond Cast: Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, Franklyn Ajaye, Richard Daughty, Norman Matlock.

Vurrla Kowsky (Channing) is a career car thief whose primary motive is to make enough money to buy herself a Ferrari. Lawyer Le Clerq (Waterston) believes he’s saving her from herself, but so do the other men in her life and she’s running rings round all of them. Although the movie’s determinedly comedic, its portrayal of the addiction that auto theft can become is (reportedly) very authentic.

On Amazon.com: Sweet Revenge

There’s Always a Woman (1938)

US / 81 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Alexander Hall Pr: William Perlberg Scr: Gladys Lehman Based on: story by Wilson Collison Cine: Henry Freulich Cast: Joan Blondell, Melvyn Douglas, Mary Astor, Frances Drake, Jerome Cowan, Thurston Hall, Rita Hayworth (uncredited).

Of strictly ancillary interest, There’s Always a Woman (1938) was intended by Columbia as first in a series to rival The THIN MAN. Joan Blondell and Melvyn Douglas star as husband-and-wife sleuths solving a society crime, she trying—and succeeding despite her husband’s sexism—to be a PI, while he acts for the DA’s office. It’s easy to see why the series never took off: while Blondell does wonders for an ordinary script, Douglas is insipid and, among the rest, only an uncredited Tom Dugan as a knucklehead cop stands out.

On Amazon.com: There’s Always a Woman (currently unavailable, but with luck might return soon)

Unsaid, The (2001)

Canada, US / 111 minutes / color / New Legend, Mind’s Eye, CineSon, Eagle Dir: Tom McLoughlin Pr: Tom Berry, Matt Hastings, Kelley Reynolds Scr: Miguel Tejada-Flores, Scott Williams Story: Christopher Murphey Cine: Lloyd Ahern II Cast: Andy Garcia, Vincent Kartheiser, Linda Cardellini, Chelsea Field, Teri Polo, Sam Bottoms, Trevor Blumas.

Psychologist Michael Hunter (Garcia) treats troubled teenager Tommy Caffey (Kartheiser) while haunted by memories of his own teenaged son’s suicide. The son, Kyle (Blumas), killed himself after sexual abuse by a therapist; Tommy was a victim of sexual abuse by his mother and then saw his father, Joseph (Bottoms), beat her to death. When Tommy hooks up with Michael’s daughter Shelly (Cardellini) he learns from her which of Michael’s buttons to press in order to exploit the similarities between the two cases. A trite ending undermines an otherwise interesting, thought-provoking piece.

On Amazon.com: The Unsaid

Velvet Touch, The (1948)

US / 97 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: John Gage Pr: Frederick Brisson Scr: Leo Rosten, Walter Reilly Story: Annabel Ross Cine: Joseph Walker Cast: Rosalind Russell, Leo Genn, Claire Trevor, Sydney Greenstreet, Leon Ames.

Broadway comedienne Valerie Stanton (Russell), during a tussle with producer and dumped lover Gordon Dunning (Ames)—over her desire to take the lead in a revival of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and over her new boyfriend, Michael Morrell (Genn)—hits him with a statuette and inadvertently kills him; the body’s discovered by fellow-actress Marian Webster (Trevor). While the latter’s hospitalized with shock, cop Captain Danbury (Greenstreet) concludes Marian must be the killer, ignoring Valerie as even a suspect; she has, unwittingly, committed the perfect crime. A witty screenplay and fine performances raise this mystery above the average level of the pack.

On Amazon.com: The Velvet Touch [VHS] and The Velvet Touch [Region 2]

Young Dynamite (1937)

US / 58 minutes / bw / Conn Dir: Leslie Goodwins Pr: Maurice Conn Scr: Joseph O’Donnell, Stanley Roberts, Arthur Duriam Story: “The New Freedom” (1927, Cosmopolitan; vt “For His Money”) by Peter B. Kyne Cine: John Kline Cast: Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Charlotte Henry, William Costello, David Sharpe, Carlton Young (i.e., Carleton Young), Pat Gleason, Frank Austin, Frank Sarasino, Earl Dwire.

