Mystery Collection, Part 2
Impact, 1949, b&w. Arthur Lubin (dir.), Brian Donlevy, Ella Raines, Charles Coburn, Helen Walker, Anna May Wong, Robert Warwick, Tony Barrett. 1:51.
Walter Williams (Donlevy) is a high-powered San Francisco industrialist who worked his way up through the ranks—and who’s married to (and deeply in love with) a faithless wife. She’s out to do him in, conspiring with her lover to kill him in the course of a road trip (where the lover pretends to be her cousin, hitchhiking back east).
Things go awry. The car’s destroyed in a flaming wreck (colliding head-on with a gas tanker on the highway to Reno, apparently)—and Williams, left just off the road as dead, isn’t quite (although the unrecognizable corpse in the wreck is assumed to be Williams). He chooses not to return to SF immediately, instead making his way to Larkspur, Idaho, where he forges a new life under a new name…until he decides he needs to make things right.
That’s only part of the plot, and in some ways the most interesting part is the last half-hour or so, where he does return and the faithless wife attempts to pin the lover’s murder on him. It’s quite a story, involving detection and (of course) a new love interest, well played and plotted by all involved. The print’s excellent and I found the whole thing surprisingly satisfying. It’s one I’ll watch again. $2.00
He Walked By Night, 1948, b&w. Alfred L. Werker (dir.), Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Whit Bissell, James Cardwell, Jack Webb. 1:19.
A true-crime (or true-criminal) story and police procedural, with lots of narration and a feel that’s reminiscent of (and apparently the template and inspiration for) Dragnet. It has a young Jack Webb—a couple of years before the original Dragnet, in his second adult role, as a forensics technician, not a detective. It’s set in LA and heavily features the LA sewer system.
Richard Basehart plays Roy Walker, who could probably make an excellent living as an electronics whiz but prefers to be a burglar (and, later, robber) with electronics innovation as a sideline. We never learn his motive for seemingly-needless crimes; as one reviewer noted, all we learn is what the police learn. Among other things, this may be one of the first flicks to involve a criminal listening in on police-band radio.
It’s an odd one, and of course I don’t know what LA was like in 1946. Apparently, the storm drain openings are big enough so a full-grown man can just roll into them. The idea of getting crime victims to help build a good drawing of the perp’s face was new (in this case, they use slides as a sort of identikit, working with a couple dozen robbery victims). And, to be sure, LA had an endless supply of police to send to a crime scene. The sleeve description is off (as it is for Impact), but that’s irrelevant.
Not bad, not great—a little heavy on narration, a little light on logic, specifically Walker’s motivation. Still, it gets points as, apparently, the first of its kind: A fact-based police yarn set in LA, with the names changed to protect whoever and showing police as hard-working people who sometimes have trouble with investigations, not as quick-witted romancers who have lots of shootouts. The print’s OK. Including a $0.25 bonus for its significance as the inspiration for Dragnet, I’ll give it $1.50
Quicksand, 1950, b&w. Irving Pichel (dir.), Mickey Rooney, Jeanne Cagney, Peter Lorre. 1:19.
This one’s not a mystery, but a film noir—exploring how an auto mechanic going after the wrong woman can go from “borrowing” $20 to murder in about half a dozen not-so-easy steps. Although I’m not a great Mickey Rooney fan and he’s in almost every frame of this film, I have to say he did a good job.
It’s a fairly effective story, with a fast-moving plot. Peter Lorre plays one of several fundamentally dishonest people, in his case the proprietor of an arcade. Good but not great; I’ll give it $1.25.
Eyes in the Night, 1942, b&w. Fred Zinnemann (dir.), Edward Arnold, Ann Harding, Donna Reed, Stephen McNally. 1:20.
The setup: a woman (Harding) finds that her stepdaughter (a 21-year-old Reed) is in love with her own former lover, who’s managed to turn the stepdaughter against her. The former lover’s an actor and the stepdaughter plans a dramatic career; they’re both involved in a production that’s in the works. But the actor turns up dead…and the daughter believes the stepmother’s to blame. She goes to a famous blind detective, Duncan Maclain (Arnold) to see if he can help.
The reality: It’s all espionage. The woman’s husband has invented some formula important to the war effort. He’s flown off for a final test before delivering it to Washington—and the butler in the house is a plant, part of a ring determined to steal the formula. The playwright who’s directing the production is the leader of the gang, and they killed the former lover because he was unreliable.
