Mystery Collection, Part 3
That’s right—Part 3: Discs 13-18 of this 60-disc, 250-movie megacollection. Will C&I be around long enough for me to complete these little essays (which should take three or four more years)? I make no prediction.
The Mandarin Mystery, 1936, b&w. Ralph Staub (dir.), Eddie Quinlan, Charlotte Henry, Rita la Roy, Wade Boteler, Franklin Pangborn, George Irving, Kay Hughes. 1:06 [0:53]
This one’s a charmer—a relatively short, fast-paced Ellery Queen mystery (loosely) based on The Chinese Orange Mystery. A young woman arrives in New York with a uniquely rare stamp she’s agreed to sell to a doctor—who is investing his niece’s trust fund in rare stamps. As she’s arriving, she runs into Ellery Queen (Quinlan), a charming young PR man who was hoping to meet another woman but who will gladly chase after whoever’s available.
The stamp’s stolen before she can take it to the doctor; then she believes she’s retrieved it—from a dead thief (murdered in a locked room). Inspector Queen (Ellery’s father) arrives and the two of them, in very different ways, investigate a growing web of crimes including a second murder and stamp forgery, with enough suspects to make your head spin. Snappy dialogue, fast-moving, pretty decent acting (with Franklin Pangborn a hoot as the nervous hotel manager), in all a good time. It’s clearly a second feature/B movie, but a fun one—even with 13 minutes missing. $1.25.
High Voltage, 1929, b&w. Howard Higgin (dir.), William Boyd, Carole Lombard, Owen Moore, Phillips Smalley, Billy Bevan, Diane Ellis. 1:03.
Already reviewed as part of the 50 Movie Pack Hollywood Legends. Here’s what I said in Cites & Insights 9:1 (January 2009):
An odd title for an odd short flick with a fine cast. The setup requires a fair amount of disbelief: A coach or bus apparently going from Sacramento to Reno during a huge snowstorm. When it stops for gas, the station attendant says they’ll never make it through and should stop there, but the blowhard driver says he can make it. Passengers include one banker, one young woman on the way to meet her fiancée and a cop taking a woman (Carole Lombard) back East to serve out a prison sentence. The last two passengers are on their way to catch a train, as is (I believe) the young woman. The film is set in a time when there are not only buses but airplanes—but, apparently, either no train running from Sacramento east or the train’s so unreliable that it makes more sense to ride a bus out into a huge snowstorm. I suppose there was such a period, but it’s a little implausible.
Naturally, the bus gets stuck. Somehow, it’s 40 miles to the nearest city or town—but there’s a church close enough so the stranded group can see it and make their way there. Where they find a hobo (William Boyd), who (it turns out) is on the lam. (You may know William Boyd by the character he played in about 70 movies and 40 TV shows starting in 1935: Hopalong Cassidy. He’s a lot darker here!)
That’s the setup. The hobo has food but probably not enough for the ten days he estimates they’ll be trapped (based on nothing obvious). There’s jockeying for position, shoving around, threats…and mostly lots of talk and very little of anything else, although the hobo (who pretty much takes command) does manage to push them all out to get some fresh air, leading to two of them falling through ice (and being rescued). The hobo starts to go off in the night with the woman on her way back to prison (he knows of a ranger station ten miles away)—but when a plane starts circling overhead, he can’t go through with abandoning the others, and they agree to serve their time and move on from there.
So I guess it’s a drama of tension among half a dozen stranded types. I suppose, but hardly enough tension to justify the title. Reasonably well acted. Some film damage. One real oddity: The opening credits refer to the characters as archetypes—The Boy, The Girl, The Detective, and so on—even though they all have names in the movie. Knowing the date does make a difference: This is a very early talkie. I’ll give it $1.
The Man Who Had Influence, 1950, b&w. Franklin J. Schaffner (dir.), Stanley Ridges, Robert Sterling, King Calder, Anne Bancroft. 0:59.
