Millie (1931)

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Helen Twelvetrees in a melodrama for the ages!
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US / 85 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: John Francis Dillon Pr: Chas. R. Rogers Scr: Chas. Kenyon, Ralph Murphy (i.e., Ralph Morgan) Story: Millie (1930) by Donald Henderson Clarke Cine: Ernest Haller Cast: Helen Twelvetrees, Lilyan Tashman, Robert Ames, James Hall, John Halliday, Joan Blondell, Anita Louise, Edmund Breese, Frank McHugh, Charlotte Walker, Franklin Parker, Charles Delaney, Harry Stubbs, Louise Beavers, Harvey Clark, Aggie Herring, Geneva Mitchell, Hooper Atchley, Lillian Harmer.

Willows University student Jack Maitland (Hall) captures the heart of poor but lovely redhead Millicent “Millie” Blake (Twelvetrees) and persuades her to elope with him. Three years later they’re installed in a luxury New York apartment with Jack’s mother (Walker) and the couple’s infant daughter Connie (uncredited). In theory Millie should be content that she has all the good things in life, but in reality Jack is neglecting her—being frequently away “on business”—and she’s much of the time forced to relinquish her child to the cares of a governess (Harmer). So she’s delighted when one day, out of the blue, she gets a phone call from her childhood friend Angie Wickerstaff (Blondell).

Angie (Joan Blondell) and Helen (Lilyan Tashman) are cutting corners.

Angie has come to NYC to live with her pal Helen Reilly (Tashman), and suggests the three of them meet up at a local café; what she doesn’t mention on the phone is that Continue reading

Mysterious Doctor, The (1943)

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How did the Headless Man choose his victims?
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US / 57 minutes / bw / Warner–First National Dir: Ben Stoloff Scr: Richard Weil Cine: Henry Sharp Cast: John Loder, Eleanor Parker, Bruce Lester, Lester Matthews, Forrester Harvey, Matt Willis, Frank Mayo, Phyllis Barry, David Clyde, Clyde Cook, Harold De Becker, Crauford Kent, Leo White.

One foggy night in darkest Cornwall a peddler (De Becker), terrified by local legends of the Headless Man—the ghost of tin miner Black Morgan, who lost his head in a dispute over the ownership of the Wickham Mine—conquers his fears enough to give a lift to a stranger, Dr. Frederick Holmes (Matthews), ostensibly on a walking tour of the English Southwest. (And a very rapid if rather aimless walker, be it noted: we later discover he was in Camborne, in Dorset, the night before, and St. Ives, in Cornwall, the night before that!)

Holmes hitches a lift from the peddler (Harold De Becker).

The peddler drops Holmes off at the Running Horse Inn in the village of Morgan’s Head. There the stranger discovers that the publican, Simon Tewkesbury (Mayo), wears a hangman-style leather hood at all times because, years ago, a stick of dynamite went off in his face. (The hood is going to play an important, albeit outlandishly implausible, part in the plot later on.)

 The foreboding figure of barman Simon Tewkesbury (Frank Mayo).

Holmes also discovers that the locals are suspicious of and resentful of visitors—

Simon: “Us folks in Morgan’s Head don’t like to be laughed at, Dr. ’Olmes. Especially by strangers we don’t.”

—unless said strangers buy drinks all round, a trick taught to Holmes by village tosspot Hugh Penrhyn (Harvey). Those drinks are our first sign that this movie, though set in England, was a US product: the beers come Continue reading

Lizzie (1957)

US / 80 minutes / bw / Bryna, MGM Dir: Hugo Haas Pr: Jerry Bresler Scr: Mel Dinelli Story: The Bird’s Nest (1954) by Shirley Jackson Cine: Paul Ivano Cast: Eleanor Parker, Richard Boone, Joan Blondell, Hugo Haas, Ric Roman, Dorothy Arnold, John Reach, Marion Ross, Johnny Mathis, Karen Green, Carol Wells.

Lizzie - 4 Johnny Mathis sings

25-year-old Elizabeth Richmond (Parker) is a repressed, hypochondriacal, insecure museum worker who defies all the efforts of friendly colleague Ruth Seaton (Ross) to bring her out of her shell; she rebuffs almost tearfully the advances of the museum’s cut-price lothario, Johnny Valenzo (Roman). A particular source of misery is that she keeps finding poisonous letters on her desk or in her purse from someone signing themselves Lizzie.

Lizzie - 1 the first time Aunt Morgan encounters Lizzie

The first time Aunt Morgan (Joan Blondell) encounters the snarling Lizzie (Eleanor Parker).

