Man who Walked Alone, The (1945)

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Snobbery ahoy!
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US / 71 minutes / bw / PRC Dir & Story: Christy Cabanne Pr: Leon Fromkess Scr: Robert Lee Johnson Cine: James Brown Cast: Dave O’Brien, Kay Aldridge, Walter Catlett, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Isabel Randolph, Smith Ballew, Nancy June Robinson, Ruth Lee, Chester Clute, Vivien Oakland, Vicki Saunders, William B. Davidson, Tom Dugan, Eddy Waller, Don Brodie, Dick Elliott, Jack Raymond, Jack Mulhall, Lloyd Ingraham.

I have to admit it. The title, the packaging, the summary that I glanced at far too quickly—all of them conspired to make me think this movie was far more noirish than it actually is. To say it’s even of associational interest is to stretch matters a little. So, if it’s grim nihilism, thrills, suspense, psychological unraveling or any of that other good stuff that you’re after, look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you can tolerate a gentle romantic comedy, with echoes (no more) of the screwball and a subtext of social commentary, bear with me while I briefly (I promise!) talk about The Man who Walked Alone.

Dave O’Brien as Marion Scott and Eddy Waller as the old codger who taunts him as he tries to hitch a ride.

When we first meet Corporal Marion Scott (O’Brien) he’s on a dusty country road trying to Continue reading

Love Bound (1932)

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A beautiful and ruthless extortionist — does she have a heart?
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vt Murder on the High Seas
US / 61 minutes / bw / Peerless, Hollywood Film Exchange Dir: Robert F. Hill Pr: Al Herman Scr: Robert F. Hill, George Plympton Story: J. Gilbert Cine: E. Fox Walker Cast: Jack Mulhall, Natalie Moorhead, Clara Kimball Young, Edmund Breese, Tom Rickets (i.e., Tom Ricketts), Alice Day, Bill Mong, Montague Love, Dick Alexander, Roy D’Arcy, Lynton Brent, Gordon De Main, Sidney Bracey.

Attractive singer Verna Wilson (Moorhead) has just taken rich elderly magnate John Randolph (Love) to court to the tune of $100,000 for seducing her with false promises, and Randolph’s wife of thirty years, Jane (Young), is preparing to leave him because of his supposed infidelity and her abhorrence of scandal. But their son Dick (Mulhall) believes his father is innocent of impropriety and that Verna is a serial blackmailer who’s pulled off this sort of stunt before.

Natalie Moorhead as Verna.

He’s right.

Abetted by cheap gigolo type Juan de Leon (D’Arcy) and crooked lawyer Howell (Mong), Verna has made quite a career out of Continue reading

Sally of the Subway (1932)

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Romance . . . and a con trick with a pair of rare black

pearls!

vt The Case of the Black Pearl
US / 62 minutes / bw / Ralph M. Like Productions, Action Dir & Scr: George Seitz Pr: Ralph M. Like Cine: Jules Cronjager Cast: Jack Mulhall, Blanche Mahaffey (i.e., Blanche Mehaffey), Dorothy Revier, Huntley Gordon, Harry Semels, Crauford Kent, John Webb Dillon, Bill Burke (i.e., William P. Burt), George “Gabby” Hayes, Ellinor Vanderveer.

Sally of the Subway - 0 opener

The Grand Duke Ludwig of Saxe-Thalberg (Mulhall) and his aide, Leopold Von Trump (Semels), have been staying for some while at the swanky Town House in NYC, but now the manager (uncredited) gives them an ultimatum: either they pay their bill or they’re out. Their problem is that the German embassy is withholding Ludwig’s family dosh for reasons that are unclear.

Just as they’re losing all hope, they’re contacted by Continue reading

Curtain at Eight (1933)

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An amiable enough mystery set in the theatrical world and indeed for the most part in a theater.

 

US / 61 minutes / bw / Larry Darmour Productions, Majestic, Capitol Dir: E. Mason Hopper Pr: Phil Goldstone Scr: Edward T. Lowe Story: The Back Stage Mystery (1930) by Octavus Roy Cohen Cine: Ira Morgan Cast: C. Aubrey Smith, Dorothy Mackaill, Paul Cavanagh, Sam Hardy, Marion Shilling, Russell Hopton, Natalie Moorhead, Hale Hamilton, Ruthelma Stevens, Arthur Hoyt, Jack Mulhall, Dot Farley, Syd Saylor, Herman Bing, Matthew Betz, Cornelius Keefe.

