The Trespasser (1947)

US / 70 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: George Blair Assoc Pr: William J. O’Sullivan Scr: Jerry Gruskin, Dorrell McGowan, Stuart E. McGowan Story: Jerry Sackheim, Erwin Gelsey Cine: John Alton Cast: Dale Evans, Warren Douglas, Janet Martin, Douglas Fowley, Adele Mara, Gregory Gay (i.e., Gregory Gaye), Grant Withers, William Bakewell, Vince Barnett, Francis Pierlot, Joy Barlowe (i.e., Joy Barlow), Fred Graham, Dale Van Sickel, Betty Alexander, Joseph Crehan, Bobbie Dorree.

A movie that starts off as if it’s going to be yet another of those countless, nigh-indistinguishable Hollywood comedy-crime B-features, albeit better played and produced than most, but, around the halfway mark, morphs into something distinctly grimmer and more noirish, with cinematography to match—indeed, the (well choreographed) punchup of the finale is marred by the fact that the shadows are so deep you can’t see who’s getting the upper hand (fist?) in the proceedings.

Warren Douglas as Danny and Janet Martin as Stevie

Despite the order of the credits, Janet Martin is the main star of the show, with Warren Douglas and Douglas Fowley as her supports. Dale Evans has a supporting role and sings a nice song (“It’s Not the First Love” by Eddie Maxwell and Nathan Scott), but was clearly regarded as being a much bigger name than the others. Plus c’est la même chose.

Dale Evans as Linda

Stephanie “Stevie” Carson (Martin) is the daughter of the late, lamented but legendary Evening Gazette investigative reporter Frank Carson, and so, fresh out of journalism school, turns up at the Gazette offices hoping for Continue reading

Homicide for Three (1948)

vt An Interrupted Honeymoon; vt Whispers in the Dark
US / 60 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: George Blair Assoc Pr: Stephen Auer Scr: Bradbury Foote, Albert DeMond Story: A Puzzle for Puppets (1944) by Patrick Quentin Cine: John MacBurnie Cast: Audrey Long, Warren Douglas, Grant Withers, Lloyd Corrigan, Stephanie Bachelor, George Lynn, Tala Birell, Benny Baker, Joseph Crehan, Sid Tomack, Dick Elliott, Eddie Dunn, John Newland, Billy Curtis, Patsy Moran.

It’s a very long time since last I read Patrick Quentin’s A Puzzle for Puppets (1944), but as I recall it was a perfectly respectable little mystery novel. Unfortunately the geniuses at Republic chose to adapt it as a comedy mystery. The result is something that’s undoubtedly (mildly) entertaining throughout but that hardly satisfies someone in need of a Quentin/Duluths fix.

A year ago Peter (Douglas) and Iris Duluth (Long) married, but Peter was called off to naval service before they could spend their wedding night together. Now he’s been given a 36-hour furlough and the Duluths are combing LA for a hotel room for consummation purposes—a room that’s hard to find because there’s a convention in town.

Audrey Long as Iris Duluth.

They finally get a billet at the ultra-swanky Sherwood Hotel because a guest there, Mrs. Rose (Bachelor), better known in the circus world as Madame Collette, lends them Continue reading

Angel in Exile (1948)

vt Dark Violence
US / 86 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: Allan Dwan, Philip Ford Scr: Charles Larson Cine: Reggie Lanning Cast: John Carroll, Adele Mara, Thomas Gomez, Barton MacLane, Alfonso Bedoya, Grant Withers, Howland Chamberlin, Art Smith, Paul Fix, Tom Powers, Ian Wolfe, Elsa Lorraine Zepeda, Mary Currier.

Adele Mara as Raquel Chavez.

The movie sets out its stall early, declaring right there in the opening credits that

This is the story of a miracle. To those who do not believe in miracles, we can offer no explanation. We can only point out that the man to whom this one occurred . . . . didn’t believe in miracles either . . .

Like me, he probably didn’t know either why the first ellipsis was there. Whatever the truth about that, the stress on the “miracle” aspect of the plot—here and in most of the rare reviews—is probably why I overlooked Angel in Exile when drawing up the entry list for my Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: the movie isn’t a film noir, but it has sufficient noirish interest to have qualified it for inclusion in that book.

