Bad Guy (1937)

US / 69 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Edward Cahn (i.e., Edward L. Cahn) Pr: Tom Reed Scr: Earl Felton, Harry Ruskin Story: J. Robert Bren, Kathleen Shepard, Hal Long Cine: Lester White Cast: Bruce Cabot, Virginia Grey, Edward Norris, Jean Chatburn, Cliff Edwards, Charley Grapewin, G. Pat Collins, Warren Hymer, John Hamilton, Clay Clement, Russell Hopton, Garry Owen, Roy Gordon

A fairly standard crime programmer with more than a touch of noirish nihilism and an interesting lecture in the middle—complete with graphic demonstrations!—on the properties of high-voltage electricity. Don’t tell me that 1930s movies had anything but the highest educational aspirations.

Linemen/linesmen (the screenplay uses both forms of the term) “Lucky” Walden (Cabot) and Steve Carroll (Norris) have been partners repairing power  lines for a dozen years, but they go back ‘way further than that. Once they were best buddies in the orphanage together, and they regard each other not just as friends but as brothers.

Bruce Cabot as Lucky

One day Lucky, addicted to gambling, lashes out with a wrench in an altercation with a crooked gambler, Charlie Edwards (Hopton). Edwards Continue reading

Sensation Hunters (1945)

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The price of rebellion!
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vt Club Paradise
US / 62 minutes / bw / Monogram, Associated Artists Dir: Christy Cabanne Pr: Joseph Kaufman Scr: Dennis Cooper Story: John Faxon Cine: Ira Morgan Cast: Robert Lowery, Doris Merrick, Eddie Quillan, Constance Worth, Isabel Jewell, Wanda McKay, Nestor Paiva, Byron Foulger, Vince Barnett, Minerva Urecal, Janet Shaw, Maurice Murphy, Billy Nelson, John Hamilton, The Rubenettes, The Johnson Brothers.

Every now and then Poverty Row studio Monogram got it just right and produced a splendid minor noir, and this was one of those times. Despite the coincidence of title, it bears no relation to the earlier Sensation Hunters (1933) dir Charles Vidor, with Arline Judge, Marion Burns and Preston Foster, a far inferior movie that I plan to cover here next week.

In the opening moments we see a man arrive at a darkened frontage and ring the doorbell. A negligée-clad woman appears at a balcony overhead, and summons him upstairs. Moments later, three shots ring out . . .

The rest of the movie is one long flashback leading us up to this scene. We’re soon pretty sure who the woman was (will be?), but who was the man? And who shot whom? And why? Continue reading

Mr. Wong, Detective (1938)

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Boris Karloff stars in a triple locked-room mystery!
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US / 69 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: William Nigh Assoc pr: William Lackey Scr: Houston Branch Based on: characters created by Hugh Wiley in 12 stories published 1934–38 in Colliers Magazine Cine: Harry Neumann Cast: Boris Karloff, Grant Withers, Maxine Jennings, Evelyn Brent, George Lloyd, Lucien Prival, John St. Polis, William Gould, Hooper Atchley, John Hamilton, Wilbur Mack, Lee Tong Foo, Lynton Brent, Grace Wood, Frank Bruno, Wheaton Chambers.

mr-wong-detective-0a

The first of a series of six movies about the San Francisco PI James Lee Wong, created in print by Hugh Wiley; the first five movies starred Boris Karloff as Wong, while the sixth starred an actual Chinese-American in the role, Keye Luke. Depressingly, that sixth movie, Phantom of Chinatown (1940), flopped and so the series came to abrupt end. (When I get a chance, I’ll add it to this site. But it seemed silly to start watching a series with its final entry.)

I confess that for years I’ve avoided the Mr. Wong movies—as I generally do the Charlie Chan ones—because I find it just as creepy to watch a white actor play what I suppose we have to call Yellow Face as I do watching white actors play Black Face. I have to report, though, that the experience wasn’t as grueling as I’d expected. There is no mockery at all of Chinese culture or mannerisms. To the contrary, Wong is the most respected character in the movie; at one point the romantic lead compares the elderly Wong so favorably to her police-detective boyfriend—“Mr. Wong, it’s been such a pleasure meeting a detective with such charming manners”—that the cop’s eyes narrow in jealousy.