Not really a movie at all, and the sleeve’s clear about this: It’s a 1950 episode of Studio One, an early live dramatic TV series—presented here including the three Westinghouse commercials within the story. It’s presumably a kinescope, that is, a film made from the TV broadcast, which helps explain the generally poor video quality (and sometimes-poor audio quality).
The plot: We have an Influential Wealthy Lawyer—who’s backing a Senate candidate instead of running himself because he’s more powerful behind the scenes—and his absurdly overprivileged son, who’s always gotten away with everything because of his father and who just flunked out of college. He’s a drunkard but somehow has a fiancée who really should know better (she’s the daughter of the senatorial candidate).
After he comes home, he goes out with his fiancée, drinks too much, makes a play for the cute cigarette girl (his fiancée is used to his leaving with somebody else!)...and the next thing we know, it’s the next morning, the car’s not at home, he is but doesn’t know what’s happened. What’s happened is a car crash and a dead cigarette girl, who he abandoned at the scene.
That’s the setup. The rest has to do with just how much influence the father has and how he gets it. It involves conversations with a cop who seems to spend his time in the jail cell with the son, playing cards and eventually bemoaning the fact that he shoulda been police chief but couldn’t be bought by the father…and a sort of redemption. Sort of.
I guess it’s golden age drama. Other than the achievement of doing this live, I can’t say that it’s that wonderful—hammy, simplistic, and almost hard to watch. I’ll give it $0.75.
The Strange Woman, 1946, b&w. Edgar G. Ulmer (dir.), Hedy Lamarr, George Sanders, Louis Hayward, Gene Lockhart, Hillary Brooke. 1:40.
Bangor, Maine, 1824, a mostly-lawless logging town where the town drunk’s daughter is a handful—including an early scene where she nearly drowns a boy, then makes it look as though she saved him from drowning. She grows into a beauty, determined to marry a wealthy man—and manages, in the person of a much older man (the father of the boy, now away at college).
In the course of events, she seduces the son and makes it clear that she considers the father (her husband) a nuisance—and, when the son comes back alone from a trip to the logging camp, rejects him out of hand. She has eyes for the fiancée of her friend—and what Jenny wants, Jenny gets. The son turns drunkard, and eventually hangs himself—after telling the person who’s now her husband (and heads up the logging-and-shipping operation she inherited) what happened.
There’s more—specifically, a revivalist in buckskins from Ohio, whose third service is “The Strange Woman” and who seems to be speaking directly to her. Things do not lead to a happy ending—and, given Jenny’s sociopathic nature, it’s hard to see how they could wind up well. Hedy Lamarr gives a fine performance as a mostly-affectless beautiful woman plowing a path through all around her. George Sanders is upstanding and noble as her eventual husband, who stands by her to the end. The movie’s slow moving and there are a few glitches. Not great, not bad; I’ll give it $1.50.
Half a Sinner, 1940, b&w. Al Christie (dir.), Heather Angel, John King, Constance Collier, Walter Catlett, Tom Dugan, Robert Elliott, Clem Bevans, Emma Dunn, Henry Brandon. 0:59.
What a charmer! Sure, it’s a mystery of sorts—but it’s also a romantic comedy, nearly a screwball comedy and a caper movie. The plot’s really very simple: A 25-year-old schoolteacher, tired of wearing sensible clothes, glasses and “flats” (really modest heels), buys a nice well-fitting dress and hat and shocks her Granny by noting that she’s going to go wild—she’s going to have tea downtown!
One thing leads to another, and the next we know, she’s stolen a limo (that was already stolen), been flagged down by a handsome young man whose car has apparently broken down, discovered that there’s a corpse in the back seat, encountered (and escaped) the law and the crooks…and, well, it’s a fast-moving, satisfying plot. I don’t know any of the actors, but they all seem to be having a ball with this funny, fluffy flick. Notably, it’s based on a Dalton Trumbo story, before Trumbo was forced underground by HUAC. The print is excellent, and I give it the highest I’d give for an under-one-hour item: $1.25.
