Shadow of the Law (1930)

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Can William Powell really be the hardened criminal he seems?
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US / 70 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Louis Gasnier Scr: Max Marcin, John Farrow Story: The Quarry (1913) by John A. Moroso Cine: Charles Lang Cast: William Powell, Marion Shilling, Natalie Moorhead, Regis Toomey, Paul Hurst, George Irving, Frederick Burt, James Durkin, Richard Tucker, Walter James, Oscar Smith, Harry Strang.

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After a night on the town—seemingly their first date—young engineer Jim Montgomery (Powell) brings home his somewhat hatchet-faced upstairs neighbor at the swanky Franklin Apartments on NYC’s 72nd Street, Ethel George (Moorhead), and inveigles his way into her apartment on the pretext of “a last cigarette” (“or cigar,” he suggests in a Pre-Code manner).

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Jim and Ethel come across Ethel’s lover Lew (Richard Tucker).

Alas, waiting therein is her brutish lover, Continue reading

Bad Company (1931)

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A psycho mobster falls for his sidekick’s wife, with lethal consequences!
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US / 76 minutes / bw / RKO Pathé Dir: Tay Garnett Pr: Charles R. Rogers Scr: Tom Buckingham, Tay Garnett Story: Put on the Spot (1930) by Jack Lait Cine: Arthur Miller Cast: Helen Twelvetrees, Ricardo Cortez, John Garrick, Paul Hurst, Frank Conroy, Harry Carey, Frank McHugh, Kenneth Thomson, Arthur Stone, Emma Dunn, William V. Mong, Edgar Kennedy, Robert Keith.

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It has been claimed that this is the first movie to feature what would later become an iconic cinematic figure in such movies as WHITE HEAT (1949): the psycho gang boss. That boss is played here by Ricardo Cortez, an actor whom one might have assumed to be too bland, too suave, for the role, but in fact he renders it excellently.

Helen King (Twelvetrees) is in love with Steve Carlyle (Garrick), and when he proposes to her aboard the Dalton—the yacht belonging to her brother Markham “Mark” King (Conroy)—she says “Yes!” with all her heart. What she doesn’t know and won’t learn until very much later is that Steve is the protégé of mob leader Goldie Gorio (Cortez). What Steve doesn’t yet know is that King is in actuality the mysterious “Mr. Davis,” the mob boss who has control of the city’s West Side—the East Side is Gorio’s—and that the two bosses have been covertly maneuvering the lovers toward each other:

King: “In the old days, when two powers were at war, the daughter of one royal family was given in marriage to the son of the other. The result was permanent peace.”
Gorio: “So, besides getting the dame you want, Goldie Gorio and, uh, King gets themselves a setup with no interference, hijacking or rough stuff.”
Steve: “That’s great.” [to King] “And you’re willing to hold still for your own sister marrying a hoodlum that’s liable to ‘get his’ any minute?”

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Goldie Gorio (Ricardo Cortez) is full of faux charm.

Steve wants out, so that he and Helen can live a normal life together, but that’s not an option:

Gorio:You’re getting out? There’s only one way out, and you’re too young and beautiful to Continue reading

Thirteenth Guest, The (1932)

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How many of the long-ago guests is the killer prepared to kill?
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US / 69 minutes / bw / M.H. Hoffman, Monogram Dir: Albert Ray Pr: M.H. Hoffman Scr: Frances Hyland Story: The Thirteenth Guest (1929) by Armitage Trail Cine: Harry Neumann, Tom Galligan Cast: Ginger Rogers, Lyle Talbot, J. Farrell MacDonald, Paul Hurst, Erville Alderson, Ethel Wales, James Eagles, Craufurd Kent (i.e., Crauford Kent), Eddie Phillips, Frances Rich, Phillips Smalley, Harry Tenbrook, Robert Klein, Adrienne Dore, William B. Davidson.

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Naturally I discussed here on Noirish the remake of this movie—Mystery of the 13th Guest (1943) dir William Beaudine, with Helen Parrish, Dick Purcell, Tim Ryan et al.—before I got round to tackling the original. Ça va.

