Hotel Berlin (1945)

vt Vicki Baum’s Hotel Berlin
US / 98 minutes / bw / Warner Dir: Peter Godfrey Pr: Louis F. Edelman Scr: Jo Pagano, Alvah Bessie Story: Hier Stand ein Hotel (1943; vt Hotel Berlin; vt Hotel Berlin ’43; vt Berlin Hotel; vt Here Stood a Hotel) by Vicki Baum Cine: Carl Guthrie Cast: Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine, Raymond Massey, Andrea King, Peter Lorre, Alan Hale, George Coulouris, Henry Daniell, Peter Whitney, Helene Thimig, Steven Geray, Kurt Kreuger, Frank Reicher, Richard Tyler, Paul Panzer, Wolfgang Zilzer.

In some ways a companion piece to CASABLANCA (1942), but set in a swanky hotel in Berlin during the final months of the war rather than the somewhat more bohemian environs of Rick’s Café Américain, this surprisingly neglected movie has strengths of its own, not least an electrifying performance from Peter Lorre in a subsidiary role.

The Gestapo has deduced that Dr. Martin Richter (Dantine), an escapee from Dachau, has taken refuge in the Hotel Berlin, and its officers are combing the place in search of him. Also at the hotel are various high-ranking Nazis, including General Arnim von Dahnwitz (Massey) who, although renowned as the butcher of Kharkov, has recently participated in an unsuccessful coup against Hitler; all the other conspirators have suicided or been executed, and even von Dahnwitz’s old and dear friend Baron von Stetten (Daniell) reckons the man should kill himself before the Gestapo hauls him in. Von Dahnwitz, however, believes there’s a chance for him and his mistress, celebrated actress Lisa (or Liesl, as she’s sometimes called in dialogue) Dorn (King), to escape to Sweden.

Hotel Berlin - Raymond Massey as Gen Arnim von Dahnwitz

Raymond Massey as the hapless Gen Arnim von Dahnwitz.

The fugitive Martin Richter has a network of allies among the hotel wait-staff. One of these, Fritz Renn (Reicher), is soon arrested, but not before he has equipped Martin with a waiter’s coat. Fritz believes that, if Martin can contrive to be serving in Lisa’s suite during the search, the chances are that the searchers, dazzled by her fame, will overlook him. The plan works, although Lisa becomes convinced Martin is a Gestapo spy. Another significant ally is Bellboy #6 (Tyler), a child with courage and fortitude beyond his years, the son of underground leader Walter Baumler (Zilzer).

Hotel Berlin - Richter (Dantine) and Prof Koenig

The fugitive Martin Richter (Helmut Dantine) and the world-weary turncoat Professor Koenig (Peter Lorre).

The resident of the room next to Lisa’s suite is one-time Nobel prizewinner Professor Johannes Koenig (Lorre), who Continue reading

Girl on the Late, Late Show, The (1974 TVM)

US / 73 minutes / color / Gerber, Screen Gems, Columbia Dir: Gary Nelson Pr: Christopher Morgan Scr: Mark Rodgers Cine: Robert Morrison Cast: Don Murray, Bert Convy, Yvonne De Carlo, Gloria Grahame, Van Johnson, Ralph Meeker, Cameron Mitchell, Mary Ann Mobley, Joe Santos, Laraine Stephens, John Ireland, Walter Pidgeon, Sherry Jackson, Felice Orlandi, George Fischbeck, Frankie Darro, Burr Smidt, Dan Tobin.

Bill Martin (Murray), an executive on an NYC-based TV network’s Early Morning Show, notices that one actress, Carolyn Parker (Grahame), features in three of the next five late-night movies the station is going to broadcast, and sells his presenter, Frank J. Allen (Convy), on the idea of tracking her down as a guest: they could use the introductory line, “We present on the Early Morning Show the girl you just saw on the Late, Late Show.”

So Bill flies out to LA and Hollywood, to the Pacific General studio that Carolyn worked for. The studio’s boss, Norman Wilder (Mitchell), offers any help he can give, and Bill starts investigating.

Girl on the L, L Show - John Ireland, dying, reveals who the old woman was

John Ireland has a deathbed scene . . .