One night, however, the timid Elizabeth startles the hard-drinking unsupportive aunt with whom she lives, Morgan James (Blondell), by suddenly snarling at her, “You drunken old Continue reading

Christmas Eve (1947)

vt Sinner’s Holiday

US / 93 minutes / bw / Miracle, UA Dir: Edwin L. Marin Pr: Benedict Bogeaus Scr: Laurence Stallings Story: Laurence Stallings, Richard H. Landau Cine: Gordon Avil Cast: George Raft, George Brent, Randolph Scott, Joan Blondell, Virginia Field, Dolores Moran, Ann Harding, Reginald Denny, Dennis Hoey, Clarence Kolb, Joe Sawyer, John Litel, Konstantin Shayne, Douglass Dumbrille, Carl Harbord, Molly Lamont, Walter Sande, Claire Whitney.

Xmas Eve - 0 Ann Harding excels as Aunt MatildaAnn Harding excels as Aunt Matilda.

Eccentric elderly NYC spinster Matilda Reed (Harding) has permitted some of her estate to be managed by her nephew Philip Hastings (Denny) but has kept control of the main part. Now, horrified by the amounts she’s been giving to charities, Philip has enlisted the aid of Judge Alston (Kolb) in trying to get her declared unfit to handle her own affairs, so that he might take over the entirety of the estate. And indeed, visiting the old woman with psychiatrist Doremus (Harbord) as ballast, the judge has to admit that “Aunt Matilda”—as she’s universally known—is certainly quite dotty: she attracts pigeons into her dining room to feed them, and uses a sophisticated electric train set to serve meals at the dining table.

Aunt Matilda naturally resents the encroachment, and declares that she’d rather her estate were handled by any one of her three adopted sons—all of whom flew the roost to make their own ways in the world but told her that, if ever she needed them, they’d be there for her. Philip, who knows more about the sons than Aunt Matilda thinks, scoffs at the idea. But the judge agrees that, if she can produce all three sons at the house on Christmas Eve, he’ll believe her claims of mental competency.

In turn we see three episodes about the sons, interspersed with scenes of Aunt Matilda, her redoubtable butler Williams (Hoey), and the gumshoe she hires to assist her search, Gimlet (Sawyer).

Xmas Eve - 2 The intriguing shadow of Harriet (Molly Lamont).

The first son up is playboy Michael Brooke (Brent), who’s seeking to solve the problem of his mounting debts by marrying heiress Harriet Rhodes (Lamont). The problem is that Harriet is one of the causes of those mounting debts: he’s been passing off rubber checks all over town to the tune of $75,000 in order to woo her with jewels and raiment. The other problem is that lovely salt-of-the-earth broad Ann Nelson (Blondell) loves him and wants him, and if truth be told he wants her too. Philip finds Continue reading

Merton of the Movies (1947)

US / 82 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Robert Alton Pr: Albert Lewis Scr: George Wells, Lou Breslow Story: Merton of the Movies (1919) by Harry Leon Wilson, and Merton of the Movies (1922 play) by George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly Cine: Paul C. Vogel Cast: Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien, Gloria Grahame, Leon Ames, Alan Mowbray, Charles D. Brown, Hugo Haas, Harry Hayden, Tom Trout, Douglas Fowley, Dick Wessel, Helen Eby-Rock.

This was the third movie version of Wilson’s novel and the hit Broadway play based on it. The earlier versions were Merton of the Movies (1924) dir James Cruze, with Glenn Hunter, Charles Sellon, Sadie Gordon and Gale Henry, and Make Me a Star (1932) dir William Beaudine, with Joan Blondell, Stuart Erwin, Zasu Pitts, Ben Turpin and Charles Sellon, the latter reprising his role as Pete Gashwiler. There was also a Kraft Theatre version: Merton of the Movies (1947 TVM) with Eddie Mayehoff and Patricia Englund. Cruze’s 1924 silent has been lost, and the same may be true of the TVM.

Merton of the Movies - Gloria Grahame

Beulah Baxter (Gloria Grahame), having just told the press she does all her own stunts, prepares to let stuntgirl Phyllis Montague (Virginia O’Brien) do the dangerous bit.

A satire of the movie business, this has no real noir relevance save for the presence in its cast of noir goddess Gloria Grahame (I’ve been working on a piece about Grahame for something else, which is what brought me to this movie), not to mention actor/producer/director Hugo Haas, whose enjoyably dire shoestring noirs have a minor cult following today. There are also some regular noir supports like Ames and Fowley.

