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

Unashamed (1932)

US / 76 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Harry Beaumont Scr: Bayard Veiller Cine: Norbert Brodine Cast: Helen Twelvetrees, Robert Young, Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt, John Miljan, Monroe Owsley, Robert Warwick, Gertrude Michael, Wilfrid North, Tommy Jackson, Louise Beaver (i.e., Louise Beavers).

Unashamed - 0 Unashamed - 1 Naughty nightclub life

Naughty nightclub life.

This was the first of two movies released in 1932 to be based on a celebrated Philadelphia murder case, in which Eddie Allen killed Francis “Skinny” Donaldson, the lover of Eddie’s younger (in fact, underage) sister Rose. The other was Two Against the World (1932) dir Archie Mayo, with Constance Bennett, Neil Hamilton, Helen Vinson, Allen Vincent and Gavin Gordon, which I haven’t seen but obviously should. Although the Eddie Allen/Skinny Donaldson case was widely described as an honor killing, justified under the so-called “unwritten law,” there seems from my limited reading about it to have been a good deal more involved—it was a sort of premeditated self-defense killing. In Unashamed it’s reworked as something akin to a crime passionnel.

Unashamed - 4 Joan dreams of romance as she dances with Harry

Joan (Helen Twelvetrees) dreams of romance as she dances with Harry.

Rich man’s daughter Joan Ogden (Twelvetrees) has contracted an unsuitable relationship with wide boy Harry Swift (Owsley), whose main talents are gambling, playing polo and spending money he doesn’t have. Although Continue reading

Bars of Hate (1935)

US / 57 minutes / bw / Victory Dir: Al Herman Pr: Sam Katzman Scr: Al Martin Story: “Vengeance of the Lord” (n.d.) by Peter B. Kyne Cine: Bill Hyer Cast: Regis Toomey, Sheila Terry, Molly O’Day, Snub Pollard, Robert Warwick, Fuzzy Knight, Gordon Griffith, Arthur Loft, John Elliott, Jack Cowell.

Bars of Hate - 0 opener

Deputy DA Ted Clark (Toomey) is out speeding in his car one day when he half-inadvertently rescues pickpocket Danny (Pollard), who, having been caught in the act of stealing a woman’s purse, is in the process of receiving summary justice from some passers-by. Ted concludes that Danny is “both a crook and a regular guy” and decides to give him a break. When they go to give back the purse to its owner, Ann Dawson (Terry), they discover she’s being pursued by the goons of gangster Jim Grant (Griffith). Grant killed a woman called Jane Francis—who had dumped him for Ann’s brother Bruce—and then framed Bruce for the crime. Bruce is now within 48 hours of execution. The reason the goons want Ann’s purse is that Continue reading

Woman’s Secret, A (1949)

US / 85 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Nicholas Ray Pr & Scr: Herman J. Mankiewicz Story: Verpfändetes Leben (1946; vt Mortgage on Life) by Vicki Baum Cine: George Diskant Cast: Maureen O’Hara, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Grahame, Bill Williams, Victor Jory, Mary Philips, Jay C. Flippen, Robert Warwick, Curt Conway, Ann Shoemaker, Virginia Farmer, Ellen Corby, Emory Parnell.

One of Ray’s earliest movies, after THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948) and KNOCK ON ANY DOOR (1949), this is often listed as a film noir. At best it’s a borderline case; really it’s more like one of the interminable strings of quickie mysteries produced as fillers by the Poverty Row studios such as Monogram and PRC, but with significantly higher production standards, a much more polished screenplay (but see below) and, of course, a far higher-profile cast. Unfortunately, a few of the flaws of those Monogram/PRC cheapies seem evident too.

After finishing her radio broadcast one night, the popular singer Estrellita, aka Susan Caldwell (Grahame), arrives home and flies straight into a noisy argument with her mentor, Marian Washburn (O’Hara): despite all that Marian has done for her, Susan wants to abandon her career and go back to her podunk hometown of Azusa, California, where the most she ever had to cope with were the hands of married men. Susan storms up to her room with Marian following; moments later the maid Mollie (Farmer) hears the sound of a gunshot and discovers Marian standing over a seemingly dead Susan. On the arrival of the cops, Marian insists that she’s guilty of the crime.

Woman's Secret - Marian stands over Susan's bodyMarian (Maureen O’Hara) stands over the body of her protegee Susan (Gloria Grahame).

Her old friend, accompanist Luke Jordan (Douglas), frankly disbelieves her. He hires as her defense attorney Brook Matthews (Jory), who for a time was Susan’s lover. Together they bend the ear of Assistant DA Roberts (Warwick) and the cop in charge of the case, Inspector Jim Fowler (Flippen). With Continue reading