The Dayton Chemical Co. is planning to ship a consignment of toxic chemicals to Europe aboard the good ship Orinoco. The operation is spied upon by Lescardi (Bruno), an enforcer working for a pair of activists embedded in European politics, Anton Mohl (Prival), who goes by the name Baron von Krantz, and Olga Petroff (Evelyn Brent), who goes by the name Countess Dubois. They’re eager to divert Continue reading

Wall Street Mystery, The (1931)

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“Well, there’s nothing mysterious about a killing in Wall Street. I know—I made one myself.”
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US / 17 minutes / bw / Vitaphone, Warner Dir: Arthur Hurley Scr: Burnet Hershey Story: S.S. Van Dine Cine: E.B. DuPar Cast: Donald Meek, John Hamilton, Frances Dale, Hobart Cavanaugh.

Wall Street Mystery - 1 The cleaner discovers the corpses

Two stockbrokers, Clive West (uncredited) and his junior partner Edwin Homer (uncredited), are found shot dead in their office one morning by the cleaner (uncredited). Inspector Carr (Hamilton), who’s leading the investigation, decides to call in his old pal, criminologist Dr. Amos Crabtree (Meek), to Continue reading

HALLOWEEN DOUBLE BILL: Who Killed Aunt Maggie? (1940) and The Girl who Dared (1944)

These two Old Dark House melodramas were based on novels by Medora Field, a novelist of whom I knew nothing until recently, when Curtis Evans of The Passing Tramp posted an essay about her. She was a friend of Margaret Mitchell (who encouraged her to write) and produced just the two novels. Before the end of this year (2014) the two are to be reissued as a double volume by Coachwhip, with an introduction by Evans. For more, see his piece at The Passing Tramp.

UPDATE: Evans has just announced that the two novels are now indeed back in print — as individual volumes, it appears, rather than a double volume. Go check out the covers and other details Right Now.

Aunt Maggie - 0 opener

Who Killed Aunt Maggie? (1940)

US / 70(?) minutes / bw / Republic Dir: Arthur Lubin Scr: Stuart Palmer, Frank Gill Jr, Hal Fimberg Story: Who Killed Aunt Maggie? (1939) by Medora Field Cine: Reggie Lanning Cast: John Hubbard, Wendy Barrie, Edgar Kennedy, Elizabeth Patterson, Onslow Stevens, Joyce Compton, Walter Abel, Mona Barrie, Willie Best, Daisy Lee Mothershed, Milton Parsons.

Kirk Pierce (Hubbard) runs a company that produces radio shows for advertisers to endorse. The latest demo he’s listening to is The House with the Secret Room by Sally Ambler (Wendy Barrie), and Continue reading

Murder is News (1937)

Canada, US / 55 minutes / bw / Warwick Dir: Leon Barsha Pr: Kenneth J. Bishop Scr: Edgar Edwards Story: Theodore A. Tinsley Cine: George Meehan Cast: John Gallaudet, Iris Meredith, George McKay, Doris Lloyd, John Hamilton, John G. Spacey, Frank C. Wilson, Colin Kenny, William McIntyre, Fred Bass, Doreen MacGregor.

Tony Peyden (Wilson), trumpeter in the resident band at the Club Saratoga, is the stepson of Edgar Drake (McIntyre), millionaire president of Drake Utilities and a man whose meanness is epitomized in the anecdote of his having tipped a porter a dime for carrying a trunk up sixteen floors.

One evening at the club Tony hears the nightly broadcast of yellow journalist Jerry Tracy (Gallaudet) of the Daily Planet. The latest lubricious story is that tonight Drake is going to sail for the UK on the Princess Anne and that Tony’s mother Pauline (Lloyd) is going to wait until her husband is safely mid-Atlantic before suing for divorce, with the intention of marrying the company’s attorney, David Corning (Hamilton).

Murder is News - 1 Doris Lloyd as the soon-to-be divorcee maintaining her dignity

Doris Lloyd as Pauline Drake, the dignified soon-to-be divorcee.

Distressed at the thought of his mother’s name being dragged through the scandal sheets, Tony agrees with the club’s owner, Fred Hammer (Spacey), that he should take a walk to try to get over his upset; in fact, he phones his mother at the family’s Westchester home and arranges Continue reading