It’s 1915 and Merton Gill (Skelton) is a cinema usher in Tinkerton, Kansas, and mad about the movies; his favorite stars are Lawrence “Larry” Rupert (Ames), famed for his detective roles, and the lovely Beulah Baxter (Grahame), famed for Continue reading

A Quartet of Shorties

Although I’ve been charged with including too many borderline noirs in the Encyclopedia  (odd for an encyclopedia to be accused of encompassing too much rather than too little!), in fact quite a few of the entries I wrote I decided later to reject. Some of those then got stuck back in again. In the absence of the usual collegial team you expect to be able to draw on when constructing an encyclopedia of this size, I had to be, as it were, my own collegiate: I conducted many internal debates over what to keep in and what to kick out, and often there were second thoughts.

The entries here on Noirish are in general far longer than I had space for in the encyclopedia. Here, just for interest, are my original entries for a few movies that got thrown out and stayed out; all the entries are very short because, of course, I already regarded the movies as borderline. That’s not to say these movies, especially The Velvet Touch, may not get fuller coverage here in due course.

The movies concerned are:

Sweet Revenge (1976; vt Dandy, the All American Girl)

There’s Always a Woman (1938)

The Unsaid (2001)

The Velvet Touch (1948)

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Sweet Revenge (1976)

vt Dandy, the All American Girl

US / 89 minutes / color / MGM Dir & Pr: Jerry Schatzberg Scr: Marilyn Goldin, B.J. Perla, Jor [sic] Van Kline Story: B.J. Perla Cine: Vilmos Zsigmond Cast: Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, Franklyn Ajaye, Richard Daughty, Norman Matlock.

Vurrla Kowsky (Channing) is a career car thief whose primary motive is to make enough money to buy herself a Ferrari. Lawyer Le Clerq (Waterston) believes he’s saving her from herself, but so do the other men in her life and she’s running rings round all of them. Although the movie’s determinedly comedic, its portrayal of the addiction that auto theft can become is (reportedly) very authentic.

On Amazon.com: Sweet Revenge

There’s Always a Woman (1938)

US / 81 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Alexander Hall Pr: William Perlberg Scr: Gladys Lehman Based on: story by Wilson Collison Cine: Henry Freulich Cast: Joan Blondell, Melvyn Douglas, Mary Astor, Frances Drake, Jerome Cowan, Thurston Hall, Rita Hayworth (uncredited).

Of strictly ancillary interest, There’s Always a Woman (1938) was intended by Columbia as first in a series to rival The THIN MAN. Joan Blondell and Melvyn Douglas star as husband-and-wife sleuths solving a society crime, she trying—and succeeding despite her husband’s sexism—to be a PI, while he acts for the DA’s office. It’s easy to see why the series never took off: while Blondell does wonders for an ordinary script, Douglas is insipid and, among the rest, only an uncredited Tom Dugan as a knucklehead cop stands out.

On Amazon.com: There’s Always a Woman (currently unavailable, but with luck might return soon)

Unsaid, The (2001)

Canada, US / 111 minutes / color / New Legend, Mind’s Eye, CineSon, Eagle Dir: Tom McLoughlin Pr: Tom Berry, Matt Hastings, Kelley Reynolds Scr: Miguel Tejada-Flores, Scott Williams Story: Christopher Murphey Cine: Lloyd Ahern II Cast: Andy Garcia, Vincent Kartheiser, Linda Cardellini, Chelsea Field, Teri Polo, Sam Bottoms, Trevor Blumas.

Psychologist Michael Hunter (Garcia) treats troubled teenager Tommy Caffey (Kartheiser) while haunted by memories of his own teenaged son’s suicide. The son, Kyle (Blumas), killed himself after sexual abuse by a therapist; Tommy was a victim of sexual abuse by his mother and then saw his father, Joseph (Bottoms), beat her to death. When Tommy hooks up with Michael’s daughter Shelly (Cardellini) he learns from her which of Michael’s buttons to press in order to exploit the similarities between the two cases. A trite ending undermines an otherwise interesting, thought-provoking piece.

On Amazon.com: The Unsaid

Velvet Touch, The (1948)

US / 97 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: John Gage Pr: Frederick Brisson Scr: Leo Rosten, Walter Reilly Story: Annabel Ross Cine: Joseph Walker Cast: Rosalind Russell, Leo Genn, Claire Trevor, Sydney Greenstreet, Leon Ames.

Broadway comedienne Valerie Stanton (Russell), during a tussle with producer and dumped lover Gordon Dunning (Ames)—over her desire to take the lead in a revival of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and over her new boyfriend, Michael Morrell (Genn)—hits him with a statuette and inadvertently kills him; the body’s discovered by fellow-actress Marian Webster (Trevor). While the latter’s hospitalized with shock, cop Captain Danbury (Greenstreet) concludes Marian must be the killer, ignoring Valerie as even a suspect; she has, unwittingly, committed the perfect crime. A witty screenplay and fine performances raise this mystery above the average level of the pack.

On Amazon.com: The Velvet Touch [VHS] and The Velvet Touch [Region 2]