Curtain at Eight - 0 opener

The romantic play Isle of Romance is the talk of the town and its star, handsome Wylie Thornton (Cavanagh), is every woman’s dreamboat. Unfortunately, he seems to be trying to turn that into a physical reality. At current count he’s having affairs with fellow-thespians Anice Cresmer (Shilling) and Doris Manning (Stevens) simultaneously, while Anice’s big sister Lola (Mackaill) seems to have been a conquest not so long ago—and, having been chewed up and spat out herself, is naturally concerned about Continue reading

Amateur Crook (1937)

vt Crooked but Dumb; vt Jewel Thief

US / 59 minutes / bw / Victory Dir & Pr: Sam Katzman Scr: Basil Dickey Cine: Bill Hyer Cast: Herman Brix (i.e., Bruce Bennett), Joan Barclay, Monte Blue, Jack Mulhall, Fuzzy Knight, Vivien Oakland, Jimmy Aubrey, Henry Rocquemore, Edward Earle, Forrest Taylor, Fern Emmett, Sam Adams, Charles Williams.

Collateral loans agent Jan Jaffin (Mulhall) and his nefarious crony Crone (Blue) plan to bilk explorer Jerry Cummings (Taylor), currently in Mexico, of a $50,000 diamond he left as security with Crone for a $10,000 fixed-term loan. Cummings’s daughter Betsy (Barclay), having suspected Crone, has recently, under the name Mary Layton, taken a job as Jaffin’s secretary. Learning the details of the pair’s scheme, she filches the rock and goes on the lam, running into the block of bachelor apartments run by amorous widow Mrs. Flint (Oakland). Opening a door at random, she finds herself in the studio of unsuccessful painter Jimmy Baxter (Brix).

Minutes before, in fending off Mrs. Flint’s offer to pose for him, Jimmy has unconvincingly explained that he prefers to use as model the dummy currently splayed across his couch, wrapped in a diaphanous scarf and other frills. Now, as Crone and a bumbling cop (Adams) arrive seeking the fugitive Betsy, Jimmy persuades her to dress as the dummy, which latter they hide in the couch. Thanks to Mrs. Flint’s conviction that this is the dummy she saw moments earlier, the ruse works. Unfortunately, Mrs. Flint then rumbles the trick. The pair escape, but not before Betsy has secreted the diamond inside the dummy.

Amateur Crook - Betsy's unusually convincing as an artist's dummy

Betsy (Joan Barclay) is unusually convincing as an artist’s dummy.

They return that night in hopes of retrieving it, only to find that Continue reading

Notorious Sophie Lang, The (1934)

US / 63 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Ralph Murphy Pr: Bayard Veiller Scr: Anthony Veiller Story: The Notorious Sophie Lang (coll 1925) by Frederick Irving Anderson Cine: Alfred Gilks Cast: Gertrude Michael, Paul Cavanagh, Arthur Byron, Alison Skipworth, Leon Errol, Ben Taggart, Ferdinand Gottschalk, Jack Mulhall, Lucio Villegas, Norman Ainsley.

The first in a trio of lighthearted comedy thrillers of the kind that, in series like Boston Blackie, would be popular from the 1930s all through the noir era. In the other two Sophie Lang movies—The Return of Sophie Lang (1936) dir George Archainbaud, with Michael repeating her role and Sir Guy Standing taking over from Cavanagh, and Sophie Lang Goes West (1937) dir Charles Reisner, with Michael again and a cast including Larry “Buster” Crabbe—the heroine would be a reformed crook solving crimes, a common Hollywood transition for characters of this sort; but here she is, in her own words, “Lady Raffles herself—no rivals.”

Notorious jewel thief Sophie Lang (Michael) has been away from NYC for a few years, but now she’s back—and stealing gems all over the place. Her arch rival, Inspector Stone (Byron), has the idea of using Maximilian “Max” Bernard (Cavanagh), a famed English jewel thief visiting the US under the guise of Sir Nigel Crane, as a means of getting on her trail.

Although Max doesn’t know he’s being manipulated, Sophie has bugged Stone’s apartment from the one upstairs, and is soon onto his scheme: “Stone’s been reading Edgar Wallace—set a thief to catch a thief.” She and her hard-drinking sidekick Aunt Nellie (Skipworth)—”I haven’t had a drop of breakfast yet”—persuade Sir Nigel/Max that they’re rich socialites; matters are complicated by Sophie (as “Alyssa Morgan”) and Max falling head-over-heels on first sight.