Spring 1939 in California, and Charlie Dakin (Carroll) is released after five years in stir for his part in a heist that netted a million dollars’ worth of gold dust. He’s met at the gate by Ernie Coons (Smith), his partner in the heist, who’s been keeping the loot safe all through Charlie’s enforced absence. Ernie reckons the two of them can now split the proceeds; trouble is, the other two participants in the heist, Max Giorgio (MacLane) and Carl Spitz (Fix), have a different idea.

John Carroll as Charlie (left) and Art Smith as Ernie.

Ernie’s cunning plan for laundering the gold is to buy for a song an abandoned mine in the Arizona mountains, stow the dust there, then pretend to dig it up. It’s a good plan, too, until Max and Carl turn up. Another problem is that a local land-management officer, J.H. Higgins (Chamberlin), swiftly guesses what’s going on and demands to be cut in as well.

A further complication is the involvement of the inhabitants of a local village Continue reading

Paradise Express (1937)

US / 53 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: Joseph Kane Pr: Nat Levine Scr: Jack Natteford, Betty Burbridge Story: Allan Vaughan Elston, Paul Perez Cine: Jack Marta Cast: Grant Withers, Dorothy Appleby, Arthur Hoyt, Maude Eburne, Harry Davenport, Donald Kirke, Arthur Loft, Lew Kelly, Anthony Pawley, Fern Emmett, John Holland, Bob McClung, Bruce Mitchell, Guy Wilkerson, George Cleveland, Horace Murphy, Ralph McCullough.

The Moon Valley Short Line Railroad is on its last legs, despite the efforts of its curmudgeonly boss, Jed Carson (Davenport), and his feisty granddaughter Kay (Appleby). Both of them initially loathe the receiver the company’s creditors have appointed, Lawrence/Laurence (the movie gives both spellings) “Larry” Doyle (Withers):

Kay: “[He wants] more dismissals? It’s a pity someone can’t dismiss Mr. Lawrence with a well aimed sledgehammer.”

The trouble is that the Armstrong Trucking Corp., led by slimeball Armstrong (Kirke), is undercutting the railroad’s prices and even its transit times.

Dorothy Appleby as Kay and Grant Withers as Larry.

Yet Larry proves to have the railroad’s interests at heart. He soon earns Kay’s devotion and Continue reading

Phantom of Chinatown (1940)

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“My name is Wong. James Lee Wong.”
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US / 62 minutes / bw / Monarch Dir: Phil Rosen Pr: Paul Malvern Scr: Joseph West Story: Ralph Bettinson Based on: characters created by Hugh Wiley in 12 stories published 1934–38 in Collier’s Magazine Cine: Fred Jackman Jr Cast: Keye Luke, Lotus Long, Grant Withers, Charles Miller, Huntley Gordon, Virginia Carpenter, John H. Dilson, Paul McVey, John Holland, Dick Terry, Robert Kellard, William Castello, Lee Tung Foo.

Not long after his return from a field trip to Mongolia, Dr. John Benton (Miller)—clearly labeled “Cyrus Benton” in a newspaper that we see—is giving a lecture at San Francisco’s Southern University about his expedition and the discovery he made in the Gobi Desert of the long-lost tomb of a powerful Ming emperor. He illustrates the lecture with the movie footage taken during the trip by photographer Charlie Frasier (Dilson), the very same guy as who’s now operating the projector for the lecture. Sitting in the front row are two further members of the expedition, Benton’s daughter Louise (Carpenter) and the pilot Tommy Dean (Kellard); the two are evidently sweet on each other. Helping the archaeologist is his secretary, Win Len (Long).

Tommy (Robert Kellard) and Louise (Virginia Carpenter), so much in love.

But one member of the expedition didn’t return, Benton explains to his audience. The backup pilot, Mason (Holland), was lost during a wild dust-storm and, although the party hunted for him, in the end they had to abandon the search.

Frasier (John H. Dilson) films everything.