The government is clamping down on gold hoarding, and the gang ostensibly headed by Flash Slavin (Costello) is using the situation to mount a racket. When Flash’s sidekicks Butch Barker (Gleason) and Spike Dolan (Young) murder a gold smuggler rather than pay his price, the State Troopers are soon on the case.

New to the Troopers that day is Johnny Shields (Sharpe), to the delight of his sister Jane (Henry) and her fiancé Corporal Tom Marlin (Richmond), another Trooper; Johnny’s kid brother Freddie (Darro) feigns ennui, but is soon running a campaign of his own to catch the crooks.

The next victim of Butch and Spike is Johnny . . . a demise that, bizarrely, appears to affect Freddie, Jane and Tom not at all, for that evening they’re clowning and joking just like always! Obviously, Freddie and Tom eventually snare the bad guys, Jane conveniently disappearing (bridge night, perhaps?) when her presence might hamper events.

The intent is clearly to give the character played by ex-child actor, ex-silents star Darro an appealing irrepressible-trickster quality, but he comes across as merely brattish—and also as far older than the teenager he’s supposed to be (he was 20 by now). Story and screenplay tend toward the clichéd—it’s hardly a surprise when the gang’s real boss proves to be the Shields’s purportedly crippled lodger Endebury (Austin). The dialogue has on occasion a certain naive charm, as when Spike tells elderly simpleton farmer Finnegan (Dwire): “Listen, whiskerpuss, don’t move from this spot or I’ll plug ya!” There’s a fairly depressing lack of ambition on display: the moviemakers seem to have aimed only as high as mediocrity and been perfectly content to fall short of that target. For Henry it was a long way down from such roles as Alice in the all-star Alice in Wonderland (1933).

Author Peter B. Kyne was best known for his The Three Godfathers (1913), which has been adapted for the screen a number of times, most famously as 3 Godfathers (1948) dir John Ford, with John Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz and Harry Carey Jr.

 

On Amazon.com: Young Dynamite

Secret Evidence (1941)

US / 63 minutes / bw / PRC Dir: William Nigh Pr: E.B. Derr Scr: Brenda Cline Story: Edward Bennett Cine: Arthur Martinelli Cast: Marjorie Reynolds, Charles Quigley, Ward McTaggart, Howard Masters, Bob White, Kenneth Harlan, Donald Curtis, Charles Phipps, Dorothy Vaughan, Bud Buster, Kitty McHugh, Boyd Irwin.

On the eve of accepting a new job as Assistant Prosecutor, lawyer David Harrison (Quigley) becomes engaged to his longtime secretary Linda Wilson (Reynolds). That same night, however, her ex-fiancé Tony Baxter (McTaggart) calls by her house; released from jail after serving four years for robbery, he wants to reclaim the stash he left with Linda’s kid brother Jerry (Masters) . . . and is mortified to discover Linda made Jerry turn over the loot to the cops. And, of course, Tony would like to renew relations with Linda.

She tries to tell him to get lost, but in the end agrees to meet him later that night at his lodgings in the down-at-heel Arcadia Cottages . . . where, unknown to her, Tony has booked her in as his wife. By the time she gets there, however, Tony has broken it to his old accomplice Sniffy (White) that the loot they stole together is no more; Sniffy, believing Tony’s trying to stiff him of his share, shoots him—although the wound’s only superficial. As this is all going on, Linda arrives and, separately, Jerry, the latter with a gun; when Linda struggles to get the gun from him, it goes off. No one’s hurt by this accidental detonation but the appearance is that it might have been Jerry who shot Tony, and Tony isn’t planning on telling the cops who his assailant was, not when he has the chance to make David look stupid in front of the woman they both crave.

To the bafflement of the DA, William Burt (whom we don’t actually see), David persists in pressing the prosecution of Jerry even after forensics demonstrate the bullet that wounded Tony didn’t come from Jerry’s gun . . .