The plots of the two movies are virtually identical, so I’ll just go for a quick account here.

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On her 21st birthday Marie Morgan (Rogers) arrives at the old Morgan home for an appointment with family lawyer John Barksdale (Klein). Although the place is dilapidated, phone and electricity have been installed. She bears a letter from her long-deceased grandpa containing the enigmatic instruction “13—13—13.” Yes, 13 years ago the family gathered here around a table at which the 13th chair was empty. Soon after, Grandpa died, leaving almost all of his fortune to the eight-year-old Marie. And now she’s due to inherit.

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Ginger Rogers as Marie.

There’s a noise.

She goes to look.

A shot rings out.

There’s a scream.

Some while later the cops arrive in the form of Continue reading

I’d Give My Life (1936)

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US / 80 minutes / bw / Astor, Paramount Dir: Edwin L. Marin Pr: Richard A. Rowland Scr: George O’Neil, Ben Ryan Story: The Noose (1926 play) by H.H. Van Loan and Willard Mack Cine: Ira Morgan Cast: Sir Guy Standing, Frances Drake, Tom Brown, Janet Beecher, Robert Gleckler, Helen Lowell, Paul Hurst, Charles C. Wilson, Charles Richman, Tom Jackson, Charles Judels, Robert Elliott.

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This movie is a remake of the silent The Noose (1928) dir John Francis Dillon, with Richard Barthelmess (who received an Oscar nomination for his role), Thelma Todd, Montagu Love and Robert E. O’Connor. Both movies were based on the play The Noose (1926), which was of especial significance in that its Broadway director and co-author Willard Mack took a gamble on casting a young chorus girl called Ruby Stevens in the role of romantic lead. Ruby Stevens soon adopted a new professional name: Barbara Stanwyck.

Orphan Nickie Elkins (Brown) and chanteuse Mary Reyburn (Drake), who both work at the niterie Club Gordon, are very much in love; Nickie hopes to be an airline pilot one day and thereby able to keep Mary in the manner she deserves. A chance encounter at an airport introduces him to Stella Bancroft (Beecher), the wife of the state governor, and the two immediately take a liking to each other—he regarding her as a “swell lady” while clearly sparking off the maternal instinct in her.

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Nickie (Tom Brown) and Mary (Frances Drake), very much in love.

Meanwhile, recently elected Governor John Bancroft (Standing)—Stella’s husband—has been telling the press that all his pre-election talk of cleaning up the state and ousting the racketeers has not been just so much hot air: he really intends to come through on his promises. The reporters, as they leave, are disconcerted to recognize Buck Gordon (Gleckler), the dirtiest crook in the state, waiting to meet with the Governor. At that meeting, Continue reading

Shadow of Doubt (1935)

US / 75 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: George B. Seitz Pr: Lucien Hubbard Scr: Wells Root Story: Arthur Somers Roche Cine: Charles Clarke Cast: Ricardo Cortez, Virginia Bruce, Constance Collier, Isabel Jewell, Arthur Byron, Betty Furness, Regis Toomey, Ivan Simpson, Bradley Page, Edward Brophy, Samuel S. Hinds, Richard Tucker, Bernard Siegel, Paul Hurst.

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Good-hearted NYC advertising salesman and playboy Simeon “Sim” Sturdevant (Cortez) loves his dear old aunt, Melissa Pilsen (Collier), and she loves him back . . . even though she does her best to present herself to the world as a grim, hatchet-faced old boot. But he has also come to love movie actress Trenna Plaice (Bruce), and wants her to marry him. Aunt Melissa, who has refused to leave her house for over two decades since a tragedy of the heart in her youth, assumes Trenna is planning to marry Sim in hopes of getting her claws on her (Aunt Melissa’s) fortune.

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Virginia Bruce in sultry mode as Trenna.