The bulk of the movie is set in the scientist’s estate, with the detective portraying the woman’s uncle and trying to keep the bad guys from getting the formula. Somehow it all works out—largely due to Friday, the detective’s seeing-eye dog.
Generally well played. Arnold’s very effective as the blind detective. Not great, but pretty good. I’ll give it $1.50.
The Man on the Eiffel Tower, 1949, color. Burgess Meredith (dir.), Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone, Burgess Meredith, Robert Hutton, Jean Wallace, Patricia Roc. 1:37 [1:27].
Charles Laughton as Inspector Maigret, with a young Burgess Meredith as a would-be robber…in a movie directed by the young Burgess Meredith (taking over for producer Irving Allen). His character’s a near-blind (without his glasses) knife-sharpener who needs some real money. Enter a married playboy, dependent on his wealthy aunt, who wants to leave his wife for his American girlfriend—but his wife, who knows all about it, will only go with a substantial settlement. He’d give a million francs if someone would off the aunt (he’s the heir)—and a nearby psychopath (Tone) hears about this.
Next thing we know, the aunt (and her maid) are murdered, Meredith’s character is being framed, Maigret’s in trouble for letting him escape from prison while awaiting trial and the psycopath’s actively taunting Maigret. He’s fond of lunch on the restaurant on the Eiffel’s observation platform and notes that diving from the tower would be a great way to end things.
Lots of plot, lots of psychological strangeness, one more death…and, all in all, an interesting flick. It’s sort-of in color (as with many other early color flicks, there’s fading, whole scenes where some colors are missing or everything’s red-shifted), there are missing frames (and more than just frames), it’s a little damaged. It’s also not as well directed as it might be. All that combines to $1.50.
Topper Returns, 1941, b&w. Roy Del Ruth (dir.), Joan Blondell, Roland Young, Carole Landis, Billie Burke, Dennis O’Keefe, Patsy Kelly, H.B. Warner, Eddie ‘Rochester” Anderson. 1:28.
An absolute charmer, with Cosmo Topper (Young), the slightly-henpecked banker, once again involved with ghosts—this time quite unwillingly, and it is a mystery. Two women in a taxi; a hooded figure aims with a rifle, shoots out a tire, and almost causes the taxi to go off the road and into the ocean—but not quite. As the cabbie (O’Keefe) goes for help, the women flag down Topper (and his chauffeur, the inimitable Eddie “Rochester” Anderson of Jack Benny fame) to take them to Carrington Hall. On the way, one woman (Blondell) is sitting on Topper’s lap—and since the Toppers are the Carrington’s next-door neighbors (but it’s a long drive to that next door), Topper’s wife (Burke, a fine comedienne) sees them along the way.
That’s just the start. The other woman (Ann Carrington, played by Carole Landis) has arrived to meet her father; she’s heir to the entire Carrington estate and he seems to be in bad health. The servants are, well, strange—as is the family doctor. The two women switch bedrooms for the night—which results in the wrong woman being killed. Her ghost emerges—a remarkably corporeal ghost, capable of leaving footprints, opening doors, and getting drunk, but visible only when she chooses to be—and the chase is on.
It’s a combination mystery and slapstick comedy. There’s little more to be said about the plot, but the movie keeps moving—with hidden passages and lots more. The print’s very good and this movie is certainly worth rewatching. Slight but first-rate. $2.00.
The Green Glove, 1952, b&w. Rudolph Maté (dir.), Glenn Ford, Geraldine Brooks, Cedrick Hardwicke, George Macready, Jany Holt, Roger Treville. 1:29.
The film begins at the end—when a jewel-encrusted saint’s gauntlet, one that brought miracle-seekers to the little town honoring the saint until it disappeared—turns up once again, signaled by the church bells ringing (which they would never do while the gauntlet was missing).
Then we go back to World War II, an airman bailing out behind German lines, and the actual plot begins. Yank airman (Ford) discovers “journalist”/double agent carrying a bag with drawings and the gauntlet; for various reasons, he winds up with the bag but leaves it for safekeeping in a chateau as he makes his way back to the front lines.
Years later, the airman comes back to France, presumably to find the gauntlet (the green glove) and make a small fortune selling it. The rest of the film—most of it—deals with this adventure, as the double agent (an antique dealer in peacetime) is watching him, murders get the police involved, there’s a beautiful woman who gets caught up in it all…
Nicely done all around, with a tense final 15 minutes or so—and the movie moves along nicely throughout. Good performances, good directing. The print’s a little soft and not great b&w, the main thing bringing this down to a still-respectable $1.50.
