The Shadow Returns (1946)

US / 61 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Phil Rosen Pr: Joe Kaufman Scr: George Callahan Story: Walter B. Gibson for the character and the stories in Shadow Magazine. Cine: William Sickner Cast: Kane Richmond, Barbara Reed (i.e., Barbara Read), Tom Dugan, Joseph Crehan, Pierre Watkin, Robert Emmett Keane, Frank Reicher, Lester Dorr, Rebel Randall, Emmett Vogan, Sherry Hall, Cyril Delevanti.

This was the first of three comedy-crime adaptations to screen of Walter B. Gibson’s famous pulp character that Poverty Row studio Monogram released in 1946. The other two were Behind the Mask and The Missing Lady. This one had Phil Rosen at the helm (although it has been reported that William Beaudine did some filling in); the other two were done by Phil Karlson.

Lamont Cranston (Richmond) is outwardly a respectable young man of business who never seems to do any work; because he’s the cherished nephew of Police Commissioner J.R. Weston (Watkin), he and his secretary/fiancée Margo Lane (Read) are allowed to horn in on police investigations, to the ill concealed fury of Inspector Cardona (Crehan).

But there’s more to Lamont Cranston than meets the eye. His secret persona is as The Shadow, a mysterious vigilante crime-solver who, on donning his special garb—a mask and fedora—slips unobtrusively from Continue reading

Before Dawn (1933)

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Is a psychic beauty a criminal fraud . . . or for real?
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US / 62 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Irving Pichel Pr: Merian C. Cooper Scr: Garrett Fort Story: “The Death Watch” (1932; in Sergeant Sir Peter) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Lucien Andriot Cast: Stuart Erwin, Dorothy Wilson, Warner Oland, Dudley Digges, Gertrude W. Hoffman, Oscar Apfel, Frank Reicher, Jane Darwell.

Before Dawn - 0 opener

This movie was reportedly made as a follow-up to cash in on the huge success of King Kong (1933), reuniting as it did Merian C. Cooper and (at least in spirit) Edgar Wallace. Yet it’s a claim that’s hard to believe: King Kong was a big-budget epic, a full 100 minutes long on its release (and nearly half an hour longer in what we’d today call the director’s cut), while Before Dawn is under half the length of the longer of the two versions and decidedly modest aspirations. It reads like a low-budget filler, in other words, and it’s hard to believe it was ever intended to be anything else.

NYPD-affiliated Special Investigator Dwight Wilson (Erwin) is conducting a roundup of phony spirit mediums in the area, and the first he pulls in is the supremely lovely Mlle. Mystera, aka Patricia Merrick (Wilson), plus her father, Horace (Digges). We know, and Wilson soon finds out, that Patricia is in fact a genuine medium; while Horace is in the office of Chief of Detectives John F. O’Hara (Apfel), trying to sell him on the idea of employing Patricia as a psychic detective, Wilson finds a tearful Patricia waiting in the antechamber. Telling him that he cheated in order to entrap her—he never had an Aunty Minnie, so no wonder Patricia couldn’t locate her in the afterlife—she demonstrates her genuine psychic powers. Wilson’s immediately convinced:

“Say, baby, I’m for ya. My face hasn’t been so red since I went to my first burlesque show. . . . I’ll get ya out of this, so help me.”

Before Dawn - 4 Wilson tricks Paricia at her seance

Special Investigator Dwight Wilson (Stuart Erwin) tricks Patricia (Dorothy Wilson) at her seance.

Patricia, given her chance to demonstrate her powers to Chief O’Hara, does not disappoint. Stunned by her first success, he Continue reading

Hotel Berlin (1945)

vt Vicki Baum’s Hotel Berlin
US / 98 minutes / bw / Warner Dir: Peter Godfrey Pr: Louis F. Edelman Scr: Jo Pagano, Alvah Bessie Story: Hier Stand ein Hotel (1943; vt Hotel Berlin; vt Hotel Berlin ’43; vt Berlin Hotel; vt Here Stood a Hotel) by Vicki Baum Cine: Carl Guthrie Cast: Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine, Raymond Massey, Andrea King, Peter Lorre, Alan Hale, George Coulouris, Henry Daniell, Peter Whitney, Helene Thimig, Steven Geray, Kurt Kreuger, Frank Reicher, Richard Tyler, Paul Panzer, Wolfgang Zilzer.

In some ways a companion piece to CASABLANCA (1942), but set in a swanky hotel in Berlin during the final months of the war rather than the somewhat more bohemian environs of Rick’s Café Américain, this surprisingly neglected movie has strengths of its own, not least an electrifying performance from Peter Lorre in a subsidiary role.

The Gestapo has deduced that Dr. Martin Richter (Dantine), an escapee from Dachau, has taken refuge in the Hotel Berlin, and its officers are combing the place in search of him. Also at the hotel are various high-ranking Nazis, including General Arnim von Dahnwitz (Massey) who, although renowned as the butcher of Kharkov, has recently participated in an unsuccessful coup against Hitler; all the other conspirators have suicided or been executed, and even von Dahnwitz’s old and dear friend Baron von Stetten (Daniell) reckons the man should kill himself before the Gestapo hauls him in. Von Dahnwitz, however, believes there’s a chance for him and his mistress, celebrated actress Lisa (or Liesl, as she’s sometimes called in dialogue) Dorn (King), to escape to Sweden.

Hotel Berlin - Raymond Massey as Gen Arnim von Dahnwitz

Raymond Massey as the hapless Gen Arnim von Dahnwitz.

The fugitive Martin Richter has a network of allies among the hotel wait-staff. One of these, Fritz Renn (Reicher), is soon arrested, but not before he has equipped Martin with a waiter’s coat. Fritz believes that, if Martin can contrive to be serving in Lisa’s suite during the search, the chances are that the searchers, dazzled by her fame, will overlook him. The plan works, although Lisa becomes convinced Martin is a Gestapo spy. Another significant ally is Bellboy #6 (Tyler), a child with courage and fortitude beyond his years, the son of underground leader Walter Baumler (Zilzer).

Hotel Berlin - Richter (Dantine) and Prof Koenig

The fugitive Martin Richter (Helmut Dantine) and the world-weary turncoat Professor Koenig (Peter Lorre).

The resident of the room next to Lisa’s suite is one-time Nobel prizewinner Professor Johannes Koenig (Lorre), who Continue reading