A Woman’s Vengeance (1948)

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Beware of stormy weather!
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US / 96 minutes / bw / Universal–International Dir & Pr: Zoltan Korda Scr: Aldous Huxley Story: “The Gioconda Smile” (1921 in Mortal Coils) by Aldous Huxley Cine: Russell Metty Cast: Charles Boyer, Ann Blyth, Jessica Tandy, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Mildred Natwick, Cecil Humphreys, Hugh French, Rachel Kempson, Valerie Cardew, Carl Harbord, John Williams, Leland Hodgson, Ola Lorraine, Harry Cording.

Perhaps surprisingly, bearing in mind the authorship of its screenplay—and bearing in mind its dialogue’s predilection for wandering off into little philosophical digressions—this is a movie where it’s probably best to leave one’s brain at the door. Experienced in the moment, so to speak, it’s hugely impressive, with some sterling performances, dramatic visuals and moments of great emotional power, all underscored (if you’ll pardon the pun) by a typically tidal orchestral soundtrack by Miklos Rosza. Yet, under the most perfunctory analysis, parts of it don’t really make sense and/or are quite clumsy.

Ann Blyth as Doris Mead.

There’s a strong suspicion at large that bon vivant and art connoisseur Henry Maurier (Boyer) married his wife Emily (Kempson) solely for her fortune. It’s a suspicion that the man’s own behavior doesn’t support, even though it appears he has a habit of pursuing other women and is currently enmeshed in a longstanding affair with Doris Mead (Blyth), a mere slip of a girl who—she’s just 18—could easily be his daughter, or even granddaughter.

Charles Boyer as Henry Maurier.

The one woman at whom he seems never to have made a pass is, perhaps surprisingly, Janet Spence (Tandy), whom Henry took under his wing when Continue reading

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The Strange Mrs. Crane (1948)

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You can’t leave your past behind!
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vt Beyond Reasonable Doubt; vt Guilty Woman
US / 62 minutes / bw / John Sutherland Productions, Pathe, Eagle–Lion Dir: Sherman Scott (i.e., Sam Newfield) Pr: John Sutherland Scr: Al Martin Story: Frank Burt, Robert Libott Cine: Jack Greenhalgh Cast: Marjorie Lord, Robert Shayne, Pierre Watkin, James Seay, Ruthe Brady, Claire Whitney, Mary Gordon, Chester Clute, Dorothy Granger, Charles Williams, Emmett Vogan.

A cracker of a minor film noir that seems to have passed under just about everybody’s radar—mine included, until now.

Jenny Hadley (Lord) used to be in partnership with Floyd Durant (Shayne) in a blackmailing racket: she’d get into compromising positions with married men (like Comstock in Chicago who “fell so hard for her he wouldn’t even go to the police”) while Floyd did the rest. As you’d expect, it wasn’t just in their extortioning game that Jenny and Floyd were partnered.

Marjorie Lord as the very respectable Mrs. Crane . . . but in reality
a femme fatale.

Now, though, Jenny has left her life of crime—and Floyd—behind, and has become ultra-respectable Mrs. Gina Crane, wife of the much older lawyer Clinton Crane (Watkin), who’s the pundits’ favorite to triumph in the upcoming state gubernatorial race.

When Clinton wins his primary, Gina (as we’ll call her for convenience) reminds him of his promise to Continue reading

After Dark (1933)

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Cattermole-Brompton by name, Cattermole-Brompton by nature!
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UK / 44 minutes / bw / Fox British Pictures Dir & Pr: Albert Parker Scr: R.J. Davis, J. Jefferson Farjeon Story: After Dark (1932 play) by J. Jefferson Farjeon Cine: Geoffrey Faithfull Cast: Horace Hodges, Hugh Williams, George Barraud, Ian Fleming, Gretha Hansen, Henry Oscar, Pollie Emery, Arthur Padbury.