The Second Woman, 1950, b&w. James V. Kern (dir.), Robert Young, Betsy Drake, John Sutton, Florence Bates, Morris Carnovsky, Henry O’Neill, Jason Robards Sr. 1:31.
Robert Young is an architect who, a year previously, lost his fiancée in an auto accident the night before the wedding—in a crash he’s supposedly responsible for. He lives in a striking modern home (which he designed) on the coast—right next to a more traditional home, where a young woman visiting her aunt sees him and strikes up an acquaintance, almost immediately falling in love with him.
But he seems cursed: Over the course of a few days, a prized sculpture breaks, a prized painting fades away, his horse suffers a destroyed ankle and has to be destroyed, his rose bush dies, his dog is poisoned, he loses a prize commission because the package of drawings omits all the interiors…and his house burns down.
He thinks it’s bad luck. The woman (who’s an actuary) thinks that’s impossible and sets out to investigate (against his wishes). The family doctor thinks he’s paranoiac (the way they said it then) and doing these things to himself. There are two other characters: The wealthy head of the firm Young works for (father of the dead fiancée) and a cad who’s also part of the firm and pretty clearly evil in almost every way.
Right up to the last ten minutes or so, it’s not clear at all whether he’s doing it to himself or whether someone else is responsible—and, for that matter, who the “someone else” might be. It all comes together in a great climax.
Well played and compelling. My only real problem is a grotesque logic gap having to do with timing, but to mention what that gap is would be a spoiler. Even so, the print’s good, it’s well directed, it truly is a mystery and it’s worth $1.75.
Fog Island, 1945, b&w. Terry O. Morse (dir.), George Zucco, Lionel Atwill, Jerome Cowan, Sharon Douglas, Veda Ann Borg, John Whitney, Ian Keith, George Lloyd. 1:12 [1:09]
Businessman gets out of prison after an embezzlement sentence and returns to his mansion on a lonely fog-shrouded island (a former pirate hideaway, which may explain the secret passages). His wife died while he was in prison; his stepdaughter’s there, as is a shifty butler. He believes that several colleagues—who framed him for the embezzlement and ran the company into the ground—murdered his wife as part of a search for the “hidden treasure” (which doesn’t exist: the losses were due to bad investments). So he invites the lot of them out for a weekend. They all come, including the son of one who’s died—and, other than that upstanding son (who wooed the daughter at college, but was rejected by her because she assumed he was after her money), they’re a mutually-suspicious, backbiting, nasty little group. Oh, there’s also his cellmate and former accountant…
Naturally, the launch that brought them all to the island has to go back to the mainland “for repairs.” That leaves the lot stranded. After enticing them with some specific clues and items, he leaves them to their own devices—which mostly consist of trying to find the “treasure” and stalking one another. It’s a lot more entertaining than I expected, and it all works out—sort of—in the end. (Well, not for the businessman, but you can’t have everything.) The soundtrack is clipped just often enough to be annoying, and the print’s not great. Not a masterpiece, but pretty good; with flaws, I come up with $1.25.
They Made Me a Criminal, 1939, b&w. Busby Berkeley (dir.), John Garfield, Claude Rains, Ann Sheridan, May Robson, Gloria Dickson, the Dead End Kids (Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, etc.). 1:32.
Johnnie Bradford, a southpaw boxer with a serious drinking problem, wins the championship—and, during the celebration, winds up in a brawl that leaves a reporter dead. He didn’t do it, but he passed out during the process. His manager (who beaned the reporter with a bottle of booze, killing him) takes off with Bradford’s dame, his watch and his money—leaving him as the obvious patsie. But the cops find the victim, put out a bulletin for the champ’s car (being driven by the couple) and, in the chase, they wind up crashing and burning. The cops assume Bradford’s dead and the case is closed. Except for one detective (who blew an investigation years before), Claude Rains, who notes that the burned guy’s watch is on the wrong wrist…
Meanwhile, Bradford (John Garfield) goes to a lawyer to figure out what to do. He has $10,000 in a safe deposit box. The lawyer says he’ll get it and to lay low—then gives Bradford $250, says he’s taking the rest as his fee, and tells him to ride the rails as far as he can go. Which Bradford does, winding up at an Arizona orchard that’s also a sort of rehabilitation camp for delinquents, namely the Dead End Kids. It’s run by a feisty old lady and her beautiful daughter (Dickson—Sheridan’s the dame).
