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

Hotel Imperial (1927)

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Pola Negri stars in a high melodrama!
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US / 77 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Mauritz Stiller Pr: Erich Pommer Scr: Jules Furthmann, Edwin Justus Mayer Story: Hotel Imperial (1917 play) by Lajos Biró Cine: Bert Glennon Cast: Pola Negri, James Hall, George Siegmann, Mickael Vavitch, Max Davidson, Otto Fries, Josef Swickard, Nicholas Soussanin.

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The opening title of this intriguing silent movie sets the time and place:

“Somewhere in Galicia, March, 1915—when Austrian fought Russian on Austrian ground.”

This is worth remembering because, according to the Turner Classic Movies online database, the movie is set in Hungary. The same site shows a capsule review by Leonard Maltin, which summarizes the plot thus:

“As WW1 floods over the map of Europe, a squad of Austrian soldiers seeks sanctuary in a small village inn, only to find it occupied by enemy Russians. Chambermaid Negri holds the key to their survival.”

This is less worth remembering because, while it does bear some similarities to the movie’s plot, they’re no more than similarities. Also less worth remembering is that IMDB renames Vavitch’s character—calling him Tabakowitsch rather than Petroff—with the result that TCMDB and Wikipedia call him Tabakowitsch as well. I suspect he may have Continue reading

Young Don’t Cry, The (1957)

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A teenage orphan must choose between his own integrity and the corrupted might of the law!
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US / 90 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Alfred L. Werker Pr: Philip A. Waxman Scr: Richard Jessup Story: The Cunning and the Haunted (1954) by Richard Jessup Cine: Ernest Haller Cast: Sal Mineo, James Whitmore, J. Carrol Naish, Gene Lyons, Paul Carr, Thomas Carlin, Leigh Whipper, Stefan Gierasch, Victor Thorley, Roxanne (i.e., Dolores Rosedale), James Reese, Ruth Attaway, Leland Mayforth, Dick Wigginton, Stanley Martin, Josephine Smith.

The Young Don't Cry - 0 opener

Sixteen-year-old Leslie “Les” Henderson (Mineo) is one of the inmates at the Brockton Orphanage for Boys, somewhere in the Deep South. He wants to try for a scholarship to technical college with the aim of becoming an engineer. Like the other older boys, he acts as a big brother to a dormitory of the little kids.

His plans take a bit of a knock the day when he finds another older boy, Tom Bradley (Carr), bullying Les’s little friend Allan (Mayforth); even though Tom’s bigger, Les whales him, thereby earning a reprimand—and a week’s docking of his precious August vacation—from orphanage superintendent Gwinn (Reese). Les had been planning to go on his sailboat with friend Jimmy Brown (Wigginton) to the nearby deserted island of Warsaw for a few weeks’ camping. On the other hand, Les’s defense of the underdog, Allan, and his defeat of Bradley means he’s now accepted by staff and boys alike as one of the orphanage’s Big Fellas.

The Young Don't Cry - 3 Bradley prepares to launch himself at Les

Bradley (Paul Carr) prepares to launch himself at Les.

Another of the Big Fellas is Johnny Clancy (Carlin). We know from the outset that Clancy is a bit of a snake. Called to do something about the punchup between Les and Bradley, he just Continue reading

Deadly Duo (1962)

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Identical twins, one a sweet young widow and the other a sexpot stripper, and the fortune that only one of them wants!

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US / 69 minutes / bw / Harvard, UA Dir: Reginald LeBorg Pr: Robert E. Kent Scr: Owen Harris Story: The Deadly Duo (1959) by Richard Jessup Cine: Gordon Avil Cast: Craig Hill, Marcia Henderson, Robert Lowery, Dayton Lummis, Carlos Romero, Irene Tedrow, David Renard, Marco Antonio, Peter Oliphant.

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Racecar driver Robby Spence dies in a spectacular crash. A month later, unsuccessful California lawyer Preston “Pres” Morgan (Hill) is recruited for a mysterious task by highly successful corporate attorney Thorne Fletcher (Lummis), acting on behalf of the mighty Spence Industries—or, more accurately, for that company’s steely owner, Leonora Spence (Tedrow). Leonora was appalled when, a few years ago, her late son Robby married Sabena Corwen (Henderson), one half of the dancing act The Corwen Sisters, the other half being Sabena’s identical twin sister Dara (Henderson again). The irate mother cut her son off without a penny. Now she wants to take her grandson, Billy (Oliphant), from Sabena and raise him herself as future CEO of Spence Industries. Pres’s task is to take a contract to Acapulco, where Sabena and Billy live, offering the mother $500,000 to relinquish all rights in the child.

Deadly Duo - 1 Leonora is initially suspecious of Pres

Leonora (Irene Tedrow) is initially suspicious of Pres.

There’s a quite effective scene in which Pres, his righteous indignation roused, tells Leonora firmly what she can do with her offer of employment, that he would never stoop so low as to collaborate in what he sees as the buying and selling of an infant . . . then discovers that his fee for the service will be $50,000.

Arrived in Acapulco, Pres goes to Sabena’s home. There he meets not just Sabena but twin sister Dara and Dara’s husband Jay Flagg (Lowery). There he marvels over the fact that the two sisters are not just beautiful but so very identical except that Sabena has shortish brunette hair while Dara has longer blonde hair. He soon notices, too, that there are behavioral differences between the rather prim Sabena and the clumsily vamping Dara.

