Lady Scarface (1941)

US / 66 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Frank Woodruff Pr: Cliff Reid Scr: Arnaud D’Usseau, Richard Collins Cine: Nicholas Musuraca Cast: Dennis O’Keefe, Judith Anderson, Frances Neal, Mildred Coles, Eric Blore, Marc Lawrence, Damian O’Flynn, Andrew Tombes, Marion Martin, Rand Brooks, Arthur Shields, Lee Bonnell, Harry Burns, Horace MacMahon, Huntley Gordon.

All that the cops have learned about the Slade Gang is that its leader is a guy called Slade. Little do they know that Slade isn’t a man, as they assume, but a ruthless dame (Anderson) . . . a ruthless dame with a scar on her face.

Judith Anderson as Slade.

When the gang travel from their home turf, New York, to pull off a heist at the Pierce company in Chicago, knocking off James A. Pierce (Gordon) in the process, Chicago cop Lieutenant Bill Mason (O’Keefe) is sent to New York to Continue reading

Fly-by-Night (1942)

|
On the run for a murder he didn’t commit!
|

vt Dangerous Holiday
US / 72 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Robert Siodmak Pr: Sol C. Siegel Scr: Jay Dratler, F. Hugh Herbert Story: Ben Roberts, Sidney Sheldon Cine: John Seitz Cast: Richard Carlson, Nancy Kelly, Albert Basserman, Miles Mander, Walter Kingsford, Martin Kosleck, Marion Martin, Oscar O’Shea, Mary Gordon, Edward Gargan, Clem Bevans, Arthur Loft, Michael Morris, Cy Kendall, Nestor Paiva, John Butler.

An escapade conceived very much in the style of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935), with which movie it shares a number of plot points. Again we have a hero who has to go on the run because suspected of murdering a man who has sought his aid, and again our hero ropes in an unwilling woman as accomplice (with romance as inevitable, further down the line, as in a Hallmark Christmas movie), and again there’s an espionage conspiracy to be foiled.

To say that Siodmak, whose second Hollywood movie this was, was no Hitchcock is the obvious trite comment, and a foolish one—as foolish as saying, equally truthfully, that Hitchcock was no Siodmak. The two directors each had his own strengths, and this one plays to Siodmak’s. The comedy and tension are very well integrated—that I laughed aloud several times didn’t mean I wasn’t on the edge of my seat at others—but what stood out most for me, in terms of the direction, was Continue reading

Phantom Speaks, The (1945)

|
What possessed him to commit murder?
|

US / 69 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: John English Pr: Donald H. Brown Scr: John K. Butler Cine: William Bradford Cast: Richard Arlen, Stanley Ridges, Lynne Roberts, Tom Powers, Charlotte Wynters, Jonathan Hale, Pierre Watkin, Marian Martin (i.e., Marion Martin), Garry Owen, Ralf Harolde, Doreen McCann, Joseph Granby, Bob Alden, Charles Sullivan.

The Phantom Speaks - closer

It begins, as so many stories do, in a park. Frankie Teal (Harolde) is there, having come in response to a note from his mistress:

“Frankie:
Harvey out of town. Meet me in the park at noon. Usual place. Important.
Betty.”

But the person who meets Frankie isn’t Betty at all: it’s Harvey Bogardus (Powers), Betty’s husband and a ruthless self-made man. He 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