For the Defense (1930)

|
“Ten o’clock? What do you think I am—a milkman?”
|

US / 63 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: John Cromwell Scr: Oliver H.P. Garrett Story: Charles Furthmann Cine: Charles Lang Cast: William Powell, Kay Francis, Scott Kolk, William B. Davidson, Thomas E. Jackson, Harry Walker, James Finlayson, Charles West, Bertram Marburgh, Ernie Adams, John Elliott, Syd Saylor, Billy Bevan.

So successful is New York City defense attorney William B. “Bill” Foster (Powell) at getting his clients off, by fair means or foul—usually foul—that the DA, Herbert L. Stone (Davidson), is moved to describe him to the Bar Association as the greatest single threat to the city’s law enforcement. A cop named Daly (Jackson) has made it his life’s work to catch Bill perverting the course of justice and put him behind bars.

Daly (Thomas E. Jackson) on the trail.

We see Bill’s technique in action early in the movie when, defending palpably guilty Eddie Withers (Adams), he throws to the floor the key piece of the state’s evidence, a bottle supposedly containing Continue reading

Advertisements

Dangerous Afternoon (1961)

UK / 59 minutes / bw / Theatrecraft, British Lion Dir: Charles Saunders Pr: Guido Coen Scr: Brandon Fleming Story: Dangerous Afternoon (1951 play) by Gerald Anstruther Cine: Geoffrey Faithfull Cast: Ruth Dunning, Nora Nicholson, Joanna Dunham, Howard Pays, Gladys Henson, Ian Colin, Jerold Wells, May Hallatt, Gwenda Wilson, Elizabeth Begley, Barbara Everest, Jackie Noble, Deirdre Clarke, James Raglan, Edna Morris, Richard McNeff, Jan Miller, Frank Sieman, Keith Smith, Max Brimmell, Trevor Reid, Frank Hawkins, Barry Wilsher.

Irma Randall used to be one of the most audacious jewel thieves in the country until she was caught and jailed. In making a prison escape she fell and broke her back, and now she’s recreated herself as the wheelchair-bound, ultra-genteel Miss Letitia “Letty” Frost (Dunning), owner of Primrose Lodge, a residential home for elderly ladies—in fact, her criminal pals who’ve retired from the profession.

Letty Frost (Ruth Dunning).

Louisa Sprule (Nora Nicholson).

Well, they have in theory, anyway. Sweet old Mrs. Louisa Sprule (Nicholson) is unable to break herself of the habit of petty shoplifting; Mrs. Judson (Everest) has difficulty letting a pocket go by unpicked; Miss Burge (Hallatt) compulsively Continue reading

Common Law Wife (1963)

US / 76 minutes / bw / Texas Film Producers, Cinema Distributors of America Dir: Eric Sayers, Larry Buchanan (uncredited) Pr: Fred A. Kadane Scr: Grace Nolen Cast: Anne MacAdams (i.e., Annabelle Weenick), George Edgely, Max Anderson, Lacey Kelly, Bert Masters, Libby Booth, Norman Smith, Dale Berry.

Sometime in the early 1960s, schlockmeister Larry Buchanan got halfway through an exploitation movie called Swamp Rose when, for one reason or another (perhaps someone spent the project’s budget on a busfare), he had to abandon it. A while later, director Eric Sayers was hired to cobble together Buchanan’s existing footage with newly shot material and make of the result what he could. That result was the assemblage of continuity errors released as Common Law Wife.

A major problem that Sayers had was that he couldn’t obtain the services of all the same actors Buchanan had used. In most instances the resemblance is close enough that you’re not really aware of the difference. What makes the movie truly confusing, though, is that the two actresses playing the central femme fatale, Jonelle, look nothing like each other—not only that, but they don’t walk the same, they have starkly contrasting Continue reading

Laguna (2001)

|
What will you do for “family”?
|

vt Segreti di Famiglia; vt Hotel Laguna; vt Vendetta
UK, Italy, France / 92 minutes / color / Metropolitan, Davis, Caimano, ReteItalia, FDC (Laguna) Dir: Dennis Berry Pr: Augusto Caminito, Samuel Hadida, Alan Latham Scr: Augusto Caminito, Claude Harz, David Linter Story: Augusto Caminito Cine: Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli Cast: Joe Mantegna, Emmanuelle Seigner, Sergio Castellitto, Henry Cavill, Daniela Alviani, Charles Aznavour, Davide Bozzato, Sam Douglas, Gustavo Frigerio, Francesco Fichera, Paolo Paoloni, Karin Proia, Terry Serpico.

