Gun Cargo (1949 TVM)

US / ~55 minutes cut to 48 minutes / bw / Irwin–Dyer Productions, Favorite Films Dir, Pr & Scr: Jack Irwin Cine: Edward Kull Cast: Rex Lease, Smith Ballew, William Farnum, Gibson Gowland, Robert Frazer, Gilbert Holmes, Allene Ray, Harry Allen, John Ince, James Irwin

If ever a movie had a tortured genesis, Gun Cargo was it. Production started on what was initially called Contraband in the early 1930s, probably in 1934, although sources are divided as to exactly which year. Money ran out soonish, and the project was abandoned until 1939, when initial footage was added in the form of the Board of Inquiry hearing that forms the frame story, the main story being told in the form of flashbacks from here. Seemingly at the same time, in 1939, a barroom sequence was imported from the (very much more interesting) 1930 Lupe Velez movie Hell Harbor to pad out the running time a bit and in a desperate attempt to provide the main plot with some resolution and a link to the framing device of the hearing.

Another addition that seems to have been made in 1939 was an appallingly dubbed barroom rendition of “I Dream of Jeanie” by cowboy crooner Smith Ballew, who appears nowhere else in the movie yet gets second billing. Go figure. Presumably Ballew’s agent insisted on the prominent billing and then the pair of them watched their “win” backfire.

Rex Lease as Jim

The movie seems to have been finished (if finished it can be called) in 1941, at which time, according to the AFI, it was approved for theatrical release—at least in the state of New York; at that point Continue reading

Never Too Late (1935)

vt Hit and Run

US / 53 minutes / bw / Reliable Dir: Franklin Shamray (i.e., Bernard B. Ray) Pr: Bernard B. Ray Scr: Jack Natteford, Carl Krusada Story: Bennett Cohen Cine: Pliny Goodfriend Cast: Richard Talmadge, Thelma White, Robert Frazer, Mildred Harris, Vera Lewis, Robert Walker, George Chesebro, Bull Montana, Paul Ellis, Lloyd Ingraham.

Never Too Late - 1 Helen spies through the window on Lavelle

 Helen (Thelma White) spies through the window on Lavelle.

Seducer, blackmailer, jewel thief and all-round Frenchman Maurice Lavelle (Ellis) has used his sleazy skills to extract a string of pearls from Marie Hartley (Harris), wife of Police Commissioner George Hartley (Frazer). Marie’s loyal, cute, feisty, spunky, brash (add adjectives to taste) and most importantly unmarried sister Helen (White) is doing her best to get them back. She watches through a hotel window as he hides them in the heel of a gimmicked shoe and puts the shoe in his trunk. As she tries to stick him up, the cops arrive, Lavelle flees and Helen tiptoes away from what looks to be a pretty substantial shootout.

Next we know, the reclaimed trunk and its contents are being offered as a job lot at a police auction of recovered goods. Helen is there, bidding as much as she dare for the item; bidding against her are two obvious sleazebags, who, as we’ll later discover, are Lavelle’s goons: Matt Continue reading

It Couldn’t Have Happened (But It Did) (1936)

US / 70 minutes / bw / Invincible, Chesterfield, First Division Dir: Phil Rosen Pr: Maury M. Cohen Scr: Arthur T. Horman Cine: M.A. Andersen Cast: Reginald Denny, Evelyn Brent, Jack La Rue, Inez Courtney, John Marlowe (i.e., Hugh Marlowe), Claude King, Bryant Washburn, Robert Homans, Crauford Kent, Robert Frazer, Miki Morita, Emily La Rue.

It Couldn't Have Happened - 0 opener

Rehearsals are underway for the new play by Gregory Stone (Denny), a mystery called The Pointing Finger with fabled Beverley Drake (Brent) in the leading role. Beverley is married to the much older Ellis Holden (King), half of Holden–Carter Productions, which is producing the play—the other half being Norman Carter (Washburn), with whom Beverley’s having an affair. This is no great triumph for Carter to chalk up, because Beverley’s having an affair also with young actor Edward Forrest (Marlowe), another cast member, and the list very likely doesn’t stop there.

It Couldn't Have Happened - 1 Bev and Edwards

Beverley (Evelyn Brent) makes googoo eyes at Edward (Hugh Marlowe).

Local gangster Smiley Clark (Jack La Rue) is keen that Holden hire his latest babe, Lisa De Lane (Emily La Rue, about whom I’ve been able to find out nothing), in a starring role. The two producers try to fob him off but, Continue reading

Criminals Within (1943)

US / 67 minutes / bw / PRC Dir: Joseph Lewis (i.e., Joseph H. Lewis) Pr: E.B. Derr Scr: Edward Bennett Story: Arthur Hoerl Cine: Arthur Martinelli Cast: Eric Linden, Ben Alexander, Don Curtis, Ann Doran, Constance Worth, Dudley Dickerson, Bernice Pilot, I. Stanford Jolley, George Lynn, Robert Frazer, Boyd Irwin, Dennis Moore.

Professor Carroll (Lynn) is one of a number of scientists working on a new high explosive for Military Intelligence. When he’s murdered, attention turns to his brother Greg (Linden), a trickster corporal at Army base Camp Madison. The base appears to be riddled with spies, among them Alma Barton (Worth), who runs the commissary and who sneaks messages out to Fifth Columnists via crooked cobbler Carl Flegler (Jolley) in the trick heel of one of her shoes. (Although it’s nowhere stated which country the spies work for, by implication they’re Nazis.)

A list of the names and addresses of the scientists who’ve been working on the explosive goes missing from the office of Captain Bryant (Frazer), and Greg’s put in the guardhouse on suspicion of having stolen it; he breaks out and, when Bryant’s found dead, it’s assumed Greg’s the killer. With the help of his good buddy Sergeant Paul (Alexander), Greg escapes the base, finds Alma murdered, hooks up with reporter Linda (Doran), exposes the nest of vipers, dodges death and bullets, and discovers his “good buddy” isn’t everything he seems.

Director Lewis would of course go on to helm some of noir’s classics, like MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945), GUN CRAZY 1949), CRY OF THE HUNTED (1953) and The BIG COMBO (1955). This is a barebones production with a clumsy script and some mediocre acting, and it seems Lewis’s heart wasn’t really in it (there have even been suggestions that, despite the screen credit, he did not in fact direct it — that it was a different Joseph Lewis). Dickerson and Pilot play, respectively, Camp Madison’s gofer Sam Dillingham and Linda’s housemaid Mamie, Sam’s girlfriend; in the offensive stereotyping Hollywood then thought was comical, they’re portrayed as simple-minded but good-hearted buffoons. Linden’s fairly good and Doran turns in a highly appealing performance, while Worth’s sizzle is timeless. In one odd scripting moment, Linda refers to Greg as “about six feet tall” when it’s perfectly obvious to all that Greg/Linden is actually quite slight.

The movie was made in 1941 but held back for two years, presumably—as with a few others of its era—for fear of offending any Nazi sympathizers in the audience.

On Amazon.com: Criminals Within