Deadly Duo - 2a Nasty . . .

Naughty Marcia Henderson . . .

Deadly Duo - 2b . . . or Nice[Q] -- sisters Dara and Sabena

. . . or nice Marcia Henderson?

Sabena refuses Leonora’s contract point-blank—no way is she going to give up her son—and throws him out of the house.

This is to the huge displeasure of Jay and Dara, who desperately need the money. After the breakup of The Corwen Sisters, Dara struggled along on her own as best she could, which Continue reading

Special Investigator (1936)

US / 61 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Louis King Scr: Louis Stevens, Thomas Lennon, Ferdinand Reyher Story: “Fugitive Road” (1935; New York Herald Tribune) by Erle Stanley Gardner Cine: Edward Cronjager Cast: Richard Dix, Margaret Callahan, Erik Rhodes, Owen Davis Jr, Ray Mayer, Harry Jans, Joseph Sawyer, J. Carrol Naish, Sheila Terry, J.M. Kerrigan, Jed Prouty, Russell Hicks, Boothe Howard, Si Jenks.

Special Investigator - 0 opener

Chicago shyster Bill Fenwick (Dix) has just won his latest case, defending mobster Bennie Gray (Rhodes)—a result that brings him both a reproof from the judge for being as bad as the criminals he defends and a fat check from Bennie—when his kid brother George (Davis, whose performance, despite his billing, lasts mere seconds), an investigator for the DoJ, is gunned down by gangster Eddie Selton (Naish). Selton is wounded in the exchange, but escapes.

Grieving, Bill realizes the error of his ways, telling his mercenary fiancée Judy Taylor (Terry): “I’m not a lawyer, Judy. I’m what crooks call a mouthpiece.” To her dismay he refuses the next mobster case lined up for him by the friendly Bennie—the Joe Costello case—and nixes their engagement; she’s none too worried, especially after he gives her Bennie’s $15,000 check as kiss-off . . . and even more so because she’s already seeing more of Bennie than strictly she oughter.

Bill gives Bennie no hint that he’s decided to Continue reading

Black Hand, The: True Story of a Recent Occurrence in the Italian Quarter of New York (1906)

US / c650ft (11 minutes) / bw / American Mutoscope & Biograph Dir: Wallace McCutcheon Pr: Francis J. Marion Cine: G.W. Bitzer Cast: Anthony O’Sullivan, Robert G. Vignola.

Supposedly based on a real case that took place in NYC, this is often cited as the earliest surviving gangster movie. There are no cast credits, though two of the actors have been identified.

Two Italian gangsters (O’Sullivan, Vignola), whose main occupation seems to be sitting around playing cards and getting schnockered, concoct a note to a local butcher, Angelo:

Black Hand - The threatening letter

The note.

Angelo doesn’t have the money so, a while later, Continue reading

Behind the Green Lights (1935)

US / 69 minutes / bw / Mascot Dir: Christy Cabanne Pr: Nat Levine, Colbert Clark Scr: James Gruen, Colbert Clark Story (supposedly): Behind the Green Lights (1931 memoir) by Captain Cornelius W. Willemse Cine: Ernest Miller, Jack Marta Cast: Norman Foster, Judith Allen, Purnell Pratt, Sidney Blackmer, Theodore von Eltz, Kenneth Thomson, Edward Gargan, Ford Sterling, John Davidson, Jane Meredith, J. Carrol Naish, John Ince.

This movie owes virtually nothing to its stated source, the memoir of NYPD cop Willemse, in which he happily justified the use by the department of techniques such as torture (“the third degree”) to extract confessions from suspects; he argued that this was reasonable procedure because it was only rarely that the innocent suffered. Torquemada used a similar line of reasoning.

The subtext of the movie is that, while 95% of lawyers are just fine, upstanding citizens, the rest are a bunch of shysters. Of one of these NYPD Lieutenant Jim Kennedy (Pratt) tells his lawyer daughter Mary (Allen) at a late stage in the movie, “He’s worse than a murderer, for he springs open the cage that lets these vultures loose on the world.” Unfortunately, the shyster Jim’s talking about is Raymond Cortell (Blackmer), who just happens to be Mary’s boss.

Behind the Green Lights

“I’ll marry you any time,” Mary tells Dave, but they reckon without her shyster boss.

The story seems often to have been written by a 12-year-old. Top-hatted louche Charles T. “Ritzy” Conrad (Thomaon) is brought into the precinct on a drunk and disorderly charge. Gem dealer John C. Owen (von Eltz) arrives on the scene to bail his supposed employee out. As this is happening, Detective Dave Britten (Foster) is, in another part of town, interviewing rich saucy widow Mrs. Gorham (Meredith) about an attempted robbery of her jewelry by a man she picked up, who hit her over the head with a quart whiskey bottle and made his escape. Dave realizes how well the description matches Conrad, a known thief whose m.o. includes the trick of creating a false alibi by getting picked up by the cops on a minor charge.

So far so good, as far as the plotting’s concerned, but this audience euphoria won’t last long. Smarmy shyster Raymond Cortell takes on the defense and Continue reading