Behind the Mask (1932)

US / 68 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: John Francis Dillon Pr: Harry Cohn Scr: Jo Swerling, Dorothy Howell Story: “In the Secret Service” (unpublished) by Jo Swerling Cine: Teddy Tetzlaff Cast: Jack Holt, Constance Cummings, Boris Karloff, Claude King, Bertha Mann, Edward Van Sloan, Willard Robertson, Tommy Jackson.

A few weeks ago I posted here about the 1946 movie Behind the Mask, which is one of the dire Monogram series featuring the pulps character The Shadow. I thought it might be interesting to check out its 1932 namesake, especially since it doesn’t feature The Shadow (although the arch-villain is at one point referred to as “a phantom, a shadow”!). My interest was further piqued when I was reminded that the cast includes Constance Cummings and Boris Karloff.

Jack Holt as ‘Quinn’ (left) and Boris Karloff as Henderson

The initial premise is familiar to anyone who watches too many old crime movies. A Secret Service agent, Jack Hart (Holt), is incarcerated in Sing Sing under a nom de guerre, Quinn, in order to ingratiate himself with another prisoner, Jim Henderson (Karloff), who’s known to be part of a major drug-running ring. The ruse works: Henderson is keen the two work together after their release and, when Quinn proposes to bust out of jail on his own, gives him an address where he’ll be “looked after.”

Constance Cummings as Julie

So Quinn fakes a breakout and a police chase, and ends up at a house occupied by senior gang member Arnold (King) and Arnold’s unwitting daughter Julie (Cummings), plus a housekeeper/nurse placed there by the gang’s mysterious leader to spy on them, Edwards (Mann). Continue reading

Moontide (1942)

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