Jennifer (1953)

Is the truth about a young woman’s disappearance being covered up? Ida Lupino thinks maybe so . . .

US / 73 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Joel Newton Pr: Berman Swarttz Scr: Richard Dorso, Bernard Girard Story: Virginia Myers Cine: James Wong Howe Cast: Ida Lupino, Howard Duff, Robert Nichols, Mary Shipp, Ned Glass, Kitty McHugh, Russ Conway, Lorna Thayer, Matt Dennis.

Thirtysomething secretary Agnes Langley (Lupino) eagerly accepts a job as caretaker of the old Gale estate outside Montecito, somewhere within striking distance of Santa Barbara, Southern California.

Ida Lupino as Agnes.

According to Lorna Gale (Shipp), the family member who shows Agnes round the mansion and interviews her for the post, the previous caretaker, Lorna’s cousin, Jennifer Brown, simply upped and disappeared one day. Agnes isn’t Continue reading


Fly-by-Night (1942)

On the run for a murder he didn’t commit!

vt Dangerous Holiday
US / 72 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Robert Siodmak Pr: Sol C. Siegel Scr: Jay Dratler, F. Hugh Herbert Story: Ben Roberts, Sidney Sheldon Cine: John Seitz Cast: Richard Carlson, Nancy Kelly, Albert Basserman, Miles Mander, Walter Kingsford, Martin Kosleck, Marion Martin, Oscar O’Shea, Mary Gordon, Edward Gargan, Clem Bevans, Arthur Loft, Michael Morris, Cy Kendall, Nestor Paiva, John Butler.

An escapade conceived very much in the style of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935), with which movie it shares a number of plot points. Again we have a hero who has to go on the run because suspected of murdering a man who has sought his aid, and again our hero ropes in an unwilling woman as accomplice (with romance as inevitable, further down the line, as in a Hallmark Christmas movie), and again there’s an espionage conspiracy to be foiled.

To say that Siodmak, whose second Hollywood movie this was, was no Hitchcock is the obvious trite comment, and a foolish one—as foolish as saying, equally truthfully, that Hitchcock was no Siodmak. The two directors each had his own strengths, and this one plays to Siodmak’s. The comedy and tension are very well integrated—that I laughed aloud several times didn’t mean I wasn’t on the edge of my seat at others—but what stood out most for me, in terms of the direction, was Continue reading

Night to Remember, A (1942)

Loretta Young and Brian Aherne crack a murder case and some not very good jokes!

vt Number Thirteen Gay Street; vt The Frightened Stiff
US / 88 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Richard Wallace Pr: Samuel Bischoff Scr: Richard Flournoy, Jack Henley Story: The Frightened Stiff (1942) by Kelley Roos Cine: Joseph Walker Cast: Loretta Young, Brian Aherne, Jeff Donnell, William Wright, Sidney Toler, Gale Sondergaard, Donald MacBride, Lee Patrick, Don Costello, Richard Gaines, Blanche Yurka, James Burke, Harry Harvey, Cy Kendall, George Lloyd, George Chandler.

There’s a very famous movie called A Night to Remember. Directed by Roy Ward Baker in 1958, with a screenplay by Eric Ambler, it stars Kenneth More with Geoffrey Bayldon, Honor Blackman, Anthony Bushell, John Cairney, Sean Connery, Kenneth Griffith, Andrew Keir, Frank Lawton, David McCallum, Alec McCowen, Laurence Naismith, Russell Napier, Harold Siddons, Jack Watling and a horde of others, and is regarded as the best extant movie tracing the final hours of the “unsinkable” Titanic, which sank in April 1912 after hitting an iceberg.

This is not that movie.

Nor is it the inauguration of a comedy-crime series to rival the THIN MAN, although there are sufficient resemblances in the setup to make one speculate that this was the intention; here, though, Continue reading

Night of Evil (1962)

A moron’s act of violence initiates a years-long cycle of tragedy!

US / 83 minutes / bw / Galbreath, Astor, Sutton Dir & Pr: Richard Galbreath Scr: Louis Perino Story: Lou Perry (i.e., Louis Perino) Cine: David Holmes Cast: Lisa Gaye, William Campbell, Lynn Bernay (i.e., Lynette Bernay), Burtt Harris, Sammy Mannis, Earl Wilson, Remo Pisani, George Diestel, Don De Leo, Joe Garri, Patricia Dahling, Eric Anthony Pregent, Gary Gage, Carlton Kadell, Maurice Copeland, Barbara Bricker, David Dunstone.