Many years ago, when Thomas Aprea (Fichera) was just a child, his father Terenzio (Serpico) was the saxophonist in a musical trio with singer Nicola “Nico” Pianon (Mantegna) and violinist Joe Sollazzo (Castellitto). As we discover much later in the movie, Terenzio soon decided to supplement his musical income by working as a bagman for mobster Tony Castellano (Aznavour)—so-named in the credits but throughout called Tony Castell.

Terry Serpico as Terenzio

Sergio Castellitto as Joe.

Unfortunately, Terenzio then decided to supplement his musical income yet further by skimming a bit off the top. The result was that one day Terenzio’s car blew up, killing Terenzio, his wife and Thomas’s two siblings—Thomas himself escaped solely because he’d run back into the house to fetch a forgotten present. Since then, “Uncle” Joe Sollazzo has raised the boy on his own in New York City, even putting him through college.

Joe Mantegna as Nico.

Now that Thomas (Cavill) has graduated, Joe sends him off to Venice, to be Continue reading

Into the Night (1955 TVM)

|
Jacques Tourneur directs a taut little noirish thriller!
|

US / 26 minutes / bw / Revue, MCA, CBS Dir: Jacques Tourneur Pr: Leon Gordon Scr: Mel Dinelli Story: Charles Hoffman Cine: Ellsworth Fredricks (i.e., Ellsworth Fredericks) Cast: Eddie Albert, Ruth Roman, Dane Clark, Robert Armstrong, Jeanne Bates, Wallis Clark, Bill Fawcett, Nora Marlowe, Larry Blake, Bob Bice, Jerry Mathers.

An episode of the CBS drama series General Electric Theater (season 3, episode 32, for the benefit of completists), this Jacques Tourneur-directed outing manages to pack all the plot, characterization and suspense of an upper-drawer B-feature into half or less of the typical running time.

Helen Mattson (Roman) and husband Paul (Albert) are going away for a weekend’s vacation in Palm Springs, leaving Continue reading

Telling Lies (2008)

|
Tricks of the mind . . . and a schoolgirl accused of murder!
|

UK / 81 minutes / color / Metro, Media One Global Entertainment, Motion Picture Partners Dir: Antara Bhardwaj Pr: Sunanda Murali Manohar Scr: Carl Austin, Mike Kramer Story: Carl Austin Cine: Ravi Yadav Cast: Melanie Brown, Jenna Harrison, Kelly Stables, Jason Flemyng, Algina Lipskis, Richard Fry, Matt D’Angelo, Carmen Du Sautoy, Claire Amias, Jane McDowell, Helen Worsley, Bethany Hague, Chloe Rose-Thomas, Lee “Dags” Alliston, Spud Murphy, Mary Mitchell, Genevive Swallow, Mike Mungarden, Kristian Wilkin, Susan Scott, Sarita Sabharwal.

Faith Munro (Harrison) has returned to her posh school, St. Matthew’s, after a period of compassionate leave following the death by carbon monoxide poisoning of her alcoholic mother Diana (McDowell). The girl’s having difficulty fitting back in; matters aren’t helped by the discovery that, during her absence, her boyfriend Derek Ellis (D’Angelo) has ditched her in favor of classmate Portia Samuels (Lipskis), who seems to revel in rubbing Faith’s nose in the reality of her changed status.

Portia (Algina Lipskis) and Derek (Matt D’Angelo) are very public about their new relationship.

Matters aren’t great at home, either. Her father, Jack (Flemyng, in a distinctly one-note portrayal), is a prominent defense lawyer who Continue reading

Crack-Up (1936)

|
Peter Lorre and Brian Donlevy, top secret plans and espionage!
|

US / 71 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Malcolm St. Clair Scr: Charles Kenyon, Sam Mintz Story: John Goodrich Cine: Barney McGill Cast: Peter Lorre, Brian Donlevy, Helen Wood, Ralph Morgan, Thomas Beck, Kay Linaker, Lester Matthews, Earle Foxe, J. Carroll Naish (i.e., J. Carrol Naish), Gloria Roy, Oscar Apfel, Paul Stanton, Howard Hickman, Robert Homans, Sam Hayes.

