Bad Company (1931)

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A psycho mobster falls for his sidekick’s wife, with lethal consequences!
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US / 76 minutes / bw / RKO Pathé Dir: Tay Garnett Pr: Charles R. Rogers Scr: Tom Buckingham, Tay Garnett Story: Put on the Spot (1930) by Jack Lait Cine: Arthur Miller Cast: Helen Twelvetrees, Ricardo Cortez, John Garrick, Paul Hurst, Frank Conroy, Harry Carey, Frank McHugh, Kenneth Thomson, Arthur Stone, Emma Dunn, William V. Mong, Edgar Kennedy, Robert Keith.

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It has been claimed that this is the first movie to feature what would later become an iconic cinematic figure in such movies as WHITE HEAT (1949): the psycho gang boss. That boss is played here by Ricardo Cortez, an actor whom one might have assumed to be too bland, too suave, for the role, but in fact he renders it excellently.

Helen King (Twelvetrees) is in love with Steve Carlyle (Garrick), and when he proposes to her aboard the Dalton—the yacht belonging to her brother Markham “Mark” King (Conroy)—she says “Yes!” with all her heart. What she doesn’t know and won’t learn until very much later is that Steve is the protégé of mob leader Goldie Gorio (Cortez). What Steve doesn’t yet know is that King is in actuality the mysterious “Mr. Davis,” the mob boss who has control of the city’s West Side—the East Side is Gorio’s—and that the two bosses have been covertly maneuvering the lovers toward each other:

King: “In the old days, when two powers were at war, the daughter of one royal family was given in marriage to the son of the other. The result was permanent peace.”
Gorio: “So, besides getting the dame you want, Goldie Gorio and, uh, King gets themselves a setup with no interference, hijacking or rough stuff.”
Steve: “That’s great.” [to King] “And you’re willing to hold still for your own sister marrying a hoodlum that’s liable to ‘get his’ any minute?”

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Goldie Gorio (Ricardo Cortez) is full of faux charm.

Steve wants out, so that he and Helen can live a normal life together, but that’s not an option:

Gorio:You’re getting out? There’s only one way out, and you’re too young and beautiful to Continue reading

HALLOWEEN DOUBLE BILL: Who Killed Aunt Maggie? (1940) and The Girl who Dared (1944)

These two Old Dark House melodramas were based on novels by Medora Field, a novelist of whom I knew nothing until recently, when Curtis Evans of The Passing Tramp posted an essay about her. She was a friend of Margaret Mitchell (who encouraged her to write) and produced just the two novels. Before the end of this year (2014) the two are to be reissued as a double volume by Coachwhip, with an introduction by Evans. For more, see his piece at The Passing Tramp.

UPDATE: Evans has just announced that the two novels are now indeed back in print — as individual volumes, it appears, rather than a double volume. Go check out the covers and other details Right Now.

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Who Killed Aunt Maggie? (1940)

US / 70(?) minutes / bw / Republic Dir: Arthur Lubin Scr: Stuart Palmer, Frank Gill Jr, Hal Fimberg Story: Who Killed Aunt Maggie? (1939) by Medora Field Cine: Reggie Lanning Cast: John Hubbard, Wendy Barrie, Edgar Kennedy, Elizabeth Patterson, Onslow Stevens, Joyce Compton, Walter Abel, Mona Barrie, Willie Best, Daisy Lee Mothershed, Milton Parsons.

Kirk Pierce (Hubbard) runs a company that produces radio shows for advertisers to endorse. The latest demo he’s listening to is The House with the Secret Room by Sally Ambler (Wendy Barrie), and Continue reading

Black Doll, The (1938)

US / 66 minutes / bw / Universal Dir: Otis Garrett Pr: Irving Starr Scr: Harold Buckley Story: The Black Doll (1936) by William Edward Hayes Cine: Stanley Cortez, Ira Morgan Cast: Donald Woods, Nan Grey, Edgar Kennedy, C. Henry Gordon, Doris Lloyd, John Wray, Addison Richards, Holmes Herbert, William Lundigan, Fred Malatesta, Inez Palange.

One of a series of B-movies—a “Crime Club Selection”, according to the opening credits—explicitly linked to the Crime Club imprint of the book publisher Doubleday.

Years ago Nelson Rood (Gordon), now living in seclusion, murdered his business partner Knox Barrows for the sake of the latter’s share in a mine, not to mention the latter’s wife and young daughter Marian (Grey), who has grown up believing Rood is her father. The only people to know about Rood’s crime are his other former business partners Walling (Wray) and A.H. Mallison (Richards).

When Rood finds on his desk a child’s black doll stabbed through the heart, he recognizes it as both a death threat and a specific reference to the mine. He summons Walling and Mallison to the house in order to thrash things out, but almost immediately he’s murdered. Luckily Marian’s new boyfriend Nick Halstead (Woods) is a PI. His efforts to solve the case, as suspects proliferate and the bodies mount up, are hampered by the bumbling efforts of Sheriff Renick (Kennedy) and his dimwit deputies.

The first 24 minutes or so of the movie are fine, with a few genuinely sinister moments—notably Marian’s encounter with a masked figure as she flees through a thunderstorm to try to find Nick after having witnessed the murder—but then Kennedy arrives on the scene as the buffoon Renick, and his clowning, which takes center stage most of the time thereafter, entirely destroys the movie: what was set to be a neat little filler becomes instead a mess that’s wearisome to endure.

In 1950 the very lovely Grey took as her second husband the singer Frankie Laine; they remained married until her death in 1993.

 

On Amazon.com: The Black Doll (1938)