Gun Cargo (1949 TVM)

US / ~55 minutes cut to 48 minutes / bw / Irwin–Dyer Productions, Favorite Films Dir, Pr & Scr: Jack Irwin Cine: Edward Kull Cast: Rex Lease, Smith Ballew, William Farnum, Gibson Gowland, Robert Frazer, Gilbert Holmes, Allene Ray, Harry Allen, John Ince, James Irwin

If ever a movie had a tortured genesis, Gun Cargo was it. Production started on what was initially called Contraband in the early 1930s, probably in 1934, although sources are divided as to exactly which year. Money ran out soonish, and the project was abandoned until 1939, when initial footage was added in the form of the Board of Inquiry hearing that forms the frame story, the main story being told in the form of flashbacks from here. Seemingly at the same time, in 1939, a barroom sequence was imported from the (very much more interesting) 1930 Lupe Velez movie Hell Harbor to pad out the running time a bit and in a desperate attempt to provide the main plot with some resolution and a link to the framing device of the hearing.

Another addition that seems to have been made in 1939 was an appallingly dubbed barroom rendition of “I Dream of Jeanie” by cowboy crooner Smith Ballew, who appears nowhere else in the movie yet gets second billing. Go figure. Presumably Ballew’s agent insisted on the prominent billing and then the pair of them watched their “win” backfire.

Rex Lease as Jim

The movie seems to have been finished (if finished it can be called) in 1941, at which time, according to the AFI, it was approved for theatrical release—at least in the state of New York; at that point 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

Gallant Lady (1942)

vt Prison Girls

US / 68 minutes / bw / Motion Picture Associates, PRC Dir: William Beaudine Pr: Lester Cutler Scr: Arthur St. Claire Story: “Gallant Lady” (1939, Collier’s Magazine) by Octavus Roy Cohen Cine: Marcel Le Picard Cast: Rose Hobart, Sidney Blackmer, Claire Rochelle, Lynn Starr, Jane Novak, Vince Barnett, Jack Baxley, Crane Whitley, John Ince, Richard Clarke, Spec O’Donnell, Inez Cole, Ruby Dandridge, Henry Hastings.

Near the end of her sentence for having committed the mercy killing of a terminally ill, suffering patient who begged her for relief—a crime of which she is innocent—Dr. Rosemary Walsh (Hobart) gets dragged into a breakout mounted by fellow-prisoners Nellie (Rochelle) and Jane (Cole), with the outside aid of Nellie’s gangster boyfriend Nick Furelli (Clarke) and his sidekick Baldy O’Shea (Barnett). Jane goes her own way, and in due course Rosemary decides to give herself back up to the authorities. Nick hands her some money and tells her details of how to find him in NYC should she change her mind.

So that’s how this country doctoring is done!

Halfway back to the prison she indeed does change her mind. Pausing by a farmhouse, she discovers Continue reading

Honor of the Press (1932)

US / 61 minutes / bw / Fanchon Royer, Mayfair Dir: Breezy Eason Pr: George W. Weeks Scr: John Thomas Neville Story: M.L. Simmons, J.K. Foster Cine: Ernest Miller Cast: Edward J. Nugent, Rita La Roy, Wheeler Oakman, Dorothy Gulliver, Russell Simpson, John Ince, Reginald Simpson, Franklin Parker, Franklyn Farnum, Vivian Fields, Charles K. French.

The investigative crime journalist and the busy newsroom were to become staples of noir—often with the lonelyhearts columnist as love interest and the crooked or at least “pragmatic” owner as antagonist—so this movie serves as an interesting prototype. Here the lonelyhearts columnist is more vamp than sweetheart, but otherwise the formula’s faithful.

Daniel H. “Danny” Greely (Nugent) comes from the rural Wattlesville Echo to talk himself into a job at the Metropolitan Clarion in East Orange, NJ. That city has been plagued by the thieving and murdering gang run by the so-called Gold Baron. The Clarion‘s reporter Larry Grayson (Simpson) seems to be following the Gold Baron Gang’s activities far more closely than the cops are able to, a fact that the Clarion‘s relatively new owner, Roger Bradley (Oakman), is using to lambast Police Commissioner Drake (Ince), whose inquiries are getting nowhere.

At a society ball that Danny’s been designated to attend with Clarion agony aunt Daisy Tellem (La Roy), he’s taking the chance to canoodle in the cloakroom with his hatcheck-girl sweetheart June Bonner (Gulliver) when the Gold Baron Gang descends; even though he phones in his story from the site, Grayson somehow beats him to it. Even before we see Bradley setting up a hit on Danny, it’s become fairly plain to us that he’s the Gold Baron; he’s using his own daily Golden Nuggets front-page box to send coded messages to his gang. Bradley’s longer-term plan is to buy up the only other local newspaper, the Herald, so that, through entirely controlling the “news” fed to the folk of East Orange, he can make the city his own. (Viewed 80 years later, as the Koch Brothers aim to buy up a major newspaper chain for an exactly similar purpose, this aspect of the movie seems spookily prescient.)

The movie’s no classic, but it holds the attention and raises (even if only halfheartedly) a few interesting questions—some of them mouthed by Danny’s immediate boss, Clarion City Editor Dan “Perk” Perkins (Simpson, who does this part well), an old-style newsman who scoffs at Bradley’s boasts of having made the Clarion hugely more profitable at the price of the paper’s honor. Like most protonoirs, this is stuck with a gratuitous comedy-relief scene. This one, though, is actually quite funny. Danny visits the Clarion‘s photographer, Sorrell “Sorry” Simpson (Parker), who has apparently just invented the telephoto lens; this is glossed over as a piece of wacky crankdom. Danny persuades Sorry to do a publicity shot of girlfriend June, who has the prettiest face; Sorry’s response is that “Nobody ever sees a face in leg art.”

It’s tempting to think that the “H.” in Danny’s name might stand for “Horace”; on the other hand, had the scripters intended such a witty little reference they’d have spelled Danny’s surname “Greeley” rather than “Greely” . . . would they not?

On Honor of the Press and Honor of the Press