Mademoiselle Fifi (1944)

US / 69 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Robert Wise Pr: Val Lewton Scr: Josef Mischel, Peter Ruric Story: “Mademoiselle Fifi” (1882) and “Boule de Suif” (1880) by Guy de Maupassant Cine: Harry Wild Cast: Simone Simon, John Emery, Kurt Kreuger, Alan Napier, Helen Freeman, Jason Robards (i.e., Jason Robards Sr.), Norma Varden, Romaine Callender, Fay Helm, Edmund Glover, Charles Waldron, Alan Ward, Lillian Bronson, Mayo Newhall, Violette Wilson.

I’d seen a brief description somewhere of this movie that made me think it might be an intriguing piece of historical borderline noir. That didn’t prove to be the case, although there’s a certain amount of noirishness late in the proceedings—enough, anyway, to satisfy this site’s notoriously lax standards.

It’s 1870, and France is under occupation by the Prussians. Far too many of the French are collaborating with the occupiers, and Father Moran (Waldron), the elderly priest of the little town of Cleresville, refuses to ring the church bell until a Frenchman has the guts to strike back against the invaders.

Simone Simon as Elisabeth.

This pisses off the local garrison, notably Lt. von Eyrick (Kreuger), nicknamed Mademoiselle Fifi by his fellow officers because of his habit of saying “Fi, fi donc” to express impatience. (The French phrase doesn’t translate easily, except as “Fie, fie, then”—not exactly yer colloquial.)

Cut to Rouen, where a coach is about to leave for Dieppe, with Cleresville as one of its stops. Aboard are a mixed bag of Continue reading

Unholy Love (1932)

vt Deceit
US / 75 minutes / bw / Albert Ray, Allied Dir: Albert Ray Pr: M.H. Hoffman Scr: Frances Hyland Story: Madame Bovary (1856) by Gustave Flaubert Cine: Harry Neumann, Tom Galligan Cast: H.B. Warner, Lila Lee, Joyce Compton, Ivan Lebedeff, Beryl Mercer, Jason Robards Sr., Lysle Talbot (i.e., Lyle Talbot), Kathlyn Williams, Richard Carlyle, Frances Rich.

Unholy Love - 0 opener

Late one night, stately old Dr. Daniel “Dan” Gregory (Warner) arrives at the cottage where elderly gardener A. “Brownie” Bailey (Carlyle) is dying. Brownie is really the patient of Dan’s doctor son Jerome Preston “Jerry” Gregory (Talbot), but Jerry has for some reason chickened out on treating him, instead concentrating on comforting Brownie’s lovely daughter Sheila (Compton). Brownie soon dies and, before Dan leaves, Jerry drops a bombshell: he and Sheila have secretly married.

Unholy Love - 1 Jerry and Dan argue about Jerry's marriage to Sheila

 Jerry (Lyle Talbot) and Dan (H.B. Warner) argue about Jerry’s marriage to Sheila.

Unholy Love - 2 Sheila shows little distress over her father's death

Sheila (Joyce Compton) shows little distress over her father’s death.

Dan goes straight to the home of his old friend Mrs. Mary Bradford (Williams) and breaks to her the news of Jerry’s marriage. The two elderly people are distressed together, because it’s long been assumed that Jerry will marry Mary’s daughter Jane (Lee), who loves him dearly. The worst of it, they agree, is that Continue reading

Strange Adventure, A (1932)

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An old dark house and a hooded figure, oo-er!
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vt The Wayne Murder Case
US / 60 minutes / bw / Chadwick, Monogram Dir: Phil Whitman Pr: I.E. Chadwick Scr: Lee Chadwick, Hampton Del Ruth Story: Arthur Hoerl Cine: Leon Shamroy Cast: Regis Toomey, June Clyde, Lucille La Verne, Jason Robards Sr, William V. Mong, Eddie Phillips, Dwight Frye, Nadine Dore, Alan Roscoe, Isabelle Vecki, Harry Myers, Eddie Chandler, Snowflake.

A Strange Adventure - closer

Vile old plutocrat Silas Wayne (Mong) is, though still mobile, nearing death. Unmarried, he brings all his nieces and nephews together in his home for a pre-mortem reading of his will. Before the great performance, however, his nephew and secretary Claude Wayne (Phillips) opens the old man’s hidden safe—all the family seems to know where this is, and how to get into it whenever they want to!—and scans the provisions of the will. One of these concerns the housekeeper, Miss Sheen (La Verne):

“To her and her children I leave the Candor diamond, in the hope it will continue to be an evil omen!”

Another relates to his married niece Sarah Boulter (Vecki), who’s to get $100,000 upon the birth of her first child—a prime example of the old man’s psychological sadism because, as we find, he well knew that Continue reading

Woman Unafraid (1934)

US / 58 minutes / bw / Goldsmith Dir: William J. Cowan (i.e., William J. Cowen) Pr: Ken Goldsmith, George E. Kann Scr: Mary E. McCarthy Cine: Gilbert Warrenton Cast: Lucile Gleason, Skeets Gallagher, Lona Andre, Warren Hymer, Barbara Weeks, Laura Treadwell, Ruth Clifford, Eddie Phillips, Jason Robards Sr., Erin La Bissoniere, Franklin Parker, Baby Waring, Richard Elliott, Julie Kingdon, Joyce Coad, Florence Wix, George Guhl, Henry Hall, James T. Mack.

Woman Unafraid - 0 opener

It wasn’t all that often that 1930s crime dramas got the balance between drama and humor right—usually you wish they’d just skipped the cringeworthy humor and had a shorter movie—but sometimes they managed to integrate the two elements perfectly. Some of the lines here are laugh-out-loud funny; elsewhere there are moments of genuine, non-bathetic (well, only a bit bathetic) poignancy; and there’s a likeable, entirely admirable heroine to bind everything together.

Augusta Winthrop (Gleason) is a middle-aged cop with a big heart: she’s a universal aunt. A principal duty of hers is to attend the dancehouse run by Tom Brady (Elliott) to make sure none of the dancers are getting so frisky as to commit public indecency, and also of course to check that none of the taxi dancers are offering more than dances. There are flies in her ointment, not least that Mrs. Eleanor Worthington (Treadwell), the self-appointed President of the Girls’ Protective League, has a habit of calling by on the lookout for “outrages.” Ironically, another problem for Augusta is that Eleanor’s nephew, Anthony Desmond (Gallagher), arrives at the club most nights in a skunklike state—a condition in which his hands become . . . venturesome. As one of the taxi dancers remarks of his latest performance on the dancefloor, “That guy ought to be a chiropractor.”

Tonight Augusta has been Continue reading