An odd little pre-war espionage movie whose downbeat ending and occasional callousness toward human life—plus the presence of Lorre—give it something of a noirish credential.

The Fleming–Grant aircraft factory, owned by mainspring John P. Fleming (Morgan) and his partner Sidney Grant (Matthews), has completed construction of a new plane, the Wild Goose, which has the extraordinary ability to transport a consignment of passengers across the Atlantic. (This was, you’ll remember, 1936.) Fleming plans to take it on its maiden flight from the US East Coast to Berlin, with pilot Ace Martin (Donlevy) and mechanic Joe Randall (Beck). The naming ceremony, emceed by broadcaster Sam Hayes (himself) and with Fleming’s wife, Lois (Linaker), doing the stuff with the bottle of bubbly, is attended also by Continue reading

Night of Evil (1962)

|
A moron’s act of violence initiates a years-long cycle of tragedy!
|

US / 83 minutes / bw / Galbreath, Astor, Sutton Dir & Pr: Richard Galbreath Scr: Louis Perino Story: Lou Perry (i.e., Louis Perino) Cine: David Holmes Cast: Lisa Gaye, William Campbell, Lynn Bernay (i.e., Lynette Bernay), Burtt Harris, Sammy Mannis, Earl Wilson, Remo Pisani, George Diestel, Don De Leo, Joe Garri, Patricia Dahling, Eric Anthony Pregent, Gary Gage, Carlton Kadell, Maurice Copeland, Barbara Bricker, David Dunstone.

A Z-movie that punches very far above its weight in most respects, this somehow transcends its hackneyed trope of a young woman spiralling inexorably downward into degradation.

Its introduction doesn’t inspire much confidence that this might be the case, consisting as it does of the cliché of a po-faced narrator (Wilson) telling us earnestly that the movie’s contents are, despite the promises of sensationalism that lured us into the cinema, both serious and high-minded:

The picture you are about to witness is based on newspaper and court records. It is a true story. To protect the innocent, some of the names, places and incidents have been changed.

It all began in the fall of 1957 . . .

Dixie Ann Dikes (Gaye), approaching 17 and living with foster parents Cora and Edgar Watkins (both uncredited), has a nice young boyfriend in Kent Fitzroy (uncredited).

Lisa Gaye as Dixie.

However, football jock Johnny (Harris) believes that, as the star of their high school team, he’s entitled to first dibs on the pretty girls. Continue reading

Trent’s Last Case (1952)

|
Orson Welles, Margaret Lockwood and Kenneth Williams amid a glittering cast!
|

UK / 86 minutes / bw / Imperadio, Republic Dir & Pr: Herbert Wilcox Scr: Pamela Bower Story: Trent’s Last Case (1913) by E.C. Bentley Cine: Max Greene Cast: Michael Wilding, Margaret Lockwood, Orson Welles, John McCallum, Miles Malleson, Hugh McDermott, Jack McNaughton, Sam Kydd, Kenneth Williams, Henry Edwards, Ben Williams, PLUS

  • Eileen Joyce
  • Anthony Collins
  • and members of the London Symphony Orchestra

This is the third of the four (to date) screen adaptations of Bentley’s supposedly subversive mystery novel. The other three have been:

  • Trent’s Last Case (1920) dir Richard Garrick, with Gregory Scott, Pauline Peters, Clive Brook and George Foley (silent)
  • Trent’s Last Case (1929) dir Howard Hawks, with Raymond Griffith, Marceline Day, Lawrence Gray and Donald Crisp (silent)
  • Trent’s Last Case (1964 TVM) dir Peter Duguid, with Michael Gwynn, Kenneth Fortescue and Peter Williams

. . . and I’m sure my true love would spifflicate me if I didn’t mention the unrelated (beyond the title)

  • Trenchard’s Last Case (1989 TV) dir Mike Barnes, an episode of the Bergerac TV series (1981–91) starring apparently droolworthy screen idol (there’s no accounting for taste) John Nettles

Philip Trent (Wilding) is a monied artist and amateur sleuth. In the past, the editor (uncredited) of the Daily Record has commissioned from him dispatches written while he’s been investigating his most sensational murder cases, and what could be more sensational than the murder of ruthless international financier Sigsbee Manderson (Welles) in the grounds of his stately Hampshire pied à terre, White Gables?

