Blues in the Night (1941)

US / 88 minutes / bw / Warner–First National Dir: Anatole Litvak Scr: Robert Rossen, Elia Kazan (uncredited) Story: Hot Nocturne (unproduced play) by Edwin Gilbert Cine: Ernie Haller Cast: Priscilla Lane, Betty Field, Richard Whorf, Lloyd Nolan, Jack Carson, Wally Ford, Elia Kazan, Peter Whitney, Billy Halop, Howard Da Silva, Joyce Compton, Herbert Heywood, George Lloyd, Charles Wilson, Matt McHugh, William Gillespie, Jimmie Lunceford and His Band, Will Osborne and His Band, Mabel Todd, Ernest Whitman, Napoleon Simpson, Dudley Dickerson.

Blues in the Night - 0 Ernest Whitman & Napoleon Simpson

Ernest Whitman and Napoleon Simpson.

Brilliant jazz pianist Jigger Pine (Whorf) and drummer Peppi (Halop) are rocking the joint at the St. Louis Cafe, egged on by their clarinetist fan and would-be band member Nickie Haroyan (Kazan). Jigger gets into a fight with an obstreperous drunk (McHugh) and the trio end up in a cell for a few hours while Nickie’s mom arranges bail. There they meet Jigger’s old bassist pal Pete Bossett (Whitney) and Jigger spells out his vision to the other three:

“You think I never thought about starting a band before? I thought about it lots of times. I’m always thinking about it. But it’s got to be our kind of music. Our kind of band. The songs we’ve heard when we’ve been knocking around this country. Blues, real blues, the kind that come out of people, real people, their hopes and their dreams, what they’ve got and what they want, the whole USA in one chorus. . . . And that band ain’t just kinda blowin’ and poundin’ and scrapin’. That’s five guys, no more, who feel, play, live, even think the same way. That ain’t a band, it’s a unit. It’s one guy multiplied five times. It’s a unit that even breathes on the same beat. It’s gonna kick on its own in a style that’s theirs and nobody else’s. It’s like a hand in a glove, five fingers, each to fit quick and slick.”

Blues in the Night - 1 Nickie calls Mom to bail them out

Nickie (Elia Kazan) calls Mom to bail out him and his pals (Whorf and Halop).

And there are quirks in the reification of this dream, at least as portrayed in this movie. The four in that jail cell form Jigger’s “unit” all right—adding trumpeter Leo Powell (Carson) and his wife, singer Ginger “Character” Powell (Lane), along the way—but 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