Guest in the House, 1944, b&w. John Brahm (dir.), Anne Baxter, Ralph Bellamy, Aline MacMahon, Ruth Warwick, Scott McKay. 2:01 [1:40]
No summary review because after 20 minutes I decided I wasn’t willing to watch this—life is too short. The title character was so absurdly strange, in a thoroughly unpleasant way, and the other characters so…well, unengaging, that I couldn’t see watching the whole thing. (Sound problems and a strange, presumably-intentional, bit of having waves of light sweep through the interiors periodically didn’t help.)
Looking at IMDB reviews, “noirish melodrama” may be the right label. I found it uninteresting and simultaneously unpleasant. (Sorry, but I watch movies to be entertained; if a movie is neither entertaining nor engaging nor educational, I’ve got better uses for my time.) Your mileage may vary.
Ten Minutes to Live, 1932, b&w. Oscar Micheaux (dir., story, screenplay), Lawrence Chenault, A.B. DeComatheire, Laura Bowman, Willor Lee Guilford, Tressie Mitchell. 0:58.
This one’s a true curiosity—and it might have been better included in the Musicals set, since a substantial portion of the movie is the stage show at an upscale Harlem cabaret, with a troupe of eight frenetic dancers (apparently from the real Cotton Club), some singer-dancers, a hot band and a very odd set of comedians. There is a mystery of sorts—but, possibly due to technical problems, it’s difficult to make much of it. (I’ll never quite understand why Harlem nightclubs had black comics performing in blackface, but I assume that was authentic.)
What we have here is a black film from the early 1930s (with an all African-American cast and targeting a black audience), one that appears to have been filmed mostly as a silent picture (except for the musical numbers), with some dialogue added later. Specifically, in one long sequence, the only dialogue comes from off-camera performers who appear to be reading from a script they’ve never seen before. What we also have is a badly framed picture that loses enough on all four sides to make important pieces of text illegible and with sound occasionally so bad that dialogue becomes nearly unintelligible. Oh, and once in a while the picture jumps out of synch, so there’s a black line midpicture with the lower half of a frame above and the upper half below.
I suspect this is a rarity (since most of these films never made it into mainstream theaters and were probably not preserved very well), and the musical sequences are certainly interesting. The acting…well, as I say, it’s an odd blend of sound and silent picture, and probably done with no real budget. Worth seeing as a historic curiosity and for the vintage musical numbers, but I couldn’t give it more than $0.75.
Fear in the Night, 1947, b&w. Maxwell Shane (dir.), Paul Kelly, DeForest Kelley, Ann Doran, Kay Scott, Charles Victor, Robert Emmett Keane. 1:12.
Two mysteries for the price of one!
The first is the noir mystery within the film. A young man (played by a 27-year-old DeForest Kelley), a bank cashier who lives in a hotel and whose sister and brother-in-law live nearby, finds himself in a strange and deadly dream…then wakes up to find items suggesting that it wasn’t just a dream, which would mean he’s murdered someone (in self defense). He seeks out his brother-in-law, a police detective, who tells him to shake it off.
Later, he (and his brother in law, and his sister, and his girlfriend) finds himself in a big house he shouldn’t know about—and there’s the room in his dreams, with a bloodstained wall where he thought he’d left a corpse. Suddenly his brother-in-law assumes he’s a cold-blooded killer and the whole “dream” thing was a ruse.
That’s as much of the plot as I’ll provide. It’s well acted and keeps moving, even though you’ll have figured out half of the twist (and maybe all of it) well before it’s revealed. A good film. Kelley’s second film role and first starring role, and he does a fine job. (Apparently remade in the 50s as Nightmare, with Edward G. Robinson.)
The other mystery? The sleeve description—which makes this out to be a The Shadow/Lamont Cranston film about “the murder of a wealthy gentleman who was about to change his will.” There was no Lamont Cranston involved and, while there is a wealthy gentleman, he’s not a murder victim. (Usually in these cases, the sleeve describes another flick with the same title but, according to IMDB, there’s no Lamont Cranston movie with a title anything like “Fear in the Night.”) I’ve seen this before (the wrong flick being described on the sleeve), but usually they’d also get the star wrong—which they don’t. But that’s trivial. Pretty good film noir: $1.50.