Suddenly Benton grabs his throat and collapses. Soon the homicide cop Captain Sam Street (Withers) and his sidekick Detective Grady (McVey) are on the scene, but it looks as if Continue reading

Mr. Wong, Detective (1938)

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Boris Karloff stars in a triple locked-room mystery!
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US / 69 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: William Nigh Assoc pr: William Lackey Scr: Houston Branch Based on: characters created by Hugh Wiley in 12 stories published 1934–38 in Colliers Magazine Cine: Harry Neumann Cast: Boris Karloff, Grant Withers, Maxine Jennings, Evelyn Brent, George Lloyd, Lucien Prival, John St. Polis, William Gould, Hooper Atchley, John Hamilton, Wilbur Mack, Lee Tong Foo, Lynton Brent, Grace Wood, Frank Bruno, Wheaton Chambers.

mr-wong-detective-0a

The first of a series of six movies about the San Francisco PI James Lee Wong, created in print by Hugh Wiley; the first five movies starred Boris Karloff as Wong, while the sixth starred an actual Chinese-American in the role, Keye Luke. Depressingly, that sixth movie, Phantom of Chinatown (1940), flopped and so the series came to abrupt end. (When I get a chance, I’ll add it to this site. But it seemed silly to start watching a series with its final entry.)

I confess that for years I’ve avoided the Mr. Wong movies—as I generally do the Charlie Chan ones—because I find it just as creepy to watch a white actor play what I suppose we have to call Yellow Face as I do watching white actors play Black Face. I have to report, though, that the experience wasn’t as grueling as I’d expected. There is no mockery at all of Chinese culture or mannerisms. To the contrary, Wong is the most respected character in the movie; at one point the romantic lead compares the elderly Wong so favorably to her police-detective boyfriend—“Mr. Wong, it’s been such a pleasure meeting a detective with such charming manners”—that the cop’s eyes narrow in jealousy.

The Dayton Chemical Co. is planning to ship a consignment of toxic chemicals to Europe aboard the good ship Orinoco. The operation is spied upon by Lescardi (Bruno), an enforcer working for a pair of activists embedded in European politics, Anton Mohl (Prival), who goes by the name Baron von Krantz, and Olga Petroff (Evelyn Brent), who goes by the name Countess Dubois. They’re eager to divert Continue reading

Gambling Sex (1932)

vt Laughing at Luck
US / 59 minutes / bw / Monarch Dir: Fred Newmeyer Pr: Burton King Scr: F. McGrew Willis Cine: Edward Kull Cast: Ruth Hall, Grant Withers, John St. Polis, Maston Williams, Jean Porter, Jimmy Eagles, Murdock MacQuarrie.

Gambling Sex - 0 opener

In Miami, rich John Tracy (St. Polis) is losing heavily at the casino as he follows the system devised by his “friend” Ralph Jordan (Williams); what he doesn’t know is that the system’s a complete con and Jordan is harvesting from the casino a cool 20% of Tracy’s losses.

Some years ago, during the Crash, Tracy’s acquaintance Bill Foster (Withers) lost everything. Bill insisted that Tracy take his string of racehorses in payment for a debt; Tracy insisted on giving Bill paid employment as the manager of the string. Bill and jockey Sandy Lane (Eagles) feel guilty that Tracy’s not getting much of a return on his investment: the only horse they have that’s any good is Lightning, and Lightning—“the fastest thing on earth”—seems well-nigh untameable.

Gambling Sex - 1 John's photo of Sheila

John Tracy’s treasured photo of his daughter Sheila (Ruth Hall).