The name that stands out in the credits of this short feature, aside from that of the versatile cinematographer, is J. Jefferson Farjeon, the prolific Golden Age crime novelist and playwright who returned to the limelight in 2014 when the British Library reissue of his 1937 novel Mystery in White became a surprise Christmas bestseller. Continue reading

Fièvre (1921)

France / 43 minutes / bw silent / Alhambra, Jupiter Dir & Scr: Louis Delluc Cine: Alphonse Gibory, Georges Lucas Cast: Eve Francis, Gaston Modot, Solange Rugiens, Léon Moussinac, Edmond Van Daële, Elena Sagrary, Gine Avril, Yvonne Aurel, George Footit, A.F. Brunelle, L.V. de Malte, Lili Samuel, Gastao Roxo, Marcelle Delville, Barral, Varoquet, Jacqueline Chaumont, Siska, Jeanne Cadix, Vintiane, Bole, W. de Bouchgard, Bayle, Noémi Scize.

In a Marseille harbor bar, the regular topers tope while being served at their tables by landlord Topinelli (Modot) and his wife Sarah (Francis), who seems not impartial to a drop or two herself; clearly Sarah is acclimatized to the life she leads rather than content with it. She reminisces to an attractive young customer at the bar (Avril) about the romantic interlude she enjoyed long ago—shown in flashback—with a handsome sailor.

Sarah (Eve Francis) enjoys a tipple.

A ship comes in, and a bunch of its crew arrive at the bar, a leading member of the group being, sure enough, Sarah’s old flame, Militis (Van Daële); with him is Continue reading

Bait (1949)

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Cat and mouse games!
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UK / 68 minutes / bw / Advance, Adelphi Dir & Pr: Frank Richardson Scr: Mary Benedetta, Francis Miller Story: Bait (n.d.; play) by Frank Richardson Cine: Ernest Palmer Cast: Diana Napier, John Bentley, John Oxford, Patricia Owen (i.e., Patricia Owens), Kenneth Hyde, Sheila Robins, Willoughby Goddard, Douglas Trow, Richard Gatehouse, Jack Gracey, Wolf Tauber.

Having lost heavily one night at cards, a quartet of seemingly respectable characters hatch a plot to earn some money. Young Tom Hannaford (uncredited, but I think Tauber) has been “escorting” rich and none too bright Nina Revere (Robins) in the temporary absence of her husband. Tonight she was wearing a pair of diamond earrings that his friend Jim Prentice (Hyde), an executive for insurance firm Varley & Varley, values at £12,000.

Nina (Sheila Robins) says goodnight to toyboy Tom (Wolf Tauber?).

Jim (Kenneth Hyde) examines the earrings.

John Oxford as Bromley.

Eleanor (Napier), forceful leader of the quartet, instructs Tom to borrow the earrings on the pretext of getting them cleaned at Cartier. She, Eleanor, will take them to upscale fence John Hartley (Goddard) and extract £8,000 from him for the items. Thereafter, the gang of four—which includes Continue reading

King of the Damned (1935)

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Liberté, égalité, fraternité on a prison island!
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UK / 74 minutes / bw / Gaumont–British Dir: Walter Forde Pr: Michael Balcon Scr: A.R. Rawlinson, Charles Bennett, Sidney Gilliatt Story: King of the Damned (1934 play) by John Chancellor Cine: Bernard Knowles Cast: Conrad Veidt, Helen Vinson, Noah Beery, Cecil Ramage, Edmund Willard, Percy Parsons, Peter Croft, Raymond Lovell, C.M. Hallard, Allan Jeayes, Percy Walsh.

Noah Beery as Mooche.

Colonel Fernandez (Hallard), commandant of the prison camp on the island of Santa Maria—which is most assuredly not Devil’s Island, for fear of offending the French—is seriously ill, and his daughter Anna (Vinson) flies out to be with him. The friends (uncredited) with whom she travels warn her she may find that her fiancé, who’s also her father’s deputy on the island, Major Ramon Montez (Ramage), has changed a little since last she saw him. Her early time on the island is spent progressively discovering that the man she thought she loved has become a despotic monster:

Anna: “I wish [my father] wouldn’t worry about things when he’s so ill.”
Montez: “Hm. So do I.”
Anna: “Why doesn’t he leave it all to you?”
Montez: “Well, you see, your father and I work on rather different lines. We’ve got three thousand convicts here, and I believe the only way to keep them under is to keep them afraid of us.”

Helen Vinson as Anna Fernandez.

Without Colonel Fernandez’s knowledge, Montez and his sidekick Captain Perez (Walsh) are, to their own considerable profit, dragooning the Continue reading

For the Defense (1930)

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

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)

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What will you do for “family”?
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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