Carolyn made just seven movies over a total of 41 months during the mid-1950s, then disappeared as if from the face of the earth midway through filming opposite Johnny Leverett (Johnson), the movie Bright Memory. The records of her in the archives of the studio and of the Screen Actors Guild are scanty at best, but Bill manages to track down her old agent, Thomas Prideaux (Smidt); by the time Bill reaches Prideaux’s house, however, the man has been murdered, and Continue reading

Bad and the Beautiful, The (1952)

US / 118 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Vincente Minnelli Pr: John Houseman Scr: Charles Schnee Story: “Memorial to a Bad Man” (1951; Ladies’ Home Journal) by George Bradshaw Cine: Robert Surtees Cast: Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Gilbert Roland, Leo G. Carroll, Vanessa Brown, Paul Stewart, Sammy White, Elaine Stewart, Ivan Triesault.

A love letter to Hollywood—or, at least, a letter expressing a love/hate relationship—with a very noirish cast and some noirish flourishes; it’s occasionally listed as a film noir, although that’s a classification that seems hard to justify.

Shields (left) and Fred find Georgia sloshed at the Crow’s Nest.

Movie mogul Harry Pebbel (Pidgeon) gathers together three major figures in the industry in an attempt to persuade them to participate in a new project that the producer Jonathan Shields (Douglas) is trying to float. All three of them have good reasons to tell Shields to get lost because of the way he treated them in the past, and in three extended flashbacks we learn what those reasons were: Continue reading

Stronger than Desire (1939)

US / 78 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Leslie Fenton Pr: John W. Considine Jr. Scr: David Hertz, William Ludwig Story: Evelyn Prentice (1933) by W.E. Woodward Cine: William Daniels Cast: Virginia Bruce, Walter Pidgeon, Lee Bowman, Ann Dvorak, Ilka Chase, Rita Johnson, Richard Lane, Ann Todd, Paul Stanton, Ferike Boros.

A remake of Evelyn Prentice (1934)—which see for a more detailed plot summary; here we look mainly at the differences. For the remake the names were changed in a vain attempt to persuade audiences it wasn’t really a remake. A lot of the dialogue is reproduced verbatim from the original.

High-flying lawyer Tyler Flagg (Pidgeon) achieves the acquittal of socialite Barbara Winter (Johnson); soon thereafter, another case takes him to Boston, and to his dismay he finds Barbara on the train, desirous to “thank him” for the acquittal; his response is to spank her, a maneuver that appears to turn her on. (Today he’d face an assault charge; in those days this was humorous.) Back home, Tyler’s wife Elizabeth (Bruce) meets gigolo predator Michael McLain (Bowman), who hopes to entrap her into a blackmailable situation. As in the earlier movie, the denouement hinges on the fact that, at the time the blackmailer was murdered, two shots were heard rather than just one.

Stronger than Desire (1939) the shit hits the same fan as in Evelyn Pfentice

                                                The telegram may differ in its details, but it hits the same fan as in Evelyn Prentice (1934).

A major difference between the two movies is that the Flaggs’ houseguest Jo Brennan (Chase) isn’t the same lovable floozy as in the original; instead she’s a sort of bluestocking Flora Robson figure. Another difference is in the treatment of the central lawyer figure: the debonair, humorous Powell is replaced by the straitlaced Pidgeon; this could have been a disaster but arguably is just what the movie needed. A shared implausibility is that the court decides Eva was perfectly justified in killing her ghastly husband and that her massive perjury should be overlooked. Overall, this version successfully avoids the unevenness of tone that marred the original; it’s probably the better movie.

Dvorak’s quite memorable as Michael’s long-suffering wife Eva. Boros gives a sort of Elsa Lanchester performance as the janitress, Mrs. D’Amoro, who saw Elizabeth flee from the murder scene. The child actress Ann Todd does her best to be as nauseating as Cora Sue Collins in the earlier movie; that she can’t quite manage it is no denigration of her thespian skills. Todd would later be more usually billed as Ann E. Todd; she’s not to be confused with the UK actress Ann Todd, whose occasional appearances in classic borderline noirs such as The Paradine Case (1947) and Madeleine (1950) had such an impact.

On Stronger Than Desire