Mystery Collection, Part 5
Discs 25-30 of this 60-disc, 250-movie collection.
Big Town After Dark, 1947, b&w. William C. Thomas (dir.), Philip Reed, Hillary Brooke, Richard Travis, Anne Gillis, Vince Barnett. 1:09.
Crime reporter sells her first novel, gets teased about it by the managing editor (who’s also fond of her), resigns with two weeks’ notice. Owner of paper has niece who wants job (but he’d just as soon see her not get one); managing editor decides to hire niece as new crime reporter as tactic to convince the other one to stick around. Yes, there’s a nod to similar plots: someone in the newsroom at police headquarters mentions “Remember what happened to Hildy?”
Seems the niece isn’t exactly the innocent journalism student she claims to be. There’s a fairly complex and quite lively plot involving semi-legal private gambling clubs, “kidnapping” and more. It all works quite well, and was a pleasure to watch. $1.50.
Born to Fight, 1936, b&w. Charles Hutchinson (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Jack La Rue, Frances Grant, Fred “Snowflake” Toones. 1:05 [1:08]
The mystery here is mostly why this is in this collection. It’s primarily a boxing film—with lots of stuff about honor and, strangely, two big musical numbers. The hero is a handsome young lightweight boxer in New York who devastates his opponents with a 1-2-3 punch combination and then makes sure the opponents are OK. His manager won’t take him on the road, but he’s still Destined for Greatness.
Until the local hotshot crooked gambler encounters him at a swanky restaurant, yells at him for not taking a dive in the latest fight and costing the gambler a chunk, and punches him—to which he responds, of course. At which point, with the gambler injured, his manager tells him he has to get out of town—thumb his way to Chicago.
During which process, as he winds up in a hobo camp; we get a bunch of hobos staging a multipart-harmony original song, conductor and all; we get an even younger small hobo who’s being picked on by other hobos and who fights back; we get a free-for-all with the boxer involved; and, before we know it, the kid and the boxer are on the lam, make their way to Chicago, and the boxer becomes the kid’s manager, using an assumed name…and trying to teach the kid to lead with his left, not his right.
I won’t bother with the rest of the plot. There’s another bizarre musical number. It’s interesting that we get a happy ending only because somebody gets shot dead at a convenient plot point. After seeing some other flicks, I’m guessing there were at one point a lot of Frankie Darro fans (he’s the kid, of course), who no doubt loved this movie. Lots of boxing, not a whole lot of acting, a somewhat sketchy print and, at best, worth $0.75.
Borderline, 1950, b&w. William A. Seiter (dir.), Fred MacMurray, Claire Trevor, Raymond Burr, José Torvay, Morris Ankrum. 1:28. Previously reviewed (C&I 8:5, May 2008):
Maybe I saw too much of Raymond Burr on TV, but his bad-guy movie roles always strike me as suiting him better than Perry Mason. This one’s no exception. Burr is a drug ringleader (or one rung below leader) in Mexico. MacMurray and Trevor are two different American agents sent—by two different agencies—to infiltrate the gang. Naturally, each of them thinks the other one’s part of the gang. Naturally, they fall in love. Naturally, it all works out. It’s an odd combination—part comedy, part noir, part “melodrama” as the sleeve says—but, to my mind, it works pretty well. For that matter, MacMurray makes a fine leading man and tough guy. I found it enjoyable and the print’s pretty good. $1.50.
The Girl in Lover’s Lane, 1959, b&w. Charles R. Rondeau (dir.), Brett Halsey, Joyce Meadows, Lowell Brown, Jack Elam, Selette Cole. 1:18 [1:16].
We begin with a young man in a suit being chased in a train yard by two punks—and at one point he tosses his wallet into an open freight car, just before the punks catch him, knock him out and complain that there’s no wallet. The drifter who’d been in the freight car pulls him in and, after he wakes up, discusses the realities of being a hobo. (The drifter is notably also fairly well dressed and clean-shaven.) The kid has $100, a fortune apparently; he’s running away from his wealthy parents (because they’re thinking of divorce) and is willing to provide the dough if the two can travel together for a while.
