The Strange Case of Doctor Rx (1942)

US / 66 minutes / bw / Universal Dir: William Nigh Assoc Pr: Jack Bernhard Scr: Clarence Upson Young Story: Alex Gottlieb Cine: Woody Bredell Cast: Patric Knowles, Lionel Atwill, Anne Gwynne, Samuel S. Hinds, Mona Barrie, Shemp Howard, Paul Cavanagh, Edmund MacDonald, Mantan Moreland, John Gallaudet, William Gould, Leyland Hodgson, Matty Fain, Mary Gordon, Jan Wiley, Ray Corrigan.

A mysterious serial killer, nicknamed Dr. Rx because of the notes he leaves with his victims, is strangling criminals whom silver-tongued defense attorney Dudley Crispin (Hinds) has succeeded in getting acquitted. Crispin hires PI Jerry Church (Knowles) to protect his current client, manifestly guilty mobster Tony Zarini (Fain). However, Fain dies in the courtroom within moments of his acquittal, surrounded by friends and lawyers yet seemingly strangled like all the others.

Patric Knowles as Jerry.

Detective Captain Bill Hurd (MacDonald) of the NYPD is baffled by the case and wants Jerry to collaborate with the police investigation. Jerry’s brand-new wife, mystery writer Kit Logan Church (Gwynne), is less keen for him to continue, having Continue reading

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Crime Over London (1936)

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Thrills in store!
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UK / 63 minutes / bw / Anglo–American, Criterion Dir: Alfred Zeisler Pr: Marcel Hellman Scr: Norman Alexander, Harold French Story: probably Punks Kommt aus Amerika (1929) by Louis de Wohl Cine: Victor Armenise Cast: Joseph Cawthorn, Bruce Lister, Rène Ray, Paul Cavanagh, Basil Sydney, Margot Grahame, David Burns, Edmon Ryan, John Darrow, Danny Green, Googie Withers.

Oxford Street’s department store Selfridges, dressed up as Sherwoods.

A movie that’s littered with noirish tropes and dialogue, plus some noirish cinematography, yet for the most part doesn’t have much of a noirish feel. It nevertheless has lot to interest us, both as a period piece—there are some truly evocative London street scenes—and for some of its cast.

Years ago gangster Eddie “Joker” Finnigan (Sydney) sought career advancement in New York, but now things are getting too hot for him in the States and so he’s come back to London, bringing some of his gang members with him. Although those goons are eager to start pulling off a few heists, Joker insists they bide their time, instead opening up a gambling joint where hostesses Pearl (Grahame) and Miss Dupres (Withers), plus floorwalker Sniffy (Burns), entice the gullible into losing money on the cards.

David Burns as Sniffy.

Googie Withers as Miss Dupres.

Pearl is Joker’s moll, but it’s his sidekick Jim (Darrow) who stokes her fires. The feeling’s mutual, and the two plot secretly and rather clumsily to Continue reading

She Devil (1957)

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The fruitfly serum transforms her into a femme fatale!
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US / 78 minutes / bw / Regal, TCF Dir & Pr: Kurt Neumann Scr: Carroll Young, Kurt Neumann Story: “The Adaptive Ultimate” (1935 Astounding) by John Jessel (i.e., Stanley G. Weinbaum) Cine: Karl Struss Cast: Mari Blanchard, Jack Kelly, Albert Dekker, John Archer, Fay Baker, Blossom Rock (i.e., Marie Blake), Paul Cavanagh, Helen Jay.

Dr. Richard Bach (Dekker)—who appears to be both a brilliant surgeon and president of Grand Mercy Hospital—arrives home from a foreign business trip to discover that his protege, close friend and housemate, medical researcher Dr. Dan Scott (Kelly), has developed a new serum, one that in animal tests has effected miraculous cures for what should have been terminal illnesses/injuries.

Hannah Blossom Rock (i.e., Marie Blake) welcomes Richard (Albert Dekker) home.

The theoretical underpinning of Dan’s work could be regarded as a sort of bastard offspring of various pseudo-Lamarckian theories of evolution:

Dan: “. . . the new research I mentioned before you left. It’s a project designed to prove that the cure of any disease or injury is essentially a product of adaptation.”
Richard: “Oh, yes. You were proceeding on the theory that all living organisms possess the ability, in more or less degree, to heal themselves.”
Dan: “By adapting themselves to any harmful change in their environment. A lizard, for example, will shed an injured tail—grow a new one. A chameleon will change its color for self-protection.”
Richard: “And you hope to develop a cure-all serum from insects, since they are the most adaptive of all living organisms?”
Dan: “Exactly. So I have developed a serum from the most highly evolved and most adaptive of all insects—the fruitfly. It’s the one insect that’s known to produce a higher percentage of mutants—or changelings—than any other.”

A fruitfly (uncredited).

Incidentally, that sentence of Dan’s—“It’s a project designed to prove that the cure of any disease or injury is essentially a product of adaptation”—contains multiple misunderstandings of the way that science works. First, unlike mathematics, science doesn’t deal in proofs. Second, any project that decides its desired result from the outset is profoundly unscientific, for reasons enlarged upon in my book Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology and Politics in Science (2007; new, revised and vastly expanded edition expected *koff koff plug plug* in March/April 2018 from See Sharp Press).

Dan (Jack Kelly) explains his breakthrough to Richard (Albert Dekker).

Likewise, fruitflies are not at all “the most highly evolved of all insects” (it’s precisely because they’re so rudimentary that insecticides are so ineffective against them) and I don’t think it’s the case that they’re especially adaptive: it’s just that individuals have short lifespans and thus there are more generations within any particular period of time; more generations per (say) month means more mutations per month, making fruitflies a good experimental subject for students of heredity.