Or was it murder? So many of the circumstantial details point to suicide.

The dead man’s widow Margaret (Margaret Lockwood) gives evidence to the coroner’s court . . .

. . . where Philip sketches John . . .

. . . and gardener Horace Evans (Kenneth Williams) also gives evidence.

Philip reaches White Gables the day after Manderson’s body has been discovered by the subgardener, Horace Evans (an almost unrecognizably young Williams), and, with the help of the widowed Mrs. Manderson’s uncle, Burton Cupples (Malleson), talks his way into the house, where he discovers his old pal and rival, Inspector Murch (Kydd), heading the Continue reading

She Devil (1957)

|
The fruitfly serum transforms her into a femme fatale!
|

US / 78 minutes / bw / Regal, TCF Dir & Pr: Kurt Neumann Scr: Carroll Young, Kurt Neumann Story: “The Adaptive Ultimate” (1935 Astounding) by John Jessel (i.e., Stanley G. Weinbaum) Cine: Karl Struss Cast: Mari Blanchard, Jack Kelly, Albert Dekker, John Archer, Fay Baker, Blossom Rock (i.e., Marie Blake), Paul Cavanagh, Helen Jay.

Dr. Richard Bach (Dekker)—who appears to be both a brilliant surgeon and president of Grand Mercy Hospital—arrives home from a foreign business trip to discover that his protege, close friend and housemate, medical researcher Dr. Dan Scott (Kelly), has developed a new serum, one that in animal tests has effected miraculous cures for what should have been terminal illnesses/injuries.

Hannah Blossom Rock (i.e., Marie Blake) welcomes Richard (Albert Dekker) home.

The theoretical underpinning of Dan’s work could be regarded as a sort of bastard offspring of various pseudo-Lamarckian theories of evolution:

Dan: “. . . the new research I mentioned before you left. It’s a project designed to prove that the cure of any disease or injury is essentially a product of adaptation.”
Richard: “Oh, yes. You were proceeding on the theory that all living organisms possess the ability, in more or less degree, to heal themselves.”
Dan: “By adapting themselves to any harmful change in their environment. A lizard, for example, will shed an injured tail—grow a new one. A chameleon will change its color for self-protection.”
Richard: “And you hope to develop a cure-all serum from insects, since they are the most adaptive of all living organisms?”
Dan: “Exactly. So I have developed a serum from the most highly evolved and most adaptive of all insects—the fruitfly. It’s the one insect that’s known to produce a higher percentage of mutants—or changelings—than any other.”

A fruitfly (uncredited).

Incidentally, that sentence of Dan’s—“It’s a project designed to prove that the cure of any disease or injury is essentially a product of adaptation”—contains multiple misunderstandings of the way that science works. First, unlike mathematics, science doesn’t deal in proofs. Second, any project that decides its desired result from the outset is profoundly unscientific, for reasons enlarged upon in my book Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology and Politics in Science (2007; new, revised and vastly expanded edition expected *koff koff plug plug* in March/April 2018 from See Sharp Press).

Dan (Jack Kelly) explains his breakthrough to Richard (Albert Dekker).

Likewise, fruitflies are not at all “the most highly evolved of all insects” (it’s precisely because they’re so rudimentary that insecticides are so ineffective against them) and I don’t think it’s the case that they’re especially adaptive: it’s just that individuals have short lifespans and thus there are more generations within any particular period of time; more generations per (say) month means more mutations per month, making fruitflies a good experimental subject for students of heredity.

But I digress.

Returning to the plot: As noted, Dan’s experiments on animals have been highly successful, the only oddity being that the leopard he cured has now turned black. He’s keen to experiment on a human subject. Despite initial concerns about the ethics, Richard agrees to set him up with a patient who, while facing imminent, inescapable death, is yet compos mentis enough to give consent to the experiment.

Kyra (Mari Blanchard) was on the brink of death . . .

. . .  but now look at her!

That patient proves to be Kyra Zelas (Blanchard), at death’s door because of tuberculosis. Within hours she’s not just cured but Continue reading