They get to a small town, Sherman. Almost immediately the kid gets in trouble in a pool hall by flashing his money—and the four punks at the pool hall clearly want to beat up the two guys and take the $100. Somehow, that’s not how the fight works out. There’s also a café with a lonely beautiful young waitress (daughter of the owner/cook)…
Long story short, the older guy gets involved with the girl (but still aims to leave town) while filling in part-time at the café; a local creep (Jack Elam) who “seems harmless” but pretty clearly isn’t resents the older guy; as the two are ready to leave town, they split up, the younger one does leave, and the local creep kills the waitress—who’s discovered, just before she actually dies, by the older drifter who’s decided he does love her and wants to stick around. Naturally, he winds up at the sheriff’s office and it’s clear a lynch mob will form. Which it does.
A real paean to small-town life: There’s a house of prostitution involved, half of the kids are criminal punks, the townsfolk immediately set out to lynch someone who might have done something, and the obviously-bizarre local isn’t suspected until he confesses. The print’s not very good, with some dialog missing and some fuzziness. Still, the flick’s not without some merit. I’ll give it $1.00.
Another case in which the order of movies on the sleeve is not the order of movies on the disc. Reviews are in the order of movies on the disc.
The Most Dangerous Game, 1932, b&w, Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack (dirs.), Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Leslie Banks, Robert Armstrong. 1:03.
Reviewed as part of 50 Movie Pack Hollywood Legends; not re-reviewed. What I had to say in 2007:
Rich hunter on a boat trip. The buoys don’t look quite right to the captain, but the hunter insists they continue—leading to a shipwreck which he alone survives. He winds up at a castle on a remote island, hosted by Count Zaroff, who recognizes him as a great hunter and boasts of hunting “the most dangerous game.” Other than a bunch of Russian-only servants, the only other ones there are a couple (also survivors of a shipwreck), with the man a somewhat drunken mess. Eventually, it becomes clear just what the most dangerous game is. Scratchy soundtrack but an effective, fast-moving flick. $1.50.
The Phantom Broadcast, 1933, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Ralph Forbes, Vivienne Osborne, Arnold Gray, Gail Patrick, Guinn Williams, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes. 1:12.
A slow movie where the mystery is revealed halfway through and isn’t about who committed the murder. The setup: A radio crooner, who receives hundreds of love letters each day, is also a Lothario—we see a valet deliver several little boxes to various women, each containing a bouquet and a message saying the crooner hopes to have dinner with the woman (on a different night in each case) and is singing for her. Another twist: One of his flames, who believes she’s going to move in with him and marry him, is part of a group of mobsters that wants to get rid of his manager/accompanist and take him over to rake in the big bucks.
Oh, one oddity: When the crooner sings, he’s always in a studio…with a curtain set up so you only see the hands of the accompanist. It doesn’t take long to learn the reason for that: The accompanist, a hunchback (a word repeated frequently, sometimes with “little” added), is the one actually doing the singing—the crooner’s just there for appearances.
Let’s see. We get a young woman with a great voice who has to choose between her vocal career and marrying her doctor fiancée (who’s going off on a six-month cruise as a ship’s doctor to earn enough to set up his practice), since an artist can only serve one master. We get a rubout that doesn’t happen. We get someone taking the rap for someone else who, as it happens, wasn’t involved at all. And, of course, we get an ending that could be worse.
Damned if I know what to think of this one. Lethargic, and deep emotions seemed to be expressed by the same long slow looks as, well, boredom or anything else. Maybe $1.00.
Murder on the Campus, 1933, b&w. Richard Thorpe (dir.), Charles Starrett, Shirley Grey, J. Farrell MacDonald, Ruth Hall, Dewey Robinson, Maurice Black, Edward Van Sloan. 1:13 [1:09]
Lots of plot, but none of it hangs together very well. We have a gambler, a wisecracking reporter who’s in love with a singer at the gambler’s (I guess?) nightclub and who’s also working her way through college, a murder in the campus campanile and, shortly thereafter, two other murders… And the reporter always seems to be On The Scene.
All too complicated, and far too much of it hinges on the reporter being both incredibly clever and a complete numbskull, as he privately confronts the person he believes responsible for all the deaths—apparently a Professor of Everything, as he has high-power recording and playback equipment, lots of other electronics, and oodles of chemistry equipment in his lab, along with a full darkroom—with his suspicions and evidence. There’s so much else that’s wildly implausible in this mess that the climax is no worse than anything else. At best, I give this $0.75.
Death from a Distance, 1935, b&w. Frank R. Strayer (dir.), Russell Hopton, Lola Lane, George F. Marion, Lee Kohlmar, John St. Polis. 1:08 [1:10]
This one also has a wisecracking reporter (a 23 year old woman), along with a sometimes-wisecracking homicide detective, with the two fighting so much you know they’re going to wind up together. That’s not the primary plot, though.
