Panther’s Moon (1950)

vt Spy Hunt
US / 74 minutes / bw / Universal International Dir: George Sherman Pr: Ralph Dietrich Scr: George Zuckerman, Leonard Lee Story: Panther’s Moon (1948; vt Hunter’s Moon) by Victor Canning Cine: Irving Glassberg Cast: Howard Duff, Marta Toren (i.e., Märta Torén), Philip Friend, Robert Douglas, Philip Dorn, Walter Slezak, Kurt Kreuger, Aram Katcher, Otto Waldis, Ivan Triesault, Jay Barney.

Although it’s technically a US production, this outing has “UK film noir” stamped all over it, including the use of a fading US star as leading man: Duff was accused in 1950 of communist sympathies and, if not for his relationship with Ida Lupino, whom he married in 1951, might have found himself ostracized by the industry. British and other European actors dominate the cast, notably the radiant Swedish actress Märta Torén as the female lead, and the movie is based on a novel by the stalwart UK thriller writer Victor Canning.

Marta Toren as Catherine

It’s the early days of the Cold War, and Europe is aswarm with clandestine agents of diverse allegiances.

In Milan, an agent called Gormand (Waldis) passes a piece of microfilm he’s brought from Istanbul to Catherine Ullven (Torén), who seems to be working with the British Secret Service. She in turn, pretending to be a journalist for the Apex News Service, sweet-talks Steve Quain (Duff), who’s escorting a pair of black panthers by train across Europe for eventual delivery to Bradley’s Circus in the US, into leaving the animals briefly Continue reading

Women from Headquarters (1950)

US / 47/60 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: George Blair Assoc Pr: Stephen Auer Scr: Gene Lewis Cine: John MacBurnie Cast: Virginia Huston, Robert Rockwell, Barbra Fuller, Norman Budd, Frances Charles, K. Elmo Lowe, Otto Waldis, Grandon Rhodes, Jack Kruschen, Bert Conway, Marlo Dwyer, Sid Marion, John DeSimone, Gil Herman, Leonard Penn.

A cross between an efficient little B-feature police procedural and a promotional/recruitment video (so to speak) for the LAPD and its supposedly woman-friendly policies.

Virginia Huston as Joyce.

Joyce Harper (Huston) has served her country overseas in uniform, but now she’s back and she just can’t hold down a steady job: “I came back to a world I didn’t fit into.” She rooms with Ruby Cain (Fuller), whom she’s looked after for the past decade or so, since Ruby was orphaned at age 12. Like any big sister, she’s aghast at the man the kid’s taken up with:

Joyce: “Wake up, Ruby. You’re just the glamorous little girl he likes to pet, spoil and fool around with. He gets a kick out of his shady pals sizing you up.”

Quite right too: the man in question, Max Taylor (Budd), is a drug pusher, working for nightclub boss Joe Calla (Waldis). And, when Joyce is recruited by Sergeant Ann Rogers (Charles) to join the LAPD, Continue reading

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)

US / 84 minutes / bw / Rampart, Universal–International Dir: Max Opuls (i.e., Max Ophüls) Pr: John Houseman Scr: Howard Koch Story: Brief einer Unbekannten (1922; vt Letter from an Unknown Woman) by Stefan Zweig Cine: Frank Planer Cast: Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan, Mady Christians, Marcel Journet, Art Smith, Carol Yorke, Howard Freeman, John Good, Leo B. Pessin, Otto Waldis, Sonja Bryden.

This lushly produced romantic tragedy isn’t by any stretch a film noir and there was never any question of its having an entry in the Encyclopedia, yet it has a few of those noirish attributes that can give movies interest to adherents of the genre. Director Ophüls (CAUGHT [1949], The RECKLESS MOMENT [1949]) and costar Jourdan (The PARADINE CASE [1947], JULIE [1956]) made minor contributions to noir, while Fontaine’s contributions were more substantial: SUSPICION (1941), IVY (1947), KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS (1948), BORN TO BE BAD (1950), BIGAMIST, THE (1953), BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956), SERENADE (1956) and of course REBECCA (1940). Also noirish are the flashback-oriented narrative and the sense of inevitably imminent disaster: from the moment that she sees the pianist Stefan Brand (Jourdan) moving in as the new upstairs neighbor, Vienna adolescent Lisa Berndle (Fontaine) is stepping into something almost indistinguishable from the noir quicksand. “This way lies doom,” all the signs say, and yet that’s the route she chooses to take.

Letter from an Unknown Woman - (early)

The young Lisa Berndle (Joan Fontaine) gets underfoot as the movers bring in the new tenant’s furninshings.

Around 1900 in Vienna, Stefan Brand is a prodigious pianist whom the critics are in the lazy habit of comparing to the young Mozart. His neighbors are the Berndles, daughter Lisa and her widowed mother (Christians). In no time at all, Lisa Berndle develops a powerful crush on the handsome, musically prodigious newcomer; Stefan’s butler John (Smith), a dumb-mute, observes with wry smiles and a genuine fondness for the girl. But then Lisa’s mother decides to remarry, taking as her husband the well-to-do fusspot Charles Kastner (Freeman); this involves moving from Vienna to Linz, a move Lisa tearfully resists. As Charles is attempting to get the family aboard the train to their new home, Lisa runs back to Stefan’s apartment, where she waits for hours to declare her love . . . only to witness him arrive with yet another in the long parade of giggling floozies he brings home.

Lisa goes to Linz, where Continue reading