The Wrong Road, 1937, b&w. James Cruze (dir.), Richard Cromwell, Helen Mack, Lionel Atwill, Horace McMahon, Marjorie Main. 1:02 [0:53]
An odd little B movie, not without its charms. Open on a young couple dancing in a fancy nightclub and discussing their plans. She graduated from college and found that her father had squandered his fortune (consider the year!), and her only real plan was to become part of Moneyed Society. He graduated assuming he’d get a $10,000/year job (equivalent to more than $145,000 in 2009 dollars) but that disappeared and now he’s making $25/week as a bank clerk—and is on his way out to make way for the boss’s relative. They’re both Too Good to Work, so they have a solution: He’s going to steal a bunch of the bank’s money, they’ll hide it, they won’t deny the crime, and when they get out of prison—Shazam!
They do this—basically, he just hands her $100,000 in a phony transaction (which, if it really was equal to $1.45 million, wouldn’t have them Set For Life but would be a nice starting point) and neither of them deny the crime. But the insurance investigator counsels them that this won’t work out well—the money’s traceable, so they’d have to sell it to a fence, leaving maybe $40,000, and, oh, by the way, they’re not likely to get two years, they’re likely to get ten. Is $2,000/year per person really worth it—even if he doesn’t capture the money when they get out? (Throughout, this hardnosed investigator—Lionel Atwill—is more of a wise old uncle than anything else.)
But they’re intent on it. Two years later when they’re initially up for parole, the investigator sees that they get the parole with some stringent conditions (e.g., they can’t get married). Meanwhile, the guy’s cellmate has gotten out and wants some (or all) of the money…and the uncle they’d sent it to (sealed inside a music box) has died bankrupt, with his estate being auctioned off. Oh, and the insurance investigator is still on their trail and still counseling them to give it up.
You can probably guess how it ends. It’s an odd little morality tale. They keep saying “We earned that money,” but, well, the weed of crime bears bitter fruit. In some ways, it’s a pointless little movie, but I found it enjoyable as a trifle. Still, given the length and general lack of plausibility, I can’t give it more than $0.75.
The Naked Kiss, 1964, b&w. Samuel Fuller (dir., also screenplay and producer), Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante, Virginia Grey, Patsy Kelly, Marie Devereux, Karen Conrad. 1:39.
Truly a strange duck. Before the titles, we get a hot sequence where a half-naked woman is thwacking a man with her purse, eventually flooring him (he’s obviously drunk), taking $800 out of his wallet, removing $75, tossing the rest back…and, after getting dressed, checking her makeup and, by the way, putting the wig back on her bald head (he’d ripped it off), leaving.
After the titles, she’s getting off the bus in a town where the police captain deals with thugs by sending them out of town—and spots her as a prostitute, availing himself of her services as a demonstration (then telling her to get out of town, cross the state line and river to his friend’s bordello, and she’ll be fine). She decides to go straight and turns out to be a wonderful nurse’s assistant at the local pediatric hospital, where she can get the kids on crutches and in wheelchairs to perk up.
That’s just the start. She meets and gets involved with The Man—the scion of the town’s founding family—with only the noblest of motives. To say much more would give the plot away, and it’s a fairly involved one. I’m not sure you’d call the ending happy, but it could be worse. In between, we get a mix of fairly slow, “natural” timing and some slightly odd acting. Oh: It’s also widescreen. On balance, I’ll give it $1.00.
Affair in Monte Carlo, (orig. 24 Hours of a Woman’s Life), 1952, color (b&w on this disc). Victor Saville (dir.), Merle Oberon, Leo Genn, Richard Todd. 1:30 [1:04].