The plot: We’re in a planetarium at an observatory, with a famed European professor giving an illustrated lecture, by invitation only. Suddenly, a shot rings out…and, as people start panicking, the head of the observatory tells the—well, I’m not sure just what he is, so let’s say “general functionary”—to lock the door. Thus, whoever shot the man (one of the audience, not the lecturer) must still be in the room. Police are called. Oh, by the way, the reporter was part of the audience. One audience member wasn’t on the original invitation list (but must have had an invitation to get in): a Hindu who knew the victim but asserts his innocence…and is arrested, even though the detective’s pretty sure he’s not the culprit.
That starts things off. As the movie goes along, we get an ex-con who’s changed his name and become an astronomer, lots of plot involving Arcturus (“Job’s star”) and double-dealing, an apparent second murder (or maybe suicide), the use of Arcturus itself as a murder weapon (you’ll just have to watch the picture), and a culprit who may be obvious to some viewers. Or not.
Unlike the previous movie, and apart from one or two odd plot twists, this one seems to work and was a pleasure to watch. Unfortunately, the sound track’s not great, there are synchronization problems, and for the first few minutes there are flashes of color noise. Those technical problems reduce this to $1.25.
The King Murder, 1932, b&w. Richard Thorpe (dir.), Conway Tearle, Natalie Moorhead, Marceline Day, Dorothy Revier, Don Alvarado, Huntley Gordon. 1:07.
Right off the bat, you get a feeling that you’ve been dropped into the middle of a longer movie—a classy woman’s standing next to a counter, a cop walks by, seems to sneer at her, and walks out of what’s labeled a Homicide Bureau. Things don’t get better.
I can’t even begin to summarize the players and the plot, partly because I found little to differentiate them. I’m not even sure I know how many characters there were. I know there’s a society type, his (wife? fiancée?), his (girlfriend? mistress? blackmailer?), a second-story man, a thug involved with the mistress/blackmailing her, and apparently lots more, most of them with motives… It may be indicative that the seemingly most important character is eighth in the IMDB list.
This one’s a mess: Lots of odd plots that seem tossed in at random and don’t cohere very well, with a murder weapon that seems absurd and a denouement that’s equally silly. Either this was poorly written and filmed on no budget and with no directorial skill, or it’s a badly edited selection from a longer movie or a serial. In any case, I can’t give it more than $0.75.
The Lady in Scarlet, 1935, b&w. Charles Lamont (dir.), Reginald Denny, Patricia Farr, Jameson Thomas, Dorothy Revier, James Bush, Lew Kelly. 1:05.
A wisecracking detective and his sidekick / secretary / girlfriend / wife?, who he refers to as “Ignorant” or “Stupid” as seemingly cute names, and who seems to have his office in a bar, finds himself investigating the murder of an art dealer because he’s friends with the dealer’s wife (who used to be in musicals and who the dealer correctly thought was cheating on him with a doctor). That’s part of a complicated plot involving another murder (the doctor), suspects galore, a stolid and seemingly stupid police detective who consistently lets the private eye run the show—and a final Everyone In The Same Room bit.
But it’s cute, the plot’s not bad, and it moves right along. Not great, but maybe worth $1.25.
Sinister Hands, 1932, b&w. Armand Schaefer (dir.), Jack Mulhall, Phyllis Barrington, Cranford Kent, Mischa Auer, Louis Natheaux, Gertrude Messinger, and James P Burtis as Detective “Don’t Call Me Watson” Watkins. 1:05.
We begin with a lady consulting a swami and his crystal ball. We continue with an odd set of scenes involving people around a swimming pool, apparent hanky-panky between residents of two adjacent mansions, a known gangster who’s trying to marry the daughter of a rich man and more. Oh, and the rich man’s dictating letters to his secretary (on a Dictaphone, wax cylinder and all) and, in the process, recording what could be the argument that proves who killed him…or not. That evening, all and sundry are gathered at the man’s estate with his wife (the lady consulting the swami) and the swami. Turn off the lights for a proper reading and, shazam…the man’s been stabbed to death.
After that (it’s much slower than the summary might suggest—this is a slow-paced movie), we get the police detective conducting pretty cursory interviews with each of the apparent suspects, with a judge (who’s among the guests) in on the interviews. The judge writes down a list of all the suspects, at the end of which the detective makes a joke about whether the judge should add his own name. At this point, we know how it’s going to turn out, don’t we?