The story’s obviously somewhat fanciful, but at the same time it’s rather cleverly worked out, and overall this is quite neatly scripted—a cut above the PRC norm. The production values and acting standards are, alas, more as we’re accustomed to seeing from this studio: scenery that looks as if it might fall over if anyone slams a door too hard, hasty sound editing, and patchy acting, with Reynolds her usual charming self, McTaggart and especially Masters surprisingly good, and all the rest—including leading man Quigley—being at best blandly forgettable.

Reynolds’s time of glory was just about to begin: the following year she’d be starring opposite Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in Holiday Inn (1942); by then, though, she’d have made no fewer than six further movies for the likes of PRC.

On Amazon.com: Secret Evidence and Secret Evidence

 

Fog Island (1945)

US / 71 minutes / bw / PRC Dir: Terry Morse Scr: Pierre Gendron Story: Angel Island (1937 play) by Bernadine Angus Cine: Ira Morgan Cast: Lionel Atwill, Jerome Cowan, George Zucco, Veda Ann Borg, Sharon Douglas, Ian Keith, Jacqueline DeWit, John Whitney, George Lloyd.

A creaky but enjoyable gothic noir, with secret passageways and skulls galore.

Fog Island (1945) -- the screaming skull given to Sylvia as her clue

The miniature screaming skull given to Sylvia as her clue . . .

Embittered after five years in the pen for an embezzlement of which he was innocent, during which time his beloved wife Karma was murdered, Leo Grainger (Zucco)—rendered as “Grainer” in the credits—lives in his spooky, pirate-built mansion on remote Fog Island with his stepdaughter Gail (Douglas), who likewise seeks reclusion because of the shame of Leo’s supposed crime.

Leo invites to the island the people he believes were involved in the theft and set him up for the fall: phony seeress Emiline Bronson (DeWit) of the Emiline Bronson Psychic Research Laboratory, erstwhile colleagues Alec Ritchfield (Atwill) and John Kavanaugh (Cowan), Leo’s personal secretary Sylvia Jordan (Borg), and another business associate, Jackson Kingsley, who proves in the event to have recently died; his son Jeff (Whitney) comes in his stead, eager for the excuse to reunite with Gail, his old college sweetheart. Also on the island, having come clandestinely, is the company’s accountant, sent up the river at the same time as Leo: “Doc” Lake (Keith).

Fog Island (1945) . . . the full-size one she finds in a casket . . .. . . . the full-size one she finds in a casket . . .

The night of their arrival, Leo tells his guests he has called them here for retribution, although he obfuscates about what the word might mean in this context; if any of them are innocent, for example, their retribution might be against him for having lost them money. Since he has introduced Kavanaugh to his home with “Strangely enough, it was built by pirates . . . but you shouldn’t find any difficulty in finding your way around, John”, we can guess this latter definition of the word is not the one foremost in Leo’s mind.

To each person he gives a clue/favor: to Gail a key (“Perhaps the key to your happiness, my dear”), to Emiline a pen with a note inside reading “Top Left of Mantle” (much later we discover a lever there opens a drawer containing another key), to Kavanaugh a book of elementary multiplication tables, to Sylvia a monkey skull, to Ritchfield a jemmy, and to Jeff a penknife.

As Gail plays the organ that evening, she and Jeff discover the Oboe stop controls a secret door; Ritchfield observes them; in due course everyone knows about the doorway and that it leads to a tangle of cellars. There’s a séance that stops in a hurry when the table levitates—to the mystification of supposedly pstchic Emiline. And then there’s the first murder, when Doc discovers the butler, Allerton (Lloyd), rifling through his master’s desk, exposes him as escaped lifer Al Jenks, and fights with him—a fight that ends with Allerton/Jenks plunging into violent seas. Later Ritchfield kills Leo, who has discovered he murdered Karma, then kills Emiline for the key to what they both believe is the treasure chamber, down in the cellars. The four remaining chiselers use their clues to find the supposed treasure, only to discover it’s just a note from Leo proclaiming his innocence; besides, the casket containing the note is rigged so that, on being moved, it seals the chamber and fills it with seawater . . .

