Painted Faces (1929)

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A courtroom drama—think 12 Angry Men but with a circus clown as holdout juror!
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US / 70 minutes / bw / Tiffany–Stahl Dir: Albert Rogell Scr: Frederic Hatton, Fanny Hatton Story: Frances Hyland Cine: Jackson Rose Cast: Joe E. Brown, Helen Foster, Barton Hepburn, Dorothy Gulliver, Lester Cole, Richard Tucker, Purnell Pratt, Mabel Julian Scott, Allan Cavan, Jack Richardson.

Painted Faces - 0 opener

Not Henry Fonda.

As the stage manager (Richardson) welcomes the various new acts backstage at a vaudeville theater, it’s plain there’s an ongoing “situation” between the conjurer The Great Roderick (not seen) and a freshly arrived pair of hoofers, Bobby Barton (Hepburn) and Lola Barnes (Gulliver). Although Bobby and Lola coyly insist on separate dressing rooms, they are clearly an item . . . and, equally clearly, The Great Roderick is the fly in the ointment of their love. As Bobby tells Lola, uncaring of the flapping ears around them,

“We won’t play on the bill if that rat is here, making a play for you the way he has for two months now. . . . If he puts his hands on you again I’ll get him if it’s the last thing I do!”

So, when a shot rings out one night during a Continue reading

Red-Haired Alibi (1932)

US / 68 minutes / bw / Tower Dir: Christy Cabanne Pr: Sig Neufeld Scr: Edward T. Lowe Jr. Story: The Red-Haired Alibi (1932) by Wilson Collison Cine: Harry Forbes Cast: Merna Kennedy, Theodore von Eltz, Grant Withers, Purnell Pratt, Huntley Gordon, Fred Kelsey, Arthur Hoyt, Paul Porcassi, John Vosburgh, Shirley Temple, Marion Lessing.

Red-Haired Alibi - 0 opener

Lynn Monith (Kennedy), a native of Columbus, Ohio, and perfume-counter girl at the Hotel Savoy there, allows herself to be taken out for dinner at a nearby biergarten after work one night by suave hotel guest Trent Travers (von Eltz)—although she makes it clear this is going to be a strictly hands-off appointment. He tells her that, if ever she comes to New York City, he has a job for her.

Red-Haired Alibi - 1 Travers sounds Lynn out

Travers (Theodore von Eltz) sounds Lynn out.

A few months later the Hotel Savoy closes down and Lynn is out of a job. She comes to NYC and puts herself up at a swanky hotel she can ill afford. However, when she phones Travers’s home, his Continue reading

Behind the Green Lights (1935)

US / 69 minutes / bw / Mascot Dir: Christy Cabanne Pr: Nat Levine, Colbert Clark Scr: James Gruen, Colbert Clark Story (supposedly): Behind the Green Lights (1931 memoir) by Captain Cornelius W. Willemse Cine: Ernest Miller, Jack Marta Cast: Norman Foster, Judith Allen, Purnell Pratt, Sidney Blackmer, Theodore von Eltz, Kenneth Thomson, Edward Gargan, Ford Sterling, John Davidson, Jane Meredith, J. Carrol Naish, John Ince.

This movie owes virtually nothing to its stated source, the memoir of NYPD cop Willemse, in which he happily justified the use by the department of techniques such as torture (“the third degree”) to extract confessions from suspects; he argued that this was reasonable procedure because it was only rarely that the innocent suffered. Torquemada used a similar line of reasoning.

The subtext of the movie is that, while 95% of lawyers are just fine, upstanding citizens, the rest are a bunch of shysters. Of one of these NYPD Lieutenant Jim Kennedy (Pratt) tells his lawyer daughter Mary (Allen) at a late stage in the movie, “He’s worse than a murderer, for he springs open the cage that lets these vultures loose on the world.” Unfortunately, the shyster Jim’s talking about is Raymond Cortell (Blackmer), who just happens to be Mary’s boss.

Behind the Green Lights

“I’ll marry you any time,” Mary tells Dave, but they reckon without her shyster boss.

The story seems often to have been written by a 12-year-old. Top-hatted louche Charles T. “Ritzy” Conrad (Thomaon) is brought into the precinct on a drunk and disorderly charge. Gem dealer John C. Owen (von Eltz) arrives on the scene to bail his supposed employee out. As this is happening, Detective Dave Britten (Foster) is, in another part of town, interviewing rich saucy widow Mrs. Gorham (Meredith) about an attempted robbery of her jewelry by a man she picked up, who hit her over the head with a quart whiskey bottle and made his escape. Dave realizes how well the description matches Conrad, a known thief whose m.o. includes the trick of creating a false alibi by getting picked up by the cops on a minor charge.

So far so good, as far as the plotting’s concerned, but this audience euphoria won’t last long. Smarmy shyster Raymond Cortell takes on the defense and Continue reading

Shriek in the Night, A (1933)

US / 67 minutes / bw / M.H. Hoffman, Allied Dir: Albert Ray Scr: Frances Hyland Story: Kurt Kempler Cine: Harry Neumann, Tom Galligan Cast: Ginger Rogers, Lyle Talbot, Harvey Clark, Purnell Pratt, Lillian Harmer, Arthur Hoyt, Louise Beaver (i.e., Louise Beavers), Clarence Wilson, Maurice Black.

A Shriek in the Night is among the countless B-movies Ginger Rogers made before anyone in mainstream Hollywood seemed to notice her indubitable screen charisma and her talent as a comedy actress. Later on she would show she was perfectly fine in noir and other dramatic roles too, as in STORM WARNING (1951), BEAUTIFUL STRANGER (1954), TIGHT SPOT (1955), and the non-noir Black Widow (1954), to name just a few examples.

One night, shrieking as per the movie’s title, philanthropist Adam Harker falls to his death from—apparently—the roof garden of the Harker Apartments. Inspector Russell (Pratt) arrives to investigate with his bumbling, diffident sidekick Wilfred (Hoyt), and interviews the deceased’s secretary Miss Terry (geddit?)—in fact, undercover Morning News reporter Patricia “Pat” Morgan (Rogers)—and housekeeper Augusta (Harmer).

While Russell’s in another room, Pat takes the opportunity to go through purloined papers of Harker’s and finds a card, posted to him 12 hours earlier, decorated with the picture of a hissing snake and bearing the words, cut and pasted from newspapers, “You Will Hear It!”

She phones this information to a rewrite man at her newspaper, plus the facts that (a) two hours before his death Harker received Continue reading