In the interim, we have a “heavily-guarded house” (where all the suspects are sleeping over) where it’s easy to sneak around, remove the knife from one body, stab someone else, go in and out of bedrooms past sleeping police…and a running joke about a stolid policeman’s last name. Followed by the time-honored traditional closing: The Big Scene with Everybody in One Room, where the detective points out each suspect and then says why he or she didn’t do it. (The extreme case: The suspect was not only the only one who was loyal to the first victim, he was the second victim.) Although it’s a little on the slow side, it’s good enough; I’ll give it $1.25.
The Lady Confesses, 1945, b&w. Sam Newfield (dir.), Mary Beth Hughes, Hugh Beaumont, Edmund MacDonald, Claudia Drake, Emmet Vogan, Barbara Slater. 1:04.
A young woman answers a knock on her apartment door, to be confronted by her fiancé’s wife—who disappeared seven years earlier and was presumed dead. The wife says she’ll make sure he never marries the young woman or anyone else and storms off.
Meanwhile, the man—Larry—shows up at a nightclub several sheets to the wind, downs two more double Scotches rapidly and winds up sleeping it off in the singer’s dressing room, after first making sure he confronts the club’s owner. A few hours later, the singer wakes him up to answer a phone call from the young woman; he picks her up and drives her to his wife’s place (he says she showed up a couple of weeks earlier but intends to divorce him)…and when they get there, a bunch of police are present along with the wife, strangled with a cord.
He has a perfect alibi, clearly. Her alibi isn’t as good. The club owner also knew the wife (she’d loaned him serious money to start the club). As things progress, with the young woman doing her own detective work, we wind up with another murder along the same lines—the singer this time—and almost a third.
It’s pretty well done, but I think there’s one serious flaw: We learn the murder’s identity about halfway in, and it would have been a much better movie if we were in the dark. (Oh, and the Beaver’s dad had a darker side in his earlier movie career…) Given that (and, frankly, that portions of the motivation just don’t make sense), I can’t give it more than $1.25.
Shoot to Kill, 1947, b&w. William Berke (dir.), Russell Wade, Luana Walters, Edmund MacDonald, Robert Kent, Vince Barnett, Nestor Paiva, Charles Trowbridge. 1:04.
The first in a quartet of barely-feature-length films, all just over an hour. This one is told in flashback by a woman in a hospital bed, there after surviving a car crash following a police chase and shootout—a chase in which her husband (the incoming district attorney) and a gangster (escaped from prison, where he was sent for a murder in a case tried by the husband) both die. She tells the story to a newspaper reporter who’s obviously much more than that.
It’s quite a story: Civic corruption on a grand scale, crooks battling crooks, a phony marriage (to avoid bigamy)…and ever so much more. It’s mostly fast moving and it holds together quite well. While it’s not a great film, it’s well made, well-acted and more plausible than quite a few of this ilk. Oh yes: There are two musical numbers written and performed by pianist Gene Rodgers, who is damn good. I’ll give it $1.50.
Shadows on the Stairs, 1941, b&w. D. Ross Lederman (dir.), Frieda Inescort, Paul Cavanagh, Heather Angel, Bruce lester, Miles Mander, Lumsden Hare, Turhan Bey, Mary Field. 1:04.
An odd one indeed, mostly set in a London boarding house (explicitly identified as 1937, I guess to make it explicitly pre-war) but starting with a mysterious scene on the docks. So many people seem involved in various shenanigans, mostly with no apparent purpose, that it’s hard to either follow the plot or perceive that there is a plot. There are various subplots (possible adultery being one), but nothing that really hangs together.
Indeed, that’s true for about half of the film: All very odd, little of it leading much of anywhere. Then the murders and suicides, and cursory police work from an idiot police sergeant, begin and, well, it doesn’t hang together very well even then. The surprise ending makes it all sensible, or maybe not.
Here’s the thing: Silly and confusing as it all is, it’s also well played. It’s a trifle with an odd, meandering plot, but the print is excellent and I’ll give it $1.25.
Prison Train, 1938, b&w. Gordon Wiles (dir.), Fred Keating, Dorothy Comingore, Clarence Muse, Faith Bacon, Alexander Leftwich. 1:04.