A Z-movie that punches very far above its weight in most respects, this somehow transcends its hackneyed trope of a young woman spiralling inexorably downward into degradation.

Its introduction doesn’t inspire much confidence that this might be the case, consisting as it does of the cliché of a po-faced narrator (Wilson) telling us earnestly that the movie’s contents are, despite the promises of sensationalism that lured us into the cinema, both serious and high-minded:

The picture you are about to witness is based on newspaper and court records. It is a true story. To protect the innocent, some of the names, places and incidents have been changed.

It all began in the fall of 1957 . . .

Dixie Ann Dikes (Gaye), approaching 17 and living with foster parents Cora and Edgar Watkins (both uncredited), has a nice young boyfriend in Kent Fitzroy (uncredited).

Lisa Gaye as Dixie.

However, football jock Johnny (Harris) believes that, as the star of their high school team, he’s entitled to first dibs on the pretty girls. Continue reading

Mysterious Doctor, The (1943)

How did the Headless Man choose his victims?

US / 57 minutes / bw / Warner–First National Dir: Ben Stoloff Scr: Richard Weil Cine: Henry Sharp Cast: John Loder, Eleanor Parker, Bruce Lester, Lester Matthews, Forrester Harvey, Matt Willis, Frank Mayo, Phyllis Barry, David Clyde, Clyde Cook, Harold De Becker, Crauford Kent, Leo White.

One foggy night in darkest Cornwall a peddler (De Becker), terrified by local legends of the Headless Man—the ghost of tin miner Black Morgan, who lost his head in a dispute over the ownership of the Wickham Mine—conquers his fears enough to give a lift to a stranger, Dr. Frederick Holmes (Matthews), ostensibly on a walking tour of the English Southwest. (And a very rapid if rather aimless walker, be it noted: we later discover he was in Camborne, in Dorset, the night before, and St. Ives, in Cornwall, the night before that!)

Holmes hitches a lift from the peddler (Harold De Becker).

The peddler drops Holmes off at the Running Horse Inn in the village of Morgan’s Head. There the stranger discovers that the publican, Simon Tewkesbury (Mayo), wears a hangman-style leather hood at all times because, years ago, a stick of dynamite went off in his face. (The hood is going to play an important, albeit outlandishly implausible, part in the plot later on.)

 The foreboding figure of barman Simon Tewkesbury (Frank Mayo).

Holmes also discovers that the locals are suspicious of and resentful of visitors—

Simon: “Us folks in Morgan’s Head don’t like to be laughed at, Dr. ’Olmes. Especially by strangers we don’t.”

—unless said strangers buy drinks all round, a trick taught to Holmes by village tosspot Hugh Penrhyn (Harvey). Those drinks are our first sign that this movie, though set in England, was a US product: the beers come Continue reading

Purple Gang, The (1959)

A “youthful rat-pack of terrorists”!

US / 85 minutes / bw / Allied Artists Dir: Frank McDonald Pr: Lindsley Parsons Scr: Jack DeWitt Cine: Ellis Carter Cast: Barry Sullivan, Robert Blake, Elaine Edwards, Marc Cavell, Jody Lawrance, Suzy Marquette, Joseph Turkel, Victor Creatore, Paul Dubov, Dirk London, Kathleen Lockhart, Nestor Paiva, Lou Krugman, Robert Anderson, Mauritz Hugo, Danny Mummert, John Close, Ralph Sanford, George Baxter, Paul McGuire, David Tomack, Don Haggerty, Congressman James Roosevelt.

This gives the impression—complete with pompous introduction from a political stuffed shirt—of being a dramatized documentary about the real-life Purple Gang, which terrorized Detroit during the 1920s and 1930s, but in fact its moments of consonance with the historical reality are fairly few and far between, and usually consist of the scripters merely incorporating a stray aspect of the truth in hopes it’ll somehow stand in for all the rest. Just to add to the air of divorcement from reality, while the setting is stated to be the late 1920s and the early 1930s, there’s no effort, through costume or effects, to place the action anywhere else but in the 1940s.

Congressman Roosevelt introduces our tale.