Previously seen in 50 Movie Hollywood Legends and reviewed in the January 2009 Cites & Insights. Clearly the same short “it says Technicolor on the movie but it’s black-and-white on this print” version. Here’s my review:
Merle Oberon is excellent in this tale of sudden romance and gambling addiction, told mostly as a flashback—but there are two problems. The biggest one is that this seems like “scenes from an affair”—at 1:03, it’s much far too short for its story and has gaps in continuity. Given the fairly slow pacing of the movie, that’s particularly unfortunate. Noting IMDB after rating this, I see that’s what’s happened: The movie should be 90 minutes long, the U.S. version was trimmed to 75 minutes (why?), and this version—apart from losing its color—is down to a mere 64 minutes.
The other—well, the credits list a Technicolor colour consultant, but there’s no color in the movie as presented here. The scenery would be much nicer and the film more convincing in color. It doesn’t have the qualities of great b&w cinematography. (Actually, it looks like desaturated color, which is what it apparently is.) Nice little story, good scenery, some good acting, but ultimately I’m generous at $1.00.
Sinners in Paradise, 1938, b&w. James Whale (dir.), Madge Evans, John Boles, Bruce Cabot, Marion Martin, Gene Lockhart. 1:05 [1:03]
Eight people board a lavish four-propeller seaplane to cross the Pacific Ocean from California to China (with, presumably, a stop in Hawaii). We learn just a bit of their stories early in the flight—with people standing around the cabin (which consists of seats across tables) during takeoff, and no signs that there even are seatbelts—and a bit more as the flight continues.
The plane crashes near an almost-deserted tropical island, hundreds of miles from the mainland. “Almost”: there’s a handsome, perfectly dressed man in a little (well, not so little—he can comfortably seat all the rest at breakfast) grass shack, with a Chinese companion/servant. He tells the rest they’ll need to make their own way—and although he has a boat, he’s not willing to take them anywhere, even for very large bribes.
That’s the basics. The eight are a quite odd lot: Two weapons dealers, two criminals (one man, one woman), a wealthy industrial heiress, a nurse planning to fly back to China for relief work against her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s wishes, an ex-state-senator, and a 50-year-old woman planning to surprise her son in China. After the resident relents and agrees to take five of them to the mainland (the boat can only hold six), the weapons dealers force the servant to take them instead (killing the “elderly” woman in the process). The rest of the movie, short as it is, deals with the changes wrought by three months of making things work. It’s not all that major, and there’s no real ending, but it’s not bad. $1.00.
The Phantom Fiend, 1932, b&w. Maurice Elvey (dir.), Ivor Novello, Elizabeth Allan, A.W. Baskcomb, Barbara Everest, Jack Hawkins. 1:25 [1:02]
Women keep getting murdered in London at call boxes. A phone operator, who may have heard one of the murders, lives at home with her parents—who also rent out a room, when they can. She has a sort-of sometimes boyfriend who’s a reporter. They manage to rent the room to a quiet foreign man who doesn’t like having women’s portraits hung in the room, plays a fine piano and also owns (but never seems to play) a violin.
He makes friends with the young woman—but in a mysterious way. Meanwhile, an agent claims to know who the fiend (“the avenger?”) is—and the father concludes that it’s the roomer. Since the roomer is such an obvious suspect from the moment he appears in the picture, it should be obvious that Not All Is As It Seems, as is revealed in the final four minutes of a remarkably slow-moving flick. There’s a little domestic humor, but…
Atmospheric foggy-London photography, so-so picture, staticky sound, acceptable acting. I wonder how much is missing in this considerably-abbreviated version of the original? I couldn’t get terribly excited, but I suppose it’s worth $1.00.
The Sleeping Tiger, 1954, b&w. Joseph Losey (dir.), Dirk Bogarde, Alexis Smith, Alexander Knox, Hugh Griffith, Patricia McCarron. 1:29 [1:27]
The setup: guy tries to rob a psychotherapist at gunpoint, but the shrink—a former army man—takes the gun away from him. And, instead of turning him in to the police, takes him home for a six-month experiment: “See whether we can turn things around, or go back to the cops and jail.” The housekeeper’s appalled and leaves (not without a little rough stuff from the guy, who doesn’t want her to leave). The wife, perhaps a trifle distant from her brilliant husband who’s always off lecturing (she’s American, he’s British, the film’s set in London), is hesitant at first but…well, goes riding with him, then starts falling for him.