Fog Island (1945) . . . and the skelton Ritchfield finds in the cellar on hiding Leo's corpse

. . . and the skeleton Ritchfield discovers in the cellar on hiding Leo’s corpse.

Meanwhile, Jeff and Gail discover the tabletop, when made to levitate, reveals a secret compartment with Gail’s mother’s jewels and a letter explaining where Leo’s company’s money really went: quite simply, he was an incompetent businessmen.

Atwill, Cowan, Zucco and Borg all deliver the sort of professional performances you might expect, and DeWit is excellent. This was one of very few movie appearances for Douglas, who was primarily a radio actress; she pulls the role off with considerable charm and aplomb, so it’s somewhat surprising the Hollywood studios didn’t offer her more of a career.

Fog Island - skulls ahoy

Bonus skull for dedicated craniophiles.

On Amazon.com: Fog Island

Daughter of the Tong (1939)

US / 56 minutes / bw / Metropolitan Dir: Raymond K. Johnson Pr: Lester F. Scott Jr. Story: George H. Plympton Cine: Elmer Dyer Cast: Evelyn Brent, Grant Withers, Dorothy Short, Dave O’Brien, Richard Loo, Harry Harvey, Budd Buster.

It’s the early days of the FBI (“This organization is founded upon courage and faith,” according to the long opening screed, “and in many cases has exacted the lives of those federal agents whose ideals strongly embody liberty and the rights of their fellow men”), and an FBI man has been shot down in Chinatown because getting too close to the operations of the racketeer and people-smuggler Carney, aka The Illustrious One.

Carney has decided to hire recently escaped con Gallagher as resident hitman; the FBI, having recaptured Gallagher, opts to exploit the chance resemblance between him and their agent Ralph Dickson (Withers) to infiltrate the latter into Carney’s gang; what the FBI doesn’t know is that Carney’s not a grizzled male gangster but an attractive young Chinese woman (Brent).

Daughter of the Tong (1939) - Evelyn Brent as Carney, The Illustrious One -- look Real Chinese, yep

               Evelyn Brent as Carney, The Illustrious One — and looking so very Chinese.

En route to Carney’s HQ, Dickson meets Marion Morgan (Short), whose importer/exporter brother Jerry (O’Brien) was working with Carney until he realized Carney was using him as a front for her smuggling and human-trafficking business; Jerry’s in the process of discovering that the only way Carney allows people to resign is feet-first. Luckily for Dickson, whose infiltration attempt is very soon abortive, the organization already has an FBI mole, Lefty Macmillan (Buster, making the most of a small part). After a passel of extraordinarily poorly choreographed fistfights, the good guys prevail and Dickson pairs up with Marion, who heretofore has been primarily cute, spunky and, well, stupid.

This is a very bad but likeable movie. Carney is supposed to be Chinese, but there’s no attempt to make Brent look or seem oriental except to drape her in a wig that’s strongly reminiscent of the one Robert Wagner would later famously wear in Prince Valiant (1954). Among many plot hiccups the most noticeable is probably when Dickson manages to get a gun-toting, suspicious Carney out of the room by telling her that an incoming phonecall is “private business”; how mannerly these gangsters are.

Loo, who here plays Wong, the gang’s frontman in the hotel it uses as HQ and also its specialist torturer, had a long career playing similarly stereotyped parts; he’s perhaps best known as Hai Fat (geddit?) in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Harvey plays Carney’s dimwit goon Harold “Mugsy” Winthrop; there’s a moment of humor at the end when Dickson explains that, for Mugsy, “FBI” means “Free Board Indefinitely”.