That’s enough for the plot. Let’s say the happy ending requires an unexpected and unlikely soft spot, but was probably the only way to end the flick. Lots of boxing; I wonder whether Busby Berkeley choreographed the fight sequences? A lot depends on your tolerance for the Dead End Kids, aka the East Side Kids and the Bowery Boys. In this case, I thought they were OK, although still basically hammy little thugs. Decent print. Call it $1.50.
Jigsaw, 1949, b&w. Fletcher Markle (dir.), Franchot Tone, Jean Wallace, Myron McCormick, Marc Lawrence, Winifred Lenihan, Doe Avedon, Hedley Rainnie, George Breen. 1:10.
A printer apparently commits suicide, but a cop—also the eventual brother-in-law of a breezy Assistant DA—checks into it and also winds up dead. The Assistant DA, who never seems to take much of anything seriously, gets deeply into a web of New York neofascists (who may be in it for the money), intrigue, attempted seduction and more murders—and along the way is appointed Special Prosecutor for the case (whatever that case may be). Lively, complex plot, but Franchot Tone as the hero really does seem a little too disengaged for the role. Still, it moves. Anybody who hasn’t figured out the mastermind halfway through the film isn’t really trying, but that’s not unusual.
Quite a few uncredited cameos, mostly in a nightclub: Marlene Dietrich, Henry Fonda, John Garfield, Burgess Meredith and more. Some decent filming. Some damage to the print (missing bits and a white streak down the screen during portions). Not great, but worth $1.25.
Algiers, 1938, b&w. John Cromwell (dir.), Charles Boyer, Sigrid Gurie, Hedy Lamarr, Joseph Calleia, Alan Hale, Gene Lockhart, Walter Kingsford, Paul Harvey. 1:36 [1:39].
Pepe Le Moko is a French jewel thief now holed up in the Casbah, where he’s essentially impossible to arrest. Enter a no-nonsense French officer who wants him caught—and a gorgeous Frenchwoman on vacation with her fiancée. There’s not much doubt where this will all end, but the story—a classic—is in the getting there.
This one really is a classic, with Le Moko’s slightly odd band of compatriots, his one song (well, with Charles Boyer playing the part…), the magnificent Hedy Lamarr, a great supporting cast, fine cinematography and all the atmosphere of the Casbah itself. The only letdown (other than a tiny number of lost frames) is the soundtrack, which has background noise and occasional distortion. That reduces the value of an eminently enjoyable classic to $1.75.
Murder with Pictures, 1936, b&w. Charles Barton (dir.), Lew Ayres, Gail Patrick, Paul Kelly, Benny Baker, Errest Cossart, Onslow Stevens, Joyce Compton, Anthony Nace. 1:09.
The movie opens with a bad guy about to be acquitted for a murder—as long as That Person Doesn’t Show Up (but, as his pricey attorney notes, it doesn’t matter—once it’s gone to the jury, no new evidence can be admitted). He’s acquitted, goes back to his apartment (surrounded by his gang), and finds A Mysterious Woman along the way (while also being ambushed for a photo by a crack newspaper photographer).
That’s just the start of a plot-heavy picture, part comedy, part mystery, that includes two or three more murders, a ditzy fiancée, showering fully clothed, some heated arguments and, of course, a frenetic happy ending. I couldn’t begin to summarize the plot, but it heavily involves reporters and photographers.
Slight, but fun. I’ll give it $1.25.
The Stranger, 1946, b&w. Orson Welles (dir.), Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Orson Welles, Philip Merivale, Richard Long. 1:35.
Neither fun nor slight, this one’s a true classic—maybe a masterpiece. It begins at the Allied War Crimes Commission, as Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) insists that they make it possible for a secondary Nazi, Konrad Meinike, to escape—so he can lead them to a primary target who has erased all clues to his whereabouts: Franz Kindler (Orson Welles).
Meinike winds up in Connecticut, where Welles is a professor at a local college, now named Charles Rankin and about to marry the daughter (Loretta Young) of a Supreme Court justice. Meinike also winds up dead, to be sure—and the rest of the movie is about the process of getting Kindler to reveal himself. It involves lots of psychodrama and a fair amount of tension. Oh, and some checker games with the slightly shifty proprietor of the local drug store. And a lot about clockworks.
