The Unseen (1945)

vt Her Heart in Her Throat; vt Fear
US / 80 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Lewis Allen Assoc Pr: John Houseman Scr: Hagar Wilde, Raymond Chandler, Ken Englund Story: Midnight House (1942; vt Her Heart in Her Throat) by Ethel Lina White Cine: John F. Seitz Cast: Joel McCrea, Gail Russell, Herbert Marshall, Phyllis Brooks, Isobel Elsom, Norman Lloyd, Mikhail Rasumny, Elisabeth Risdon, Tom Tully, Nona Griffith, Richard Lyon, Mary Field, Sarah Padden.

In the small New England town of New Bristol, the imposing pile at 11 Crescent Drive was boarded up twelve years ago after its owner, Commodore Tygarth, died. Now his much younger widow (Elsom), is planning to open “The Commodore’s Folly” and put it on the market.

Sarah Padden as Alberta.

One rainy night an old woman, Alberta (Padden), sees a light moving behind the boards. Pausing to investigate, she drops a watch—a treasured gift from her mother. Before she can find it on the ground, a man rushes out of the house and pursues her into nearby Salem Alley, where he strangles her. Little does he know he’s been observed . . .

Next day Continue reading

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Crack-Up (1936)

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

Letter, The (1929)

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A shot in the night, a faithless wife, a vengeful woman and a damning billet-doux!
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US / 61 minutes / bw / Paramount Famous Lasky Dir: Jean de Limur Pr: Monta Bell Scr: Garrett Fort Story: The Letter (1927 play) by W. Somerset Maugham Cine: George Folsey Cast: Jeanne Eagels, Reginald Owen, Herbert Marshall, Irene Brown (i.e., Irene Browne), O.P. Heggie, Lady Tsen Mei, Tamaki Yoshiwara.

The Letter 1929 - 0

This is the first screen adaptation of Maugham’s famous stage play; it was remade in 1940 as the far better known movie The LETTER, dir William Wyler, with Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall and James Stephenson. (Intriguingly, Marshall played the adulterous lover in the first version, the wronged husband in the second.) Until 2011 the 1929 adaptation was effectively a lost movie, all of it that survived being a nitrate work print (which you can view here); but in that year it was restored and released as part of the Warner Archive Collection. I’ve included a couple of screengrabs from the work print below to give you an idea of the near-miraculous job the restorers have done.

We’re on a Singapore rubber plantation, and a wonderful long approach shot takes us through the plantation to a bungalow room where Leslie Crosbie (Eagels) is Continue reading

Too Late for Tears (1949)

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Lizabeth Scott triumphs in an underrated noir classic!
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vt Killer Bait
US / 100 minutes / bw / Hunt Stromberg, UA Dir: Byron Haskin Pr: Hunt Stromberg Scr: Roy Huggins Story: Too Late for Tears (1947, originally serialized in Saturday Evening Post) by Roy Huggins Cine: William Mellor Cast: Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy, Kristine Miller, Barry Kelley, Smoki Whitfield, David Clarke, Billy Halop.

Too Late for Tears - 0 opener

If there was any single movie or actor that set me off on the long and winding course toward writing A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir, Too Late for Tears was that movie and Lizabeth Scott was that actor.

I first watched the movie sometime in the early 2000s. Before that I’d written quite extensively on animation—in fact, I’d not so very long before seen publication of my book Masters of Animation—and on fantasy movies, for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, edited by John Clute and myself. I’d been playing around with various ideas for more books on animation and/or the cinema of the fantastic, but then, for some reason—perhaps just because it came on TCM while I was sitting on the couch, who knows?—I found myself watching Too Late for Tears for the first time.

And it felt like coming home.

Of course, I’d watched countless films noirs before then, and liked them a lot—The BLUE DAHLIA (1946) was a particular favorite (have I ever mentioned my longtime crush on Veronica Lake?)—but Continue reading

Calendar, The (1948)

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An Edgar Wallace yarn about a man addicted to the geegees . . . and to the curves of Greta Gynt!

UK / 77 minutes / bw / Gainsborough, GFD Dir: Arthur Crabtree Pr: Antony Darnborough, Sydney Box Scr: Geoffrey Kerr Story: The Calendar (1929 play) and The Calendar (1930), both by Edgar Wallace Cine: Reg Wyer, Cyril J. Knowles Cast: Greta Gynt, John McCallum, Raymond Lovell, Sonia Holm, Leslie Dwyer, Charles Victor, Felix Aylmer, Noel Howlett, Sydney King, Barry Jones, Diana Dors, Claude Bailey, Desmond Roberts, Fred Payne.