On Amazon.com: Daughter Of The Tong

Criminals Within (1943)

US / 67 minutes / bw / PRC Dir: Joseph Lewis (i.e., Joseph H. Lewis) Pr: E.B. Derr Scr: Edward Bennett Story: Arthur Hoerl Cine: Arthur Martinelli Cast: Eric Linden, Ben Alexander, Don Curtis, Ann Doran, Constance Worth, Dudley Dickerson, Bernice Pilot, I. Stanford Jolley, George Lynn, Robert Frazer, Boyd Irwin, Dennis Moore.

Professor Carroll (Lynn) is one of a number of scientists working on a new high explosive for Military Intelligence. When he’s murdered, attention turns to his brother Greg (Linden), a trickster corporal at Army base Camp Madison. The base appears to be riddled with spies, among them Alma Barton (Worth), who runs the commissary and who sneaks messages out to Fifth Columnists via crooked cobbler Carl Flegler (Jolley) in the trick heel of one of her shoes. (Although it’s nowhere stated which country the spies work for, by implication they’re Nazis.)

A list of the names and addresses of the scientists who’ve been working on the explosive goes missing from the office of Captain Bryant (Frazer), and Greg’s put in the guardhouse on suspicion of having stolen it; he breaks out and, when Bryant’s found dead, it’s assumed Greg’s the killer. With the help of his good buddy Sergeant Paul (Alexander), Greg escapes the base, finds Alma murdered, hooks up with reporter Linda (Doran), exposes the nest of vipers, dodges death and bullets, and discovers his “good buddy” isn’t everything he seems.

Director Lewis would of course go on to helm some of noir’s classics, like MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945), GUN CRAZY 1949), CRY OF THE HUNTED (1953) and The BIG COMBO (1955). This is a barebones production with a clumsy script and some mediocre acting, and it seems Lewis’s heart wasn’t really in it (there have even been suggestions that, despite the screen credit, he did not in fact direct it — that it was a different Joseph Lewis). Dickerson and Pilot play, respectively, Camp Madison’s gofer Sam Dillingham and Linda’s housemaid Mamie, Sam’s girlfriend; in the offensive stereotyping Hollywood then thought was comical, they’re portrayed as simple-minded but good-hearted buffoons. Linden’s fairly good and Doran turns in a highly appealing performance, while Worth’s sizzle is timeless. In one odd scripting moment, Linda refers to Greg as “about six feet tall” when it’s perfectly obvious to all that Greg/Linden is actually quite slight.

The movie was made in 1941 but held back for two years, presumably—as with a few others of its era—for fear of offending any Nazi sympathizers in the audience.

On Amazon.com: Criminals Within

Caller, The (1987)

US / 97 minutes / color / Empire Dir: Arthur Allan Seidelman Pr: Frank Yablans Scr: Michael Sloane Cine: Daniele Nannuzzi Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Madolyn Smith.

A woman (Smith) who lives alone in the forest senses she’s been followed home by a stalker, and sure enough that evening a caller (McDowell) knocks on her door claiming his car has broken down nearby and asking to use the phone. The two start engaging in verbal games, it being revealed in their sparring that each knows rather too much about the other for them to be merely casual strangers. Over the next couple of days the caller invades her life to a greater and greater extent, questioning her about her dead husband and her missing lover and daughter Alison. Is she perhaps a multiple murderer? Or is he the murderer, preying upon the suggestibility of a pitifully lonely woman?

For the most part this reads like a borderline noirish psychological thriller along the lines of, for example, DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (1994) and Una PURA FORMALITA (1994), with a dash of Twilight Zone thrown in. It’s a surprise to discover this is not in fact based on a stage play, because it’s all done in a very stagebound style, that impression being strengthened by the fact that this is quite literally a two-hander: no one appears aside from the two principals. The sciencefictional denouement feels like a copout, even though the screenplay has played perfectly fair with us.

A year or so after this movie was made and a year or so before it finally saw its (DTV) release (it had a couple of festival screenings, including at Cannes, but no theatrical distribution), Smith married hockey player Mark Osborne, being thereafter billed—on her relatively few further appearances—as Madolyn Smith Osborne.

On Amazon.com: The Caller