Things end badly (particularly for her). Much of the movie is slow moving, but it’s reasonably interesting and well acted overall. An oddity: The sleeve gives the star as Alexis Smith (the wife), but I’d say Dirk Bogarde (the brooding young man—he was 34 at the time) is the real star here. Either it’s the new TV or this is an unusually good print, but the tonal qualities were very good. There are, sad to say, some missing pieces—whole lines of dialog, not just chops, although it only adds up to two minutes overall. Still, I think it’s worth $1.25.
Monsoon, 1943, b&w. Edgar G. Ulmer (dir.), John Carradine, Gale Sondergaard, Sidney Toler, Frank Fenton, Veda Ann Borg, Rita Quickley, Rick Vallin. Original title: Isle of Forgotten Sins. 1:22 [1:16]
I’d already seen this movie on another set, and didn’t rewatch the entire movie. Here’s what I said in 2008:
[This movie is about] greed, gold, diving and weather. It starts in a South Seas gambling hall/brothel and winds up in a similar establishment. In between? Better than you might expect, partly because there really are no heroes among this strong cast. $1.25.
Slightly Honorable, 1939, b&w. Tay Garnett (dir.), Pat O’Brien, Edward Arnold, Broderick Crawford, Ruth Terry, Alan Dinehart, Claire Dodd, Phyllis Brooks, Eve Arden. 1:25.
The opening credits and music underneath make it clear that this is a comedy—but it’s also a mystery, and a fairly involved one at that. We have an honest lawyer who’s out to dethrone a group of crooked politicians and businesspeople, and whose client and good friend is murdered—presumably by one of the bad guys. We have a couple more murders, a singer/dancer (who tends to go flat, but is a great dancer) who’s a little underage and given to malapropisms, incompetent cops, the inimitable Eve Arden as a secretary (and victim) and lots more.
Thoroughly enjoyable, with a remarkable cast. The print’s generally very good. I give this one $1.75.
Love from a Stranger, 1937, b&w. Rowland V. Lee (dir.), Ann Harding, Basil Rathbone, Binnie Hale, Bruce Seton. 1:26.
A young woman whose fiancé is about to return from a three-year stretch of work in the Sudan wins the French lottery (for about 90,000£, or about $25 million in contemporary purchasing power) just as he’s returning, and wants to go see the world. Two things happen almost simultaneously: A suave man shows up in response to her ad to sublet the flat—and her fiancé returns, won’t give up his post on returning to England just to follow her around the continent, and gets in an argument with her, stalking off.
Next thing we know, the woman (and her friend and flatmate) is on the ship to Paris—as is the suave stranger, who of course makes a play for her. Then they’re in Paris, her ex shows up to apologize…and now she’s married to the stranger. Shortly thereafter, he borrows 5,000£ to buy a house in the country (a house which, his wife later discovers, was up for sale for half that amount—still, at around $700,000, a goodly sum)…and gets her to sign a form for the loan without reading it.
Then we get the husband acting very strangely and the suspicion that he might just be a serial wife-killer who gets his wives to sign (gasp) papers giving their husbands control over their money. There’s more to the plot than this, and the ending is…interesting. The whole thing seems wildly overwrought, but maybe that’s the intention. I’m torn on this one: Basil Rathbone seems to be chewing the scenery (as does Ann Harding) and the whole thing’s a bit implausible, but it has its merits. $1.25.
The Evil Mind (or The Clairvoyant), 1934, b&w. Maurice Elvey (dir.), Claude Rains, Jane Baxter, Athole Stewart. 1:21 [1:08].
Reviewed in the January 2009 Cites & Insights as part of 50 Movie Hollywood Legends. Here’s what I said at the time—and, once again, the “starring” line is for Fay Wray rather than the more deserving Claude Rains.