Beautifully directed and well acted (Robinson is particularly fine). Good print, marred very slightly by noise on the soundtrack. I can’t possibly give this one less than $2.00.
Murder at Midnight, 1931, b&w. Frank R. Strayer (dir.), Aileen Pringle, Alice White, Hale Hamilton, Robert Elliott, Clara Bandick. 1:09 [1:06].
At 66 minutes, this film seems padded—as though a 20-minute short might have worked better. It begins with a, well, implausible idea (three people doing an extensive sketch involving shooting, in order to convey a charades clue to a couple of dozen guests—and since when can you speak doing charades?). The key: the “blanks” in the gun turn out to be real bullets. The rest of the film? A series of slow-moving killings and surprises, supposed humor that isn’t funny, and very little suspense. I could barely keep from nodding off…
Not a very good print. Other than being dull, slow, tiresome and acted as though it was a stage play done by amateurs, it was so-so. Charitably, $0.50.
Kansas City Confidential, 1952, b&w. Phil Karlson (dir.), John Payne, Coleen Gray, Preston Foster, Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam. 1:39.
A big guy sets up an armored car robbery with great precision, making it nearly a perfect crime involving three ex-cons (all in current trouble), all wearing masks (as does the big guy) so they can’t identify or rat on each other—and in the process framing a flower delivery man (Payne) who also did hard time but has reformed.
The deliveryman escapes the frame but, thanks to cops publicizing his arrest, can’t find work. He finds out the name and destination of one of the three chumps (each sent to hide in a different country), tracks him down in Tijuana and makes sure he’ll be along when the guy goes to get his share of the loot. But on the way, the chump gets shot and the deliveryman assumes his identity.
That sets things up for a tense plot in a Mexican resort with a fair amount of attempted double-crossing, a beautiful young law student whose father is an ex-cop (and, clearly, the big guy)…and, well, it all works out in a fairly elaborate finale. Quite a cast, including young (at the time) Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam and Neville Brand as the three cons that did the robbery. Well acted, well filmed, classic noir style, worth $1.75.
Detour, 1945, b&w. Edward G. Ulmer (dir.), Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake. 1:07.
What a strange little film. Mostly told as heavily-narrated flashbacks from a down-on-his-luck guy in a little Nevada roadside café. He begins as an incredibly talented pianist (with very long fingers) reduced to playing in a dive nightclub from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.—but in love with and engaged to the singer. Except that she wises up and takes off for Hollywood. After a day or two (?), he decides to follow—hitchhiking across country. He gets picked up by a snappy dresser in a fancy convertible who turns out to be trouble—and who turns up dead, in the rain, as the hitchhiker’s driving and stops to try to put the top up. (As he’s hitching, half of the drivers are on the right side of the car and in the left lane…but never mind.)
Things go downhill from there, as the hitchhiker decides he has to impersonate the dead guy…and manages to pick up a no-good dame who’d earlier been hitching with the guy. The rest of the story, such as it is, involves these two and it’s neither pretty nor very interesting.
All in all, this seems like an attempt at noir, but not a very good one—mostly just depressing. The print’s generally OK except for a minute or so of damage. IMDB says it was shot in six days; I believe it. After reading a few of the rave reviews at IMDB, I’ll just accept that different people view low-budget, overacted, downbeat, depressing flicks differently. Charitably, I’ll give it $0.75.
Too Late for Tears, 1949, b&w. Byron Haskin (dir.), Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy, Kristine Miller. 1:39 [1:33]
Now this is noir—and a good, complex mystery. It begins with a couple (Scott and Kennedy) on their way to a party—but the wife wants to turn around because she doesn’t like the hostess. The wife always gets her way—in this case, by nearly crashing the car. As they turn around, though, another car comes alongside and the driver throws a valise into their car (a convertible, conveniently). They stop—and find the valise is full of cash.
The straight-arrow husband wants to turn it in to the cops. The wife wants to keep it. That’s the start of a plot that eventually involves the blackmailer who was supposed to get the money (Duryea), the husband’s beautiful sister who lives across the hall (Miller), several murders along the way…and a mystery man (DeFore) who claims to be, but is not, someone who fought WWII in the same outfit as the husband. Who he really is…well, you’ll have to see the movie. Scott plays a classically amoral money-hungry cold-hearted bitch, on her second husband and not yet into the money. Duryea isn’t quite enough of a villain, which makes him more interesting. DeFore and Miller are both interesting characters (Kennedy, not so much).