In reality, after he’s had a fit of nauseatingly patronizing chauvinism (along the lines of “Oh, darling, I’ve always said you’re too beautiful to have any sense”), Trenna tells him to put his head where the sun don’t shine, and Continue reading

Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring (1941)

US / 69 minutes / bw / Darmour, Columbia Dir: James Hogan Pr: Larry Darmour Scr: Eric Taylor, Gertrude Purcell Story: Ellery Queen Cine: James S. Brown Jr. Cast: Ralph Bellamy, Margaret Lindsay, Charley Grapewin, Mona Barrie, Paul Hurst, James Burke, Leon Ames, George Zucco, Blanche Yurka, Charlotte Wynters, Tom Dugan, Olin Howlin, Dennis Moore, Jean Fenwick, Pierre Watkin.

Many of the detectives of classic mystery fiction are in essence mildly comic figures—Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot, Albert Campion, Ellery Queen—yet their creators manage to imbue them with some necessary gravitas to match the seriousness of the crimes they solve. Modern screen adaptations of the relevant tales generally try to perform the same trick—just think of the long TV series of Poirot adventures starring David Suchet. Here, though, the moviemakers took the rather fey, cerebral Ellery Queen, turned him into a lunk, and put him at the heart of a clumsy comedy. This was the fourth and last of the Columbia series in which a hopelessly miscast Bellamy played the detective; William Gargan took over the role for three further movies and then, mercifully, the series ended.

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The testy matriarch Augusta Stack (Blanche Yurka).

Wealthy widow Augusta Stack (Yurka) calls in the cops because she’s concerned there might be a conspiracy of malpractice going on at the hospital she owns, the Stack Memorial Hospital. To keep the matter quiet, Inspector Richard Queen (Grapewin) sends his novelist/detective son Ellery (Bellamy) to investigate undercover. Claiming to have lost his voice, Ellery is examined by the hospital’s chief physician, Edward F. Janney (Zucco), who diagnoses the problem as psychological and admits Ellery to the hospital. Ellery calls his secretary, Nikki Porter (Lindsay), to join him as his “private nurse”.

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Nikki Porter (Margaret Lindsay) in her guise as nurse.

Meanwhile, Continue reading

Secret Six, The (1931)

US / 83 minutes / bw / George Hill–Cosmopolitan, MGM Dir & Pr: George Hill Scr: Frances Marion Cine: Harold Wenstrom Cast: Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone, John Mack Brown, Jean Harlow, Marjorie Rambeau, Paul Hurst, Clark Gable, Ralph Bellamy, John Miljan, DeWitt Jennings, Murray Kinnell, Fletcher Norton, Louis Natheaux, Frank McGlynn, Theodore von Eltz, Oscar Rudolph.

It’s the Prohibition era in the city of Centro. Meat worker Louis/Louie “Slaughterhouse” Scorpio (Beery) is tempted by his friends Johnny Franks (Bellamy) and Nick “The Gouger” Mizoski (Hurst) to join them in a minor crime for bootlegger and shyster Richard “Newt” Newton (Stone). Soon Scorpio is a regular fixture in the gang. When an attempt to start muscling in on the turf of bootlegger Smiling Joe Colimo (Miljan) turns into a gunfight between Newton’s men and a bunch of Colimo’s thugs, led by Eddie (Natheaux), Franks unwittingly shoots dead Colimo’s baby-faced kid brother Ivan (Rudolph) and, when Colimo comes seeking revenge, blames Scorpio. Colimo’s goons go after Scorpio, but he’s not seriously injured and, intuiting that Franks set him up, murders him. Newton, seeing promise in Scorpio’s brutality and stupidity, gets him acquitted of the crime and sets him up as a front man.

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Reporters Hank Rogers (John Mack Brown, right) & Carl Luckner (Clark Gable) phone in stories of Franks’s death.

Scorpio manages to have The Gouger elected mayor of Centro, then has his henchman “Dummy” Metz (Kinnell)—so nicknamed because he’s a mute—murder Colimo and a couple of his sidekicks using Scorpio’s very own rod; Scorpio does, however, recruit Colimo’s enforcer Eddie to his cause.

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Jean Harlow as the floozy-with-a-heart-of-gold Anne Courtland.

All this while two rival journalists, Carl Luckner (Gable) and Hank Rogers (Brown), have been circling Scorpio’s mob. Scorpio has persuaded floozy Anne Courtland (Harlow) into using her feminine wiles to persuade Hank to Continue reading