Maximus works as a stage clairvoyant, using his wife’s clues to say what she’s holding—until, in the presence of another woman, he suddenly makes a real and correct prediction. This happens a couple of times; he gets a big London stage engagement but the producer’s unhappy because he can’t do big predictions to order. Meanwhile, his wife’s becoming jealous of the young woman. This all leads up to his unwilling prediction of a tunneling catastrophe—one that, when it comes true, causes him to be put on trial on the basis that his prediction caused the catastrophe.
There’s little point in saying more about the plot. It’s not bad, actually, and there’s a nice twist involving why he only makes accurate predictions under certain circumstances. The print is jumpy at points, 13 minutes are missing and the soundtrack’s damaged at points as well, but not so much as to ruin the picture. It’s generally well-acted. While the sleeve lists Fay Wray (the wife) as the “legend,” I’d say Claude Rains’ faintly bizarre and very well played Maximus deserves more credit. The original title (“The Clairvoyant”) suits this better, as there’s nothing evil in Rains’ predictions. I’ll give it $1.00.
One Frightened Night, 1935, b&w. Christy Cabanne (dir.), Charles Grapewin, Lucien Littlefield, Mary Carlisle, Regis Toomey, Arthur Hohl, Fred Kelsey, Evalyn Knapp, Hedda Hopper. 1:06.
Another short mystery-comedy family-inheritance movie, and a good one. This time, instead of a dead Mean Old Man Who Nobody’s Sorry To See Go, we have a live MOMWNSTG, faced with a supposed midnight increase in inheritance taxes—so he’s about to distribute his funds, $5 million of them (call that $77 million in today’s dollars).
It all starts at dinner with his niece and her husband, a ne’er-do-well charming nephew, his female servant and his doctor—where, after baiting them generally for being what they are, he tells them, one by one, that each is about to receive $1 million. The fifth million? That goes to his attorney—but in all cases, it assumes that his long-lost granddaughter, who he hasn’t seen for 20 years, doesn’t show up (or she gets it all). Then, in comes the attorney…with his granddaughter.
Well now. As he’s talking to her upstairs, a young woman battles the storm (of course it’s a dark and stormy night) to get to the house and announces herself as…his granddaughter. With her colleague in a vaudeville magic act showing up soon, once he gets the car parked. She just dropped by because her mother said she should. Unlike the first granddaughter (both with the same name), she doesn’t have corroborating letters…but also unlike the first one (within five minutes of arriving), she’s still alive.
That sets the scene. Add a police detective and sergeant, a couple of hidden passages and a whole bunch of red herrings, and you have a thoroughly entertaining hour. (A note about the IMDB listing: A claimed “goof” is, to my eye, a deliberate plot point—the utility folks managed to repair a downed pole, restoring power to the house.) Unfortunately, the picture has problems during the last five minutes, but it’s still a lot of fun. $1.50
Prison Shadows, 1936, b&w. Robert F. Hill (dir.), Eddie Nugent, Lucille Lund, Joan Barclay, Forrest Taylor, Syd Saylor, Monte Blue. 1:06.
We open in a boxing ring with overhead shots and one guy winning in short order—and then cut to the reality: The boxing ring is in prison, and all the prisoners—including the fighters and their trainers—now head back to their cells. Ah, but as we soon find out (while the winner’s trainer is alternating between rubbing down the winner, his cellmate, and drinking the rubbing alcohol), the winner’s about to be paroled for his “crime”: Killing an opponent by hitting him with a late punch from his lethal right hand (which he basically won’t use in fights).
The plot escalates from there—with a woman who clearly loves him but he regards as a friend, a woman who is playing him along, playing his promoter along (of course he goes back into the fight game as soon as he’s paroled) and either also playing a trainer/thug along or, maybe, actually involved with this one. Her thing is to win bets on fights by killing off the opponents. She comes off as mean-spirited throughout and it’s hard to see just what makes her so seductive. In any case, we have two more deaths (involving a methodology that’s basically—well, let’s say improbable) and, eventually, a happy ending.