But I digress.

Returning to the plot: As noted, Dan’s experiments on animals have been highly successful, the only oddity being that the leopard he cured has now turned black. He’s keen to experiment on a human subject. Despite initial concerns about the ethics, Richard agrees to set him up with a patient who, while facing imminent, inescapable death, is yet compos mentis enough to give consent to the experiment.

Kyra (Mari Blanchard) was on the brink of death . . .

. . .  but now look at her!

That patient proves to be Kyra Zelas (Blanchard), at death’s door because of tuberculosis. Within hours she’s not just cured but Continue reading

Curtain at Eight (1933)

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An amiable enough mystery set in the theatrical world and indeed for the most part in a theater.

 

US / 61 minutes / bw / Larry Darmour Productions, Majestic, Capitol Dir: E. Mason Hopper Pr: Phil Goldstone Scr: Edward T. Lowe Story: The Back Stage Mystery (1930) by Octavus Roy Cohen Cine: Ira Morgan Cast: C. Aubrey Smith, Dorothy Mackaill, Paul Cavanagh, Sam Hardy, Marion Shilling, Russell Hopton, Natalie Moorhead, Hale Hamilton, Ruthelma Stevens, Arthur Hoyt, Jack Mulhall, Dot Farley, Syd Saylor, Herman Bing, Matthew Betz, Cornelius Keefe.

Curtain at Eight - 0 opener

The romantic play Isle of Romance is the talk of the town and its star, handsome Wylie Thornton (Cavanagh), is every woman’s dreamboat. Unfortunately, he seems to be trying to turn that into a physical reality. At current count he’s having affairs with fellow-thespians Anice Cresmer (Shilling) and Doris Manning (Stevens) simultaneously, while Anice’s big sister Lola (Mackaill) seems to have been a conquest not so long ago—and, having been chewed up and spat out herself, is naturally concerned about Continue reading

Notorious Sophie Lang, The (1934)

US / 63 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Ralph Murphy Pr: Bayard Veiller Scr: Anthony Veiller Story: The Notorious Sophie Lang (coll 1925) by Frederick Irving Anderson Cine: Alfred Gilks Cast: Gertrude Michael, Paul Cavanagh, Arthur Byron, Alison Skipworth, Leon Errol, Ben Taggart, Ferdinand Gottschalk, Jack Mulhall, Lucio Villegas, Norman Ainsley.

The first in a trio of lighthearted comedy thrillers of the kind that, in series like Boston Blackie, would be popular from the 1930s all through the noir era. In the other two Sophie Lang movies—The Return of Sophie Lang (1936) dir George Archainbaud, with Michael repeating her role and Sir Guy Standing taking over from Cavanagh, and Sophie Lang Goes West (1937) dir Charles Reisner, with Michael again and a cast including Larry “Buster” Crabbe—the heroine would be a reformed crook solving crimes, a common Hollywood transition for characters of this sort; but here she is, in her own words, “Lady Raffles herself—no rivals.”

Notorious jewel thief Sophie Lang (Michael) has been away from NYC for a few years, but now she’s back—and stealing gems all over the place. Her arch rival, Inspector Stone (Byron), has the idea of using Maximilian “Max” Bernard (Cavanagh), a famed English jewel thief visiting the US under the guise of Sir Nigel Crane, as a means of getting on her trail.

Although Max doesn’t know he’s being manipulated, Sophie has bugged Stone’s apartment from the one upstairs, and is soon onto his scheme: “Stone’s been reading Edgar Wallace—set a thief to catch a thief.” She and her hard-drinking sidekick Aunt Nellie (Skipworth)—”I haven’t had a drop of breakfast yet”—persuade Sir Nigel/Max that they’re rich socialites; matters are complicated by Sophie (as “Alyssa Morgan”) and Max falling head-over-heels on first sight.

The two rivals—with Max still not knowing Sophie’s identity—go after the fabled Fortescue Pearls, currently being held at the Telfen jewelry store. Stone, one step ahead, has replaced the Fortescue Pearls with fakes, but this doesn’t faze Sophie, who (as “Countess Dineski”) steals the equally valuable Vestigliano Necklace instead. Fitness-fanatic Detective Stubbs (Errol) is set on the trail of both thief and loot, and offers some comedy.

The movie’s unlike the later series in several respects. First, the humor is (and this may be hard to credit) really quite funny; this is genuinely a comedy thriller rather than, as with most of its kind, a lightweight thriller, short on the thrills, with bolted-on “comic relief” scenes. Second, very atypically for this sort of movie, Stone is no bumbling idiot but an intelligent, resourceful detective; and, although Stubbs may clown around in appropriate secondary-cop fashion—there’s an excellent scene in which, acting undercover as a French waiter, he faces two voluble French customers attempting to place a complex order with him in their native tongue—he actually gets the last laugh on the thieves.

Author Anderson, upon whose tales of Sophie Lang the movie is loosely based, seems to have had a penchant for Raffles-like characters. His other series of note concerned a male equivalent, Godahl; these stories were collected as The Adventures of the Infallible Godahl (1914).

Reportedly the part of Sophie was offered to Carole Lombard, who turned it down. In the event, Michael plays the role as if born to it; the New York Times said of her performance that “Gertrude Michael, a smart and highly personable young woman, becomes a star, which is not as meaningless a term in the studios as you might imagine. Her subtly mocking burlesque of the alluring female Raffles, more than any other single fact about The Notorious Sophie Lang, helps the film preserve its humorous mood.” This was one of no fewer than 12 movies she made in 1934.

On Amazon.com: The Notorious Sophie Lang (Anderson’s book)