The Calendar - 0 opener

A modest but rather jolly screen adaptation of one of Edgar Wallace’s plays, which he subsequently rewrote as a novel. In fact, this wasn’t the first adaptation; it was preceded by The Calendar (1931; vt Bachelor’s Folly) dir T. Hayes Hunter, with Herbert Marshall, Edna Best and Anne Grey, which I haven’t seen. This, the 1948 remake, while in theory a thriller has in practice many of the attributes of a bedroom farce, although it’s not really a comedy either: just a piece of entertainment.

Captain Garry Anson (McCallum), a compulsive better on the ponies, owns a string of racers; his trainer is the lovely Lady Mollie Panniford (Holm), who, as a woman, is a rarity in the male-dominated horse-training world of the time. “What you mean is that, as a girlfriend, I’m a pretty good trainer,” she observes ruefully to him at one stage. The reason for the rue is that he’s besotted with Wenda (Gynt), to whom he’s been engaged for many a yonk. Then the news comes that the will of his recently deceased aunt has brought him Continue reading

Foreign Correspondent (1940)

US / 120 minutes / bw / Wanger, UA Dir: Alfred Hitchcock Pr: Walter Wanger Scr: Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison, James Hilton, Robert Benchley (plus several others uncredited) Story: Personal History (1935 memoir) by Vincent Sheean Cine: Rudolph Maté Special production effects: William Cameron Menzies Cast: Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Basserman (i.e., Albert Bassermann), Robert Benchley, Edmund Gwenn, Eduardo Ciannelli, Harry Davenport, Martin Kosleck, Frances Carson, Edward Conrad, Ian Wolfe, Samuel Adams, Charles Wagenheim.

On the eve of war in Europe, Powers (Davenport), editor of the New York Morning Globe, is weary of the lackluster reports emanating from London and his correspondent there, Stebbins (Benchley). He demands that one of the paper’s crime reporters, Johnny Jones (McCrea), be sent to Europe to dig up dirt. First, though, he gives Johnny a posher moniker—”Huntley Haverstock”—and introduces him to one of the people he should interview once he’s in London, Stephen Fisher (Marshall), leader of the Universal Peace Party, which is seeking even at this late stage to avert the outbreak of hostilities.

Once in London, Johnny meets Stebbins and, on his way to a peace meeting at the Savoy Hotel that Powers has told him to cover, opportunistically shares a cab with Dutch diplomat Van Meer (Basserman), a key figure in the peace movement who’s scheduled to address the meeting. They arrive together but, when it comes to Van Meer’s turn to speak, Fisher, as the meeting’s chairman, announces that Van Meer has had to cancel his appearance because of urgent duties elsewhere. Though puzzled, Johnny soon forgets the matter because the substitute speaker is Fisher’s daughter Carol (Day), whom Johnny met in the foyer beforehand and for whom he has fallen hard.

His next assignment is to Amsterdam. As he waits outside the hall, he sees Van Meer approaching; however, the man is assassinated by a supposed press photographer (Wagenheim), who flees. Johnny gives chase, commandeering a car in which it proves that Carol’s a passenger, the driver being her friend, another journalist, Scott ffolliott (Sanders). They follow the getaway car out into the countryside, where it seems to disappear. Convinced the assassin and his accomplice have hidden in a nearby windmill, Johnny sends Carol and Scott for the cops, himself creeping into the structure and discovering that the plotters have secreted the heavily drugged Van Meer there; the man whom Johnny saw shot down was an impersonator (Adams). Johnny slips away from the windmill but, by the time he brings help, the bad guys have disappeared, taking Van Meer with them and leaving only a fake tramp (Kosleck), who claims the mill has been deserted all day.

Foreign Correspondent - 1 Johnny creeps into the windmill

Johnny (Joel McCrea) creeps into the windmill . . .

Foreign Correspondent - 2 He finds the drugged Van Meer there

. . . and finds the drugged Van Meer (Albert Bassermann) there.

Foreign Correspondent - 3 Johnny clings to the outside of the millJohnny (Joel McCrea) clings to the outside of the mill as he evades detection by the bad hats.

Back in Amsterdam, two men claiming to be cops call on Johnny in his room at the Hotel Europe. Smelling a rat, he climbs along Continue reading