The plot’s not terrible, but I find the tone of the whole thing absurd. The guy who’s been in prison comes out and is relentlessly chipper (and hopelessly naïve), as though being an imprisoned felon was basically a vacation. Oh, except that he can’t get married during the seven years of parole (?). It just doesn’t work. That, and the generally lightweight acting (and missing frames here and there, just enough to be annoying) bring this down to a subpar $0.75.
Inner Sanctum, 1948, b&w. Lew Landers (dir.), Charles Russell, Mary Beth Hughes, Dale Belding, Billy House, Fritz Leiber. 1:02.
A story within a story—with a twist on the outer story that I won’t reveal. The inner story: Guy gets off a train, woman gets off after him, they argue, she winds up dead, he throws her on the rear platform of the departing train. Lots more stuff happens involving a kid, his mother, a boarding house, a semi-loose woman, a one-man newspaper and various small-town folk. Oh, and a flood that strands the guy in the little town.
It’s OK, but nothing particularly special—the only real mystery is whether he’ll get away with it and what will happen in the process. I guess it could be called noir; I found it mostly dispiriting. The print’s good. As a minor B picture, it’s worth maybe $0.75.
Gaslight, 1940, b&w (released in the U.S. as The Murder in Thornton Square). Thorold Dickinson (dir.), Anton Walbrook, Diana Wynyard, Frank Pettingell, Cathleen Cordell, Robert Newton. 1:24.
This is the original Gaslight, a British film—not the better-known American version with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman filmed in 1944. (Supposedly MGM attempted to suppress this earlier version.) I haven’t seen the later film, but this is essentially the same plot and based on the same play: That is, a man is driving his wife insane (or at least to the point where he can have her committed)—in this case so he can continue searching for rubies that he killed his aunt for, years ago in the same house.
In this version the husband is a sneering Victorian tyrant, a true villain, and the wife is neurotic enough to make the overall plot believable. Well played and a good print. Not quite a masterpiece, but very good. I’ll give it $1.75.
The Last Mile, 1932, b&w. Samuel Bischoff (dir.), Preston Foster, Howard Phillips, George E. Stone, Neal Madison, Frank Sheridan. 1:15 [1:09]
Primarily a short death-row drama featuring eight prisoners, each in his own cell, and the guard watching over them all—although the surround is one person who’s innocent (and the only one who survives). Lots of talk (and one execution early on, with the interesting variation that the prisoner’s Jewish, so the prayers being spoken are different) followed by an attempted prison break and attendant action. Very much anti-death penalty, including a textual introduction from a prison warden.
Not great, not terrible. It’s a play on film, and feels that way. The print’s missing six minutes and is choppy in places. I’ll give it $1.00.
D.O.A., 1950, b&w. Rudolph Maté (dir.), Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler, Beverly Garland, Lynn Baggett, William Ching, Henry Hart, Neville Brand. 1:23.
A classic, or at least a minor classic. Guy stumbles into the homicide division of a police station, asks to see the person in charge, gives his name…and they’re all ears. The rest of the story is flashbacks, and it’s a doozy. The guy’s an accountant from Banning, who’d gone to San Francisco for a little vacation (upsetting his girlfriend)…and who gets poisoned while he’s there, with a “luminous poison” for which there’s no cure but could leave him going for a day, two days, a week.
The rest of the story is his attempt to find out who murdered him. It’s a complicated story, but hangs together fairly well. To say any more might involve spoilers, and this movie’s good enough that I won’t do that. Well acted, well written, well directed. The print’s not great, but the movie is—about as good as film noir gets. $2.00.
Although this group included one film I wasn’t willing to finish, it’s a strong group overall: One classic (D.O.A.), two near-classics (Slightly Honorable and Gaslight), three at $1.50, five at $1.25, and seven at $1—that’s 18 that are at least pretty good, for a total of $23.25. Add in five more that are so-so at $0.75, and you get $27: pretty good for a tenth of this $50-or-so set.
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