Before Dawn (1933)

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Is a psychic beauty a criminal fraud . . . or for real?
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US / 62 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Irving Pichel Pr: Merian C. Cooper Scr: Garrett Fort Story: “The Death Watch” (1932; in Sergeant Sir Peter) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Lucien Andriot Cast: Stuart Erwin, Dorothy Wilson, Warner Oland, Dudley Digges, Gertrude W. Hoffman, Oscar Apfel, Frank Reicher, Jane Darwell.

Before Dawn - 0 opener

This movie was reportedly made as a follow-up to cash in on the huge success of King Kong (1933), reuniting as it did Merian C. Cooper and (at least in spirit) Edgar Wallace. Yet it’s a claim that’s hard to believe: King Kong was a big-budget epic, a full 100 minutes long on its release (and nearly half an hour longer in what we’d today call the director’s cut), while Before Dawn is under half the length of the longer of the two versions and decidedly modest aspirations. It reads like a low-budget filler, in other words, and it’s hard to believe it was ever intended to be anything else.

NYPD-affiliated Special Investigator Dwight Wilson (Erwin) is conducting a roundup of phony spirit mediums in the area, and the first he pulls in is the supremely lovely Mlle. Mystera, aka Patricia Merrick (Wilson), plus her father, Horace (Digges). We know, and Wilson soon finds out, that Patricia is in fact a genuine medium; while Horace is in the office of Chief of Detectives John F. O’Hara (Apfel), trying to sell him on the idea of employing Patricia as a psychic detective, Wilson finds a tearful Patricia waiting in the antechamber. Telling him that he cheated in order to entrap her—he never had an Aunty Minnie, so no wonder Patricia couldn’t locate her in the afterlife—she demonstrates her genuine psychic powers. Wilson’s immediately convinced:

“Say, baby, I’m for ya. My face hasn’t been so red since I went to my first burlesque show. . . . I’ll get ya out of this, so help me.”

Before Dawn - 4 Wilson tricks Paricia at her seance

Special Investigator Dwight Wilson (Stuart Erwin) tricks Patricia (Dorothy Wilson) at her seance.

Patricia, given her chance to demonstrate her powers to Chief O’Hara, does not disappoint. Stunned by her first success, he Continue reading

Merton of the Movies (1947)

US / 82 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Robert Alton Pr: Albert Lewis Scr: George Wells, Lou Breslow Story: Merton of the Movies (1919) by Harry Leon Wilson, and Merton of the Movies (1922 play) by George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly Cine: Paul C. Vogel Cast: Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien, Gloria Grahame, Leon Ames, Alan Mowbray, Charles D. Brown, Hugo Haas, Harry Hayden, Tom Trout, Douglas Fowley, Dick Wessel, Helen Eby-Rock.

This was the third movie version of Wilson’s novel and the hit Broadway play based on it. The earlier versions were Merton of the Movies (1924) dir James Cruze, with Glenn Hunter, Charles Sellon, Sadie Gordon and Gale Henry, and Make Me a Star (1932) dir William Beaudine, with Joan Blondell, Stuart Erwin, Zasu Pitts, Ben Turpin and Charles Sellon, the latter reprising his role as Pete Gashwiler. There was also a Kraft Theatre version: Merton of the Movies (1947 TVM) with Eddie Mayehoff and Patricia Englund. Cruze’s 1924 silent has been lost, and the same may be true of the TVM.

Merton of the Movies - Gloria Grahame

Beulah Baxter (Gloria Grahame), having just told the press she does all her own stunts, prepares to let stuntgirl Phyllis Montague (Virginia O’Brien) do the dangerous bit.

A satire of the movie business, this has no real noir relevance save for the presence in its cast of noir goddess Gloria Grahame (I’ve been working on a piece about Grahame for something else, which is what brought me to this movie), not to mention actor/producer/director Hugo Haas, whose enjoyably dire shoestring noirs have a minor cult following today. There are also some regular noir supports like Ames and Fowley.

It’s 1915 and Merton Gill (Skelton) is a cinema usher in Tinkerton, Kansas, and mad about the movies; his favorite stars are Lawrence “Larry” Rupert (Ames), famed for his detective roles, and the lovely Beulah Baxter (Grahame), famed for Continue reading