Behind the Mask (1932)

US / 68 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: John Francis Dillon Pr: Harry Cohn Scr: Jo Swerling, Dorothy Howell Story: “In the Secret Service” (unpublished) by Jo Swerling Cine: Teddy Tetzlaff Cast: Jack Holt, Constance Cummings, Boris Karloff, Claude King, Bertha Mann, Edward Van Sloan, Willard Robertson, Tommy Jackson.

A few weeks ago I posted here about the 1946 movie Behind the Mask, which is one of the dire Monogram series featuring the pulps character The Shadow. I thought it might be interesting to check out its 1932 namesake, especially since it doesn’t feature The Shadow (although the arch-villain is at one point referred to as “a phantom, a shadow”!). My interest was further piqued when I was reminded that the cast includes Constance Cummings and Boris Karloff.

Jack Holt as ‘Quinn’ (left) and Boris Karloff as Henderson

The initial premise is familiar to anyone who watches too many old crime movies. A Secret Service agent, Jack Hart (Holt), is incarcerated in Sing Sing under a nom de guerre, Quinn, in order to ingratiate himself with another prisoner, Jim Henderson (Karloff), who’s known to be part of a major drug-running ring. The ruse works: Henderson is keen the two work together after their release and, when Quinn proposes to bust out of jail on his own, gives him an address where he’ll be “looked after.”

Constance Cummings as Julie

So Quinn fakes a breakout and a police chase, and ends up at a house occupied by senior gang member Arnold (King) and Arnold’s unwitting daughter Julie (Cummings), plus a housekeeper/nurse placed there by the gang’s mysterious leader to spy on them, Edwards (Mann). Continue reading

Channel Crossing (1933)

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Fog in the Channel, and a plutocrat’s nightmare!

UK / 66 minutes / bw / Gaumont–British Dir: Milton Rosmer Scr: W.P. Lipscomb, C. Campion Story: W.P. Lipscomb Cine: Philip Tannura Cast: Matheson Lang, Constance Cummings, Anthony Bushell, Dorothy Dickson, Nigel Bruce, Edmund Gwenn, Douglas Jefferies, H.G. Stoker, Max Miller, Viola Lyel, Clare Greet, Ellen Pollock, Mignon O’Doherty, George Ridgwell, Gerald Barry, Stanley Vilven, Hay Plumb, Cyril Smith, Elizabeth Corcoran, Elizabeth Jenns, Rodney Millington, Bernard Miles, Michael Wilding.

Channel Crossing - closer

International magnate and philanthropist Jacob Van Eeden (Lang) needs to get to Paris in a hurry to secure his latest merger deal. There’s fog over the English Channel so all flights are grounded; instead he must take the Dover–Calais ferry. So he and secretary Marion Slade (Cummings) board the good ship Canterbury and set out for the continong.

Channel Crossing - 1 Marion Slade

Constance Cummings as loyal secretary Marion Slade.

Marion is pursued aboard by her fiancé, shipping clerk Peter Bradley (Bushell). He’s convinced she’s in a carnal relationship with Continue reading

Seven Sinners (1936)

vt Doomed Cargo
UK / 69 minutes / bw / Gaumont–British Dir: Albert de Courville Scr: Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder, L. du Garde Peach, Austin Melford Story: The Wrecker (1924 play) by Arnold Ridley and Bernard Merivale Cine: M. Greenbaum Cast: Edmund Lowe, Constance Cummings, Thomy Bourdelle, Henry Oscar, Felix Aylmer, Joyce Kennedy, O.B. Clarence, Mark Lester, Allan Jeayes, Anthony Holles, David Horne, Edwin Laurence, James Harcourt.

Seven Sinners 1936 - 0 opener

An entertaining comedy thriller in the same spirit as Hitchcock’s The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935), complete with a couple thrown together at the outset who spend proceedings bickering and bantering until, inevitably, they finally declare undying love. There’s even a shootout in a theater at the end, although in this instance it’s in a cinema rather than a music hall. During that shootout the audience are watching a supposed Gaumont newsreel (akin to the Pathé newsreels and Pathé Pictorials) recounting many of the events of the plot; Seven Sinners begins in a similar vein, almost in the style of a Pathé Pictorial, headlined CARNIVAL AT NICE.

American PI Edward “Ed” Harwood (Lowe) of the Tankerton agency is playing hooky in Nice at the time of the Carnival when he should be in Scotland helping Caryl Fenton of the Worldwide Insurance Co. of New York to sort out a case there. Dressed as the Devil, in keeping with the carnival spirit, Ed gets loaded and consequently Continue reading

Silent Passenger, The (1935)

UK / 63 minutes (but see below) / bw / Phoenix, Associated British Dir: Reginald Denham Pr: Hugh Perceval Scr: Basil Mason Story: Dorothy L. Sayers Cine: Jan Stallich Cast: John Loder, Peter Haddon, Mary Newland (i.e., Lilian Oldland), Austin Trevor, Aubrey Mather, Donald Wolfit, Leslie Perrins, Ralph Truman, Gordon McLeod, Ann Codrington, Dorice Fordred, Annie Esmond, George de Warfaz, Vincent Holman.

A relatively early screen example of the inverted mystery story ‑‑ wherein, rather than try to puzzle out whodunnit, we know the truth from the outset and watch as the detective deduces what we already know ‑‑ this was Lord Peter Wimsey’s first screen outing. Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote the original story upon which it was based, apparently hated it both because of what she felt was a travesty of an adaptation and because her darling Lord Peter was portrayed as an aristocrat of very considerable vacuity. In this latter complaint she was in one respect absolutely correct ‑‑ the movie was obviously designed to be a vehicle for Haddon, whose specialty was effete, upper-class, seemingly perpetually squiffy twits, like Guy Bannister in Death at Broadcasting House (1934) ‑‑ but in another she was either being duplicitous or blinding herself to the true nature of her creation. At least in the early novels, Wimsey is depicted as, whatever his true intellectual abilities, an outwardly vacuous Bertie Wooster-like buffoon, and that’s more or less how he’s been characterized on screen ever since.

And let’s not forget that at one point toward the end a character says: “You know, I don’t think Lord Peter’s quite such a fool as he looks.”

Maurice Windermere (Perrins), a professional blackmailer, has persuaded married Mollie Ryder (Newland) to run away with him to the Continent. However, while they’re waiting in London at the station hotel to catch the boat train that’ll take them to the cross-Channel ferry, she has second thoughts. He forces her to continue with the scheme by holding over her head some compromising letters she was foolish enough to send to him. He then goes up to his room ‑‑ Room 9 ‑‑ to finalize the packing.

Silent Passenger - 1 Mollie, 'You have to give me those letters back'

Mollie Ryder (Mary Newland/Lilian Oldland) tells her blackmailer, “You have to give me those letters back!”

Wimsey (Haddon) is planning to be on that train too. While he’s chatting up the desk clerk (Codrington) he notices a porter carrying a Continue reading