Well-acted, very well plotted, reasonably well filmed. Unfortunately, the print’s missing a few minutes and is a bit choppy at times. That brings it down to $1.50.
Mystery Liner, 1934, b&w. William Nigh (dir.), Noah Beery, Lila Kane, Major Pope, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Ralph Lewis, Cornelius Keefe, Zeffie Tilbury, Boothe Howard, Howard Hickman. 1:02.
The basic plot is straightforward—but also ludicrous: Running ships by remote control, over radio linkages, from land—and testing the concept on an ocean liner, passengers and all. (Would you like a lesson on why remote-controlled oceangoing passenger vessels make no sense at all?) Oh, and one specific vacuum tube is the key to all this working. But the captain seems to have gone crazy (and is supposedly removed from the ship), although that’s not enough to keep the test from going forward. (The equipment could have been in Baron von Frankenstein’s lab—it’s that level of sparks, tubes, switches and other nonsense.) The means of communication between the ship and the remote control center, weirdly, is through panels that flash on and off and then show handwritten messages from the other source—since, you know, radio voice would be too advanced, but scanning from a panel is straightforward.
The real problem here is that the movie seems to be excerpted from a longer version—lots of scenes disappear partway in, there’s no sense of overall flow, some of the characters make no sense whatsoever. It’s an odd combination of slow-moving “action” and pieces-missing plot. It was also clearly shot on the cheap. The most I can give this unfortunate little flick is $0.75.
Scarlet Street, 1945, b&w. Fritz Lang (dir.), Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, Margaret Lindsay, Rosalind Ivan. 1:43 [1:41]
Edward G. Robinson is always interesting when he’s playing something other than The Tough Guy. Here, he’s a bank cashier with 25 years on the job and five years in a loveless marriage to a harridan. His only pleasure is weekend painting—and he doesn’t understand perspective, but does interesting work. He meets a lovely young woman (Bennett) and is attracted to her; she, with the goading of her abusive boyfriend (Duryea) who appears to be several steps below ordinary sleaze, starts taking him for money that he really doesn’t have. Ah, but she and her boyfriend believe he’s an Important Artist, not a low-level bank employee, so of course he’s rolling in it…
One thing leads to another, including the boyfriend’s bizarre decision to try to make money from the unsigned paintings (which the cashier’s moved to the apartment he rented for the girl, largely because his wife threatens to throw out the paintings), which leads to the girl being identified as the artist. I won’t describe the rest of the plot; even by noir standards, it’s complex and downbeat…including the execution of someone where, well, he didn’t commit the murder, but it’s hard to be as outraged as we should be.
The print’s damaged at points (with a line running down it and two minutes missing) and once in a while the sound’s not great. But it’s well directed (by Fritz Lang), well photographed, well acted and the bleak outlook is appropriate. It’s a solid noir—I found it discouraging but definitely well done. $1.50.
Midnight Manhunt, 1945, b&w. William C. Thomas (dir.), William Gargan, Ann Savage, Leo Gorcey, George Zucco, Paul Hurst, Don Beddoe, Charles Halton, George E. Stone. 1:04 [1:02].
Let’s see…villain (Zucco) enters victim’s hotel room, shoots victim (Stone) (who’s recognized him), removes wallet full of diamonds. Victim, not quite dead yet, staggers to door of room. Next, we’re in the Last Gangster Wax Museum (really!), which somehow has a cop manning a desk in the office—and a tired, would-be retired, proprietor who’s taken in $20 after standing all day. His worker is the ever-annoying Leo Gorcey, replete with malapropisms and an unlightable cigar. There’s also a somewhat disgraced female reporter who lives upstairs from the pathetic museum and her ex-boyfriend, another reporter who also shoots craps with loaded dice.
The plot? Joe Wells, assumed dead for several years, is dead but not for five years—he’s the victim, and he expires on the stairwell to the reporter’s apartment. From there, he keeps appearing and disappearing—on exhibit and in one or another car as villain, reporters, police all wander around looking for him and making wisecracks. None of it seems to make much sense or matter much. This is an odd trifle—I guess it’s a comic mystery, but there’s no mystery and precious little comedy—that seemed overlong at an hour. For fans of Leo Gorcey or Ann Savage, it might be worth $0.75.