The stuffed shirt in question is Congressman James Roosevelt, Chairman (it says here) of the Committee on Narcotics of the California Delegation in the Congress of the United States, who bizarrely addresses most of his remarks not to the camera but slightly to our right of it. After he’s done, we then get a scrolled legend aiming to persuade us further of the movie’s authenticity:

This picture is based on Continue reading

Catman of Paris, The (1946)

Was he a vicious killer or just a harmless shapeshifter?

US / 64 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: Lesley Selander Assoc Pr: Marek M. Libkov Scr: Sherman L. Lowe Cine: Reggie Lanning Cast: Carl Esmond, Lenore Aubert, Adele Mara, Douglass Dumbrille, Gerald Mohr, Fritz Feld, Francis Pierlot, Georges Renavent, Francis McDonald, Maurice Cass, Alphonse Martell, Paul Marion, John Dehner, Anthony Caruso, Carl Neubert, Elaine Lange, Tanis Chandler, George Davis.

In the closing years of the 19th century, bestselling author Charles Regnier (Esmond) is back in Paris after having spent a couple of years traveling in the Orient. His latest novel, Fraudulent Justice, is selling like hotcakes—in fact, his publisher, Paul Audet (Pierlot), declares that “Not since Balzac, not since Victor Hugo himself, has an author gained such popularity!” (What, no mention of Dumas?) All very atypical for publishers, who’re these days more likely to spend upwards of an hour telling you that the market’s tough, really tough, which is why you’ve yet again accrued no royalties . . . and then asking you to go dutch on the lunch they invited you to.

Charles’s patron and best friend Henri (Douglass Dumbrille).

But then Audet does indeed segue into what we might call Publisher Chagrin Mode. Although Fraudulent Justice is a huge bestseller, the book may destroy him. The cops are very suspicious of it, and may confiscate all copies, because it bears far too close a resemblance to the facts in the 1871 trial of one Louis Chambrais (sp?), a trial so scandalous and shocking that the records were stipulated to be kept under wraps for the next fifty years . . . and yet, a mere twenty-five years later, everything is being revealed in Charles’s so-called novel!

Lenore Aubert as publisher’s daughter Marie, whom Charles discovers he loves.

Charles is having a meal at his favorite nosherie, the Café du Bois, with his generous patron Henri Borchard (Dumbrille) when he’s suddenly smitten by yet another of the migraine-style headaches he has intermittently suffered ever since that nasty fever attack he suffered while abroad, and decides to cut the dinner short and walk home through the fresh air of the Parisian streets. (Fresh air? Parisian streets? At the end of the 19th century? Hm.)

He doesn’t get home until morning, by which time a librarian in the Archives section of the Ministère de la Justice, Devereaux (McDonald), has been ’ideously murdered while Continue reading

Moontide (1942)

Ida Lupino and Jean Gabin (and Claude Rains and Thomas Mitchell!) in a strange piece of borderline noirishness!

US / 95 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Archie Mayo, Fritz Lang (uncredited) Pr: Mark Hellinger Scr: John O’Hara, Nunnally Johnson (uncredited) Story: Moon Tide (1940) by Willard Robertson Cine: Charles Clarke, Lucien Ballard (uncredited) Cast: Jean Gabin, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell, Claude Rains, Jerome Cowan, Helene Reynolds, Ralph Byrd, William Halligan, Victor Sen Yung, Chester Gan, Robin Raymond, Arthur Aylesworth, Arthur Hohl, John Kelly, Ralph Dunn, Tully Marshall, Vera Lewis, Tom Dugan.

On a commenter called Now Zoltan (I assume that’s not his real name) has complained that I omitted this movie, which he regards as quintessential to the genre (“a cornerstone noir, one of my favourites”), from my A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir. He also complained about a typo as if it were an error of fact, which I thought was a bit unfair: 675,000 words of information-dense text? Of course you can expect a few typos—though hopefully not very many!

Anyway, I checked my entry for this movie in my personal catalogue and saw that I’d given it the NSH (noirish) rather than the NOIR classification. Since it stars Lupino, Gabin and Rains, three of my all-time favorite actors, and since Fritz Lang was involved, in the ordinary way I’d have bent over backward to include it in the book—i.e., to persuade myself it was sufficiently noir that it oughter go in.

An enigma on the back of a conundrum, and puzzling too.

