Blockade (1938)

US / 84 minutes / bw / Walter Wanger Productions, United Artists Dir: William Dieterle Pr: Walter Wanger Scr: John Howard Lawson, with James M. Cain and Clifford Odets (both uncredited) Cine: Rudolph Maté Cast: Madeleine Carroll, Henry Fonda, Leo Carrillo, John Halliday, Reginald Denny, Vladimir Sokoloff, Robert Warwick, Fred Kohler Sr, Carlos De Valdez, Peter Godfrey, Nick Thompson, Rosina Galli, Wm. B. Davidson, Lupita Tovar, Katherine DeMille, George Byron.

It’s Spring 1936 in rural Spain. Marco (Fonda) and Luis (Carrillo) are peasant farmers, devoted to the land; they’re the best of friends, even though Marco is ambitious and go-getting, hoping to improve his lot, while Luis is never happier than when lounging on a grass bank, swilling the local red and regaling his flock of sheep with music on his fipple flute. (His fingering doesn’t match the sounds we hear, but what the heck.)

Madeleine Carroll as Norma

Into their lives one day comes Norma (Carroll), whose car veers off the road as she tries to avoid a convoy of women, children and cattle. Marco and Luis help her complete her journey to Castelmare, where she’s due to meet her father, Basil (Sokoloff). En route, Marco and Norma fall in love, but both realize there’s no future in it . . .

Norma and her father, supposedly art/antiquities dealers, are in fact spies, working with Continue reading

The Decision of Christopher Blake (1948)

US / 75 minutes / bw / Warner Bros. Dir: Peter Godfrey Pr & Scr: Ranald MacDougall Story: Christopher Blake (1946 play) by Moss Hart Cine: Karl Freund Cast: Alexis Smith, Robert Douglas, Cecil Kellaway, Ted Donaldson, John Hoyt, Harry Davenport, Mary Wickes, Art Baker, Lois Maxwell, Peter Godfrey, Charles Middleton.

A B-feature of curious ingenuity. Part of me says it’s in no conceivable way noirish; another part of me suggests that, because of the ingenuity I mentioned, it’s of at least borderline interest to the genre. My mental jury is still out.

Ted Donaldson as Chris.

Young Christopher Blake (Donaldson) arrives home from summer camp to discover, even though they try to hide it from him, that parents Ken (Douglas) and Evelyn (Smith) are separating and intend to divorce. Ken does try to explain matters to his son, but . . .

Chris: “I hope you’re not going to tell me about babies, Dad. I took a course on that in school.”
Ken: “You did? I mean, uh, you did. Oh, ah, that’s fine, fine.”
Chris: “Anyhow, I don’t believe it.”

In the end the person who inadvertently breaks the news to Chris is a stranger, Evelyn’s lawyer’s secretary, Miss McIntyre (Maxwell).

Lois Maxwell as Miss McIntyre.

Chris doesn’t take the news well. Living at home with Continue reading

Hotel Berlin (1945)

vt Vicki Baum’s Hotel Berlin
US / 98 minutes / bw / Warner Dir: Peter Godfrey Pr: Louis F. Edelman Scr: Jo Pagano, Alvah Bessie Story: Hier Stand ein Hotel (1943; vt Hotel Berlin; vt Hotel Berlin ’43; vt Berlin Hotel; vt Here Stood a Hotel) by Vicki Baum Cine: Carl Guthrie Cast: Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine, Raymond Massey, Andrea King, Peter Lorre, Alan Hale, George Coulouris, Henry Daniell, Peter Whitney, Helene Thimig, Steven Geray, Kurt Kreuger, Frank Reicher, Richard Tyler, Paul Panzer, Wolfgang Zilzer.

In some ways a companion piece to CASABLANCA (1942), but set in a swanky hotel in Berlin during the final months of the war rather than the somewhat more bohemian environs of Rick’s Café Américain, this surprisingly neglected movie has strengths of its own, not least an electrifying performance from Peter Lorre in a subsidiary role.

The Gestapo has deduced that Dr. Martin Richter (Dantine), an escapee from Dachau, has taken refuge in the Hotel Berlin, and its officers are combing the place in search of him. Also at the hotel are various high-ranking Nazis, including General Arnim von Dahnwitz (Massey) who, although renowned as the butcher of Kharkov, has recently participated in an unsuccessful coup against Hitler; all the other conspirators have suicided or been executed, and even von Dahnwitz’s old and dear friend Baron von Stetten (Daniell) reckons the man should kill himself before the Gestapo hauls him in. Von Dahnwitz, however, believes there’s a chance for him and his mistress, celebrated actress Lisa (or Liesl, as she’s sometimes called in dialogue) Dorn (King), to escape to Sweden.

Hotel Berlin - Raymond Massey as Gen Arnim von Dahnwitz

Raymond Massey as the hapless Gen Arnim von Dahnwitz.

The fugitive Martin Richter has a network of allies among the hotel wait-staff. One of these, Fritz Renn (Reicher), is soon arrested, but not before he has equipped Martin with a waiter’s coat. Fritz believes that, if Martin can contrive to be serving in Lisa’s suite during the search, the chances are that the searchers, dazzled by her fame, will overlook him. The plan works, although Lisa becomes convinced Martin is a Gestapo spy. Another significant ally is Bellboy #6 (Tyler), a child with courage and fortitude beyond his years, the son of underground leader Walter Baumler (Zilzer).

Hotel Berlin - Richter (Dantine) and Prof Koenig

The fugitive Martin Richter (Helmut Dantine) and the world-weary turncoat Professor Koenig (Peter Lorre).

The resident of the room next to Lisa’s suite is one-time Nobel prizewinner Professor Johannes Koenig (Lorre), who Continue reading