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

Unashamed (1932)

US / 76 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Harry Beaumont Scr: Bayard Veiller Cine: Norbert Brodine Cast: Helen Twelvetrees, Robert Young, Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt, John Miljan, Monroe Owsley, Robert Warwick, Gertrude Michael, Wilfrid North, Tommy Jackson, Louise Beaver (i.e., Louise Beavers).

Unashamed - 0 Unashamed - 1 Naughty nightclub life

Naughty nightclub life.

This was the first of two movies released in 1932 to be based on a celebrated Philadelphia murder case, in which Eddie Allen killed Francis “Skinny” Donaldson, the lover of Eddie’s younger (in fact, underage) sister Rose. The other was Two Against the World (1932) dir Archie Mayo, with Constance Bennett, Neil Hamilton, Helen Vinson, Allen Vincent and Gavin Gordon, which I haven’t seen but obviously should. Although the Eddie Allen/Skinny Donaldson case was widely described as an honor killing, justified under the so-called “unwritten law,” there seems from my limited reading about it to have been a good deal more involved—it was a sort of premeditated self-defense killing. In Unashamed it’s reworked as something akin to a crime passionnel.

Unashamed - 4 Joan dreams of romance as she dances with Harry

Joan (Helen Twelvetrees) dreams of romance as she dances with Harry.

Rich man’s daughter Joan Ogden (Twelvetrees) has contracted an unsuitable relationship with wide boy Harry Swift (Owsley), whose main talents are gambling, playing polo and spending money he doesn’t have. Although Continue reading

Big Street, The (1942)

US / 88 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Irving Reis Pr: Damon Runyon Scr: Leonard Spigelgass Story: “Little Pinks” (1940; Collier’s Magazine) by Damon Runyon Cine: Russell Metty Cast: Henry Fonda, Lucille Ball, Barton MacLane, Eugene Pallette, Agnes Moorehead, Sam Levene, Ray Collins, Marion Martin, William Orr, George Cleveland, Vera Gordon, Louise Beavers, Juan Varro, Art Hamburger, Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra.

Runyon’s tales are, of course, not noir, and yet they share noir’s milieu so knowingly that it can be hard to ignore their claims. In the case of MIDNIGHT ALIBI (1935) I was sufficiently persuaded of those claims to include an entry in the Encyclopedia; The Big Street might also have been a candidate, had I had the space.

The movie opens with scrolled text beginning:

Loser’s Lane—the sidewalk in front of Mindy’s Restaurant on Broadway—is not as high-toned a trading center as Wall Street, but the brokers are a lot more colorful.

 Generally they prefer to put their money on a prizefight or horserace, but when the action slows, anything can happen and it usually does. . . .

What’s happening today in Mindy’s is the Eating Championship of the World, organized by the merry lowlifes Professor B. (Collins) and Horsethief (Levene), the dueling trenchermen being Mr. Nicely Nicely Johnson (Pallette) and Mr. Joel Duffle (fittingly played by Hamburger); the hoodlum Case Ables (MacLane) has a hefty stake in Nicely Nicely winning. However, Nicely Nicely has fallen ill with dyspepsia, owing to unwise snacking. The Mindy’s busboy Little Pinks (Fonda)—more fully Augustus Pinkerton II—offers the services in Nicely Nicely’s place of his lodging-house co-boarder Violette Shumberger (Moorehead), but she proves inadequate to the task and the vicious Ables loses his stash.

Lucille Ball as a chanteuse facing an uncertain future.

The event’s the opportunity for Pinks to meet Ables’s chanteuse moll Gloria Lyons (Ball), whose yappy little dog Baby Continue reading

Shriek in the Night, A (1933)

US / 67 minutes / bw / M.H. Hoffman, Allied Dir: Albert Ray Scr: Frances Hyland Story: Kurt Kempler Cine: Harry Neumann, Tom Galligan Cast: Ginger Rogers, Lyle Talbot, Harvey Clark, Purnell Pratt, Lillian Harmer, Arthur Hoyt, Louise Beaver (i.e., Louise Beavers), Clarence Wilson, Maurice Black.

A Shriek in the Night is among the countless B-movies Ginger Rogers made before anyone in mainstream Hollywood seemed to notice her indubitable screen charisma and her talent as a comedy actress. Later on she would show she was perfectly fine in noir and other dramatic roles too, as in STORM WARNING (1951), BEAUTIFUL STRANGER (1954), TIGHT SPOT (1955), and the non-noir Black Widow (1954), to name just a few examples.

One night, shrieking as per the movie’s title, philanthropist Adam Harker falls to his death from—apparently—the roof garden of the Harker Apartments. Inspector Russell (Pratt) arrives to investigate with his bumbling, diffident sidekick Wilfred (Hoyt), and interviews the deceased’s secretary Miss Terry (geddit?)—in fact, undercover Morning News reporter Patricia “Pat” Morgan (Rogers)—and housekeeper Augusta (Harmer).

While Russell’s in another room, Pat takes the opportunity to go through purloined papers of Harker’s and finds a card, posted to him 12 hours earlier, decorated with the picture of a hissing snake and bearing the words, cut and pasted from newspapers, “You Will Hear It!”

She phones this information to a rewrite man at her newspaper, plus the facts that (a) two hours before his death Harker received Continue reading