It had been yonks since last I’d watched the movie, and to be honest I could remember little about it, so I decided to give it another whirl to see if I could work out why I’d decided to omit it. Here goes.

Jean Gabin as Bobo.

Bobo (Gabin) is a longshoreman, and ostensibly a good one, but he has a penchant for hard drinking. Tonight in the saloon called The Red Dot he’s well and truly hammered, to the dismay of his sidekick Tiny (Mitchell), who wants to Continue reading

Phantom of Chinatown (1940)

“My name is Wong. James Lee Wong.”

US / 62 minutes / bw / Monarch Dir: Phil Rosen Pr: Paul Malvern Scr: Joseph West Story: Ralph Bettinson Based on: characters created by Hugh Wiley in 12 stories published 1934–38 in Collier’s Magazine Cine: Fred Jackman Jr Cast: Keye Luke, Lotus Long, Grant Withers, Charles Miller, Huntley Gordon, Virginia Carpenter, John H. Dilson, Paul McVey, John Holland, Dick Terry, Robert Kellard, William Castello, Lee Tung Foo.

Not long after his return from a field trip to Mongolia, Dr. John Benton (Miller)—clearly labeled “Cyrus Benton” in a newspaper that we see—is giving a lecture at San Francisco’s Southern University about his expedition and the discovery he made in the Gobi Desert of the long-lost tomb of a powerful Ming emperor. He illustrates the lecture with the movie footage taken during the trip by photographer Charlie Frasier (Dilson), the very same guy as who’s now operating the projector for the lecture. Sitting in the front row are two further members of the expedition, Benton’s daughter Louise (Carpenter) and the pilot Tommy Dean (Kellard); the two are evidently sweet on each other. Helping the archaeologist is his secretary, Win Len (Long).

Tommy (Robert Kellard) and Louise (Virginia Carpenter), so much in love.

But one member of the expedition didn’t return, Benton explains to his audience. The backup pilot, Mason (Holland), was lost during a wild dust-storm and, although the party hunted for him, in the end they had to abandon the search.

Frasier (John H. Dilson) films everything.

Suddenly Benton grabs his throat and collapses. Soon the homicide cop Captain Sam Street (Withers) and his sidekick Detective Grady (McVey) are on the scene, but it looks as if Continue reading

Paris After Dark (1943)

Love, death, betrayal and sacrifice in occupied Paris!

US / 85 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Léonide Moguy Pr: André Daven Scr: Harold Buchman Story: Georges Kessel Cine: Lucien Andriot Cast: George Sanders, Philip Dorn, Brenda Marshall, Madeleine LeBeau, Marcel Dalio, Robert Lewis, Henry Rowland, Gene Gary, Curt Bois, Michael Visaroff, Ann Codee, Jean Del Val, Raymond Roe, John Wengraf.


Paris is under Nazi occupation. Renowned surgeon Dr. André Marbel (Sanders) and his principal nurse, Yvonne Blanchard (Marshall), née Benoit, are secretly the leaders of an underground movement dedicated to disseminating anti-Nazi propaganda in the form of posters and tracts, especially targeting the workers in the nearby Beaumont car factory, repurposed by the Nazis to build tanks and armored cars. The effort is not without its dangers, as we discover in the movie’s opening moments, when young Victor Durand (Gary) is gunned down summarily by a German soldier for the crime of flyposting.


Yvonne (Brenda Marshall).

We assume at first that André and Yvonne must be lovers, but not so: they’re fond friends, no more. Yvonne lives at home with her mother (Codee), her father Lucien (Del Val) and her kid brother Georges (Roe), who works in the Beaumont factory. Yvonne’s husband Jean (Dorn) was a pillar of the Resistance until his capture and imprisonment three years ago. Now he’s among a hundred sick and broken men being released from the labor camp, to be replaced—although this is not yet public knowledge—by five hundred healthy men from the Beaumont plant.


Jean (Philip Dorn), just one of many sick and broken camp prisoners on the train home to Paris.

The Benoits are delighted by Jean’s return, Yvonne especially, but soon she and her family discover that Jean has changed drastically, thanks to torture and abuse. He now believes that Nazi triumph is inevitable and that the best way forward is to collaborate with the fascist scheisskopfs and just hope to be left in peace to live as well as one can. When he Continue reading