Murder by Television, 1935, b&w. Clifford Sanforth (dir.), Bela Lugosi, June Collyer, Huntley Gordon, George Meeker, Henry Mowbray, Charles Hill Mailes, Hattie McDaniel, Allen Jung. 0:53 [IMDB and actual runtime, but sleeve says 1:00]
Experimental subjects are forced to watch “reality” TV until they rip their own heads off in despair. Well, no…but the real plot’s even stranger. During the experimental years of TV, one experimenter has designs years ahead of everybody else—and not only won’t he sell out for several million dollars, he hasn’t even patented the designs. He arranges The Big Demonstration at his laboratory in a house full of guests (all in formal dress). It’s impressive: He can cover the whole U.S. from a single broadcast station and the enormous piece of equipment—seemingly a single camera—cuts to different angles as though it was a three-camera setup. Oh, and there’s another twist: He can dial in views from anywhere on earth—apparently, this TV doesn’t require a camera. It’s MiracleVision in 1935!
But he also keels over midway through this phenomenal demonstration. Thus starts the mystery—which is an odd mix of slow and fast, with vignette scenes, a police inspector who seems to accept that a “brain scan” unit absolutely identifies whether somebody has a criminal mind or not (and, if not, of course they must be innocent), some clown who keeps trying to get in the house on important business (comic relief, I suppose) and some star turns by Hattie McDaniels of Gone with the Wind fame (but that was four years later). Oh, and Bela Lugosi…to explain his role would involve plot spoilers.
But between the print—with just enough missing spots to obscure some important dialogue—and the bizarre staging, it really doesn’t hang together very well. There really isn’t any acting to speak of. As generous as I might want to be, I can’t give it more than $0.75.
The Moonstone, 1934, b&w. Reginald Barker (dir.), David Manners, Phyllis Barry, Gustav von Seyffertitz, James Thomas, Herbert Bunston, Charles Irwin, Elspeth Dudgeon, John Davidson. 1:02 [0:46]
We open with Inspector Cuff called in by his superior at Scotland Yard and told to go to a remote mansion because the Moonstone (a fabulous yellow diamond with, possibly, a curse on it) is going to be delivered there and it will be a target for thieves.
Then we cut to the mansion, where we have a doctor who seems to be mostly a befuddled scientist incapable of paying his bills, another doctor who isn’t who he seems, a daughter who’s extremely willful, a friend of the daughter who wants to have her for his own (but her fiancée is about to arrive—he’s the one bringing the Moonstone along with a Hindu servant who speaks flawless, unaccented English), a smart-talking housekeeper, a maid who’s also not who she seems to be…and a money-lender who’s about to foreclose on the mansion.
Moonstone arrives, in the midst of a terrible storm that forces the money-lender to stay overnight. Lights go out, Moonstone disappears, Moonstone reappears, people go to bed, Moonstone disappears, Cuff asks lots of questions…and eventually The Mystery is Solved.
The sleeve copy says “the thief resorts to murder and assault to cover their tracks”—which might have happened in the full B flick, but not on this substantially shorter version, one almost totally free of violence. I don’t really know what to make of this: Some dialogue is missing, the acting is peculiar, it’s remarkably slow-moving for something no longer than a TV episode and it doesn’t seem to amount to much. $0.50.
Great Guy, 1936, b&w. John G. Blystone (dir.), James Cagney, Mae Clarke, James Burke, Edward Brophy, Henry Koller, Bernadene Hayes, Edward McNamara, Robert Gleckler, Joe Sawyer. 1:15 [1:06]
The chief of the Department of Weights and Measures winds up in the hospital because of an “accident”—and appoints former boxer Johnny Cave (Cagney) as his chief deputy inspector, in charge while he’s hospitalized. Cave, tough as nails and twice as honest, won’t touch the ready bribes—and is convinced his girlfriend’s boss is a crook. One thing leads to another; with the help of apparently-honest and incorruptible police, the good guy wins.
The best thing this flick has going for it is Cagney. Even with a few minutes missing and some clipped dialogue, he does a fine job, making a fairly ordinary picture entirely watchable. It’s flawed, but it’s good. On balance, I’ll give it $1.25.
Three classics each easily worth $2: Impact, Topper Returns, The Stranger. Three more near-classics at $1.75: The Second Woman, Algiers, Kansas City Confidential. Add another seven very good $1.50 flicks and another five at $1.25, and you come up with eighteen worthwhile films, worth easily $27.25 altogether—not bad for one-tenth of this megaset.
This issue sponsored by the Library Society of the World (LSW).
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