Foolishly, Tracy thinks that he might be the one to tame the beast, and lets himself into Lightning’s stall. A few noisy moments later he’s being helped away to what will prove to be his deathbed. Bill sends for Tracy’s extraordinarily toothsome daughter Sheila (Hall), a student at snooty school Stewart Hall, where the teachers are really, really strict (“I’d advise you not to get that bathing suit wet. It might shrink”) and the girls are really, really unbridled (“I know a place where they weaken the ginger ale so it doesn’t make us dizzy!”). She arrives in time to witness her father give Continue reading

Red-Haired Alibi (1932)

US / 68 minutes / bw / Tower Dir: Christy Cabanne Pr: Sig Neufeld Scr: Edward T. Lowe Jr. Story: The Red-Haired Alibi (1932) by Wilson Collison Cine: Harry Forbes Cast: Merna Kennedy, Theodore von Eltz, Grant Withers, Purnell Pratt, Huntley Gordon, Fred Kelsey, Arthur Hoyt, Paul Porcassi, John Vosburgh, Shirley Temple, Marion Lessing.

Red-Haired Alibi - 0 opener

Lynn Monith (Kennedy), a native of Columbus, Ohio, and perfume-counter girl at the Hotel Savoy there, allows herself to be taken out for dinner at a nearby biergarten after work one night by suave hotel guest Trent Travers (von Eltz)—although she makes it clear this is going to be a strictly hands-off appointment. He tells her that, if ever she comes to New York City, he has a job for her.

Red-Haired Alibi - 1 Travers sounds Lynn out

Travers (Theodore von Eltz) sounds Lynn out.

A few months later the Hotel Savoy closes down and Lynn is out of a job. She comes to NYC and puts herself up at a swanky hotel she can ill afford. However, when she phones Travers’s home, his 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.

Aunt Maggie - 0 opener

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

Daughter of the Tong (1939)

US / 56 minutes / bw / Metropolitan Dir: Raymond K. Johnson Pr: Lester F. Scott Jr. Story: George H. Plympton Cine: Elmer Dyer Cast: Evelyn Brent, Grant Withers, Dorothy Short, Dave O’Brien, Richard Loo, Harry Harvey, Budd Buster.

It’s the early days of the FBI (“This organization is founded upon courage and faith,” according to the long opening screed, “and in many cases has exacted the lives of those federal agents whose ideals strongly embody liberty and the rights of their fellow men”), and an FBI man has been shot down in Chinatown because getting too close to the operations of the racketeer and people-smuggler Carney, aka The Illustrious One.

Carney has decided to hire recently escaped con Gallagher as resident hitman; the FBI, having recaptured Gallagher, opts to exploit the chance resemblance between him and their agent Ralph Dickson (Withers) to infiltrate the latter into Carney’s gang; what the FBI doesn’t know is that Carney’s not a grizzled male gangster but an attractive young Chinese woman (Brent).

Daughter of the Tong (1939) - Evelyn Brent as Carney, The Illustrious One -- look Real Chinese, yep

               Evelyn Brent as Carney, The Illustrious One — and looking so very Chinese.

En route to Carney’s HQ, Dickson meets Marion Morgan (Short), whose importer/exporter brother Jerry (O’Brien) was working with Carney until he realized Carney was using him as a front for her smuggling and human-trafficking business; Jerry’s in the process of discovering that the only way Carney allows people to resign is feet-first. Luckily for Dickson, whose infiltration attempt is very soon abortive, the organization already has an FBI mole, Lefty Macmillan (Buster, making the most of a small part). After a passel of extraordinarily poorly choreographed fistfights, the good guys prevail and Dickson pairs up with Marion, who heretofore has been primarily cute, spunky and, well, stupid.

This is a very bad but likeable movie. Carney is supposed to be Chinese, but there’s no attempt to make Brent look or seem oriental except to drape her in a wig that’s strongly reminiscent of the one Robert Wagner would later famously wear in Prince Valiant (1954). Among many plot hiccups the most noticeable is probably when Dickson manages to get a gun-toting, suspicious Carney out of the room by telling her that an incoming phonecall is “private business”; how mannerly these gangsters are.

Loo, who here plays Wong, the gang’s frontman in the hotel it uses as HQ and also its specialist torturer, had a long career playing similarly stereotyped parts; he’s perhaps best known as Hai Fat (geddit?) in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Harvey plays Carney’s dimwit goon Harold “Mugsy” Winthrop; there’s a moment of humor at the end when Dickson explains that, for Mugsy, “FBI” means “Free Board Indefinitely”.

On Amazon.com: Daughter Of The Tong