The two rivals—with Max still not knowing Sophie’s identity—go after the fabled Fortescue Pearls, currently being held at the Telfen jewelry store. Stone, one step ahead, has replaced the Fortescue Pearls with fakes, but this doesn’t faze Sophie, who (as “Countess Dineski”) steals the equally valuable Vestigliano Necklace instead. Fitness-fanatic Detective Stubbs (Errol) is set on the trail of both thief and loot, and offers some comedy.

The movie’s unlike the later series in several respects. First, the humor is (and this may be hard to credit) really quite funny; this is genuinely a comedy thriller rather than, as with most of its kind, a lightweight thriller, short on the thrills, with bolted-on “comic relief” scenes. Second, very atypically for this sort of movie, Stone is no bumbling idiot but an intelligent, resourceful detective; and, although Stubbs may clown around in appropriate secondary-cop fashion—there’s an excellent scene in which, acting undercover as a French waiter, he faces two voluble French customers attempting to place a complex order with him in their native tongue—he actually gets the last laugh on the thieves.

Author Anderson, upon whose tales of Sophie Lang the movie is loosely based, seems to have had a penchant for Raffles-like characters. His other series of note concerned a male equivalent, Godahl; these stories were collected as The Adventures of the Infallible Godahl (1914).

Reportedly the part of Sophie was offered to Carole Lombard, who turned it down. In the event, Michael plays the role as if born to it; the New York Times said of her performance that “Gertrude Michael, a smart and highly personable young woman, becomes a star, which is not as meaningless a term in the studios as you might imagine. Her subtly mocking burlesque of the alluring female Raffles, more than any other single fact about The Notorious Sophie Lang, helps the film preserve its humorous mood.” This was one of no fewer than 12 movies she made in 1934.

On Amazon.com: The Notorious Sophie Lang (Anderson’s book)

Evelyn Prentice (1934)

US / 79 minutes / bw / Cosmopolitan, MGM Dir: William K. Howard Pr: John W. Considine Jr. Scr: Lenore Coffee Story: Evelyn Prentice (1933) by W.E. Woodward Cine: Charles G. Clarke Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Una Merkel, Rosalind Russell, Isabel Jewell, Harvey Stephens, Edward Brophy, Henry Wadsworth, Cora Sue Collins, Frank Conroy, Jessie Ralph, Isabelle Keith, Jack Mulhall.

Released just a few months after the epochal Powell–Loy team-up The Thin Man (1934), this is a curious mixture of psychological thriller with Thin Man-style comedy crime, plus some noirish elements such as the innocent woman wrongly accused, the (different) innocent woman falling prey to a blackmailer, and the vampish femme fatale—in this instance, Rosalind Russell in her first big-screen role as widow Nancy Harrison, cleared of manslaughter thanks to the efforts of high-flying defense attorney John Prentice (Powell).

Immediately after the acquittal, John has to travel to Boston; Nancy books herself on his train and does her best to “express her gratitude” to him. Thwarted in this, she plants in his onboard drawing room a watch with an incriminating inscription, which watch the pullman company believes belongs to Mrs. Prentice and so forwards on to John’s wife Evelyn (Loy). Not unnaturally, Evelyn believes this is proof that husband John, who consistently neglects her for his law practice, has been having shenanigans with the lovely widow.

Evelyn Prentice (1934) - a telgram lets the cat out of the bag about John's carryings-on

A telegram lets the cat out of the bag about John’s supposed carryings-on.

But Evelyn’s own conscience is hardly clear: during John’s absence she’s been carrying on a flirtatious relationship with supposed poet and definite lounge lizard/serial blackmailer Lawrence “Larry” Kennard (Stephens). When Larry tries to blackmail Evelyn over innocent-yet-guilty-seeming letters she sent to him, she picks up his gun and . . . and . . . and then we don’t quite know what happens. Certainly Evelyn believes she killed Larry; she says as much to sassy, multiply divorced family friend Amy Drexel (Merkel). Yet the cops pick up Larry’s long-suffering mistress Judith Wilson (Jewell). Ravaged by guilt, Evelyn persuades John to defend Judith . . .

The climax takes the form of a fairly gripping courtroom drama, which comports well enough with the earlier psychological thriller/noirish mode but clashes quite a lot with the comedy-crime mode. There are obvious attempts to link Powell’s character to The Thin Man‘s Nick, notably his love of a cocktail or three; but here he has more gravitas than in the series. Loy, too, for the most part plays her role straight, leaving the comic relief in the quite capable hands of Merkel. Collins, as the Prentices’ daughter Dorothy, exhibits the kind of old-fashioned infant cutery that sends grown men (and women) rushing for the exits.

This was remade as Stronger than Desire (1939).

On Amazon.com: Evelyn Prentice