The hero (?) of this brief, not especially mysterious, flick is a racketeer, who runs the policy (numbers) racket, owns a nightclub and is a charmer. A rival nightclub-owner/racketeer wants to bring him down and agrees to cooperate with the crusading DA (you know, the kind of crusader who goes out looking for racketeers as compatriots).
The “taking down the numbers man” plot never amounts to much. Instead, we have the racketeer’s lovely and innocent sister, the handsome lawyer son of the rival crook, and a sequence that results in the racketeer “accidentally” killing the son. (Hey, he only meant to teach him a lesson…) And getting sent up for it. And the father—the rival racketeer—trying to shoot the first racketeer for killing his son, but botching it. But the rival gets out on bond, even though he was caught in the act and is pretty clearly intent on offing his rival. Side plot: The first racketeer was trying to turn the numbers racket over to the rival and go off to Europe with the sister.
Anyhoo…this brings us to the film’s title and the fact that filming on a moving train always adds class and interest. It does not, unfortunately, add plausibility, and the rest of the flick (another con on his way to Alcatraz keeps telling the racketeer that he’ll never make it to the last stop; he doesn’t; there are lots of complications along the way) just seemed to amount to very little. It seemed a lot longer than it actually was. I’m being charitable with $1.00.
They Never Come Back, 1932, b&w. Fred C. Newmeyer (dir.), Regis Toomey, Dorothy Sebastian, Edward Woods, Greta Granstedt, Earle Foxe. 1:04 [1:02]
The title refers to the idea that boxers never successfully return to the ring once they’re sidelined with an injury—in this case, the hero’s left arm. That’s after ten minutes of somewhat aimless boxing footage. Along with another five minutes or more later in the movie, that’s a quarter of the flick for which no dialogue or acting was required—which, in the case of this film, may be a good thing. In the middle, I think another five or six minutes are taken up with some really bad dance routines (don’t high-steppers usually make some attempt to synchronize with the music?)—so, in essence, there’s about half an hour of acting.
The plot? The washed-up boxer, whose mother died as he was preparing for the fight, is living with his sister (who he brought out from the mother’s house, I guess) and looking for a job. He finds one as the “assistant manager”—that is, bouncer, as he says—for a nightclub. He gets interested in a showgirl, who’s also a focus of the club’s owner, and meets the cashier—the showgirl’s sister. Before too long, we get a scene where the cashier asks the bouncer to hold the fort while the cashier runs an errand; at the end of the evening, the house is $500 short and, lo and behold, there’s the money in the bouncer’s jacket. It’s a frame, of course, but he winds up spending six months in the joint (apparently without benefit of trial). During those months, the showgirl comes to see him every week.
Partway through, the cashier admits to his sister (the showgirl) that he framed the boxer, because he had to: He’d “borrowed” $1,000 from the club and knew he’d be sent to jail if he didn’t do the frame. The sister figures she’d better play ball…
Anyway, the boxer gets out, sees the sister with the owner, finds out that his sister and the cashier are an item (I think that happens earlier), and—rather than knocking the cashier’s block off for framing him—goes to sign up for a fight to get the $1,000 to clear the cashier. It all winds up with a big fight at the club and, apparently, all living happily ever after.
That’s way more description than this sad little flick deserves. No mystery, no drama, nothing of any particular interest, and not much in the way of acting. Unless you’re heavy into poorly filmed boxing or are a big Regis Toomey fan, there’s nothing here. Generously, $0.75.
The Hoodlum, 1951, b&w. Max Nosseck (dir.), Lawrence Tierney, Allene Roberts, Marjorie Riordan, Lisa Golm. 1:02.
The term “film noir” and the vaguer “noir” have been applied by various amateur reviewers to many of the flicks in this massive set, and I suspect this one’s no different. (As I discovered checking IMDB: Yep—“a very underrated B film noir.” You can get away with almost any crap as long as it appears to be noir.) Unfortunately, “noir” has become a lazy way to glamorize cheap, nasty flicks—ones that revel in the dark side of humanity without the skill to suggest deeper meanings. I suspect much of what’s celebrated as noir is actually a browner color that gives off a certain stench. From now on, I’m calling movies like this by an appropriate name: Crappy movies.This one doesn’t even have the excuse of being filmed during the Depression.
This sad little B movie gives it away in the title. It’s about a hoodlum—a piece of work who’s arrested pretty much every year from age 15 onward for increasingly serious acts of casual thuggery. This time, he’s in for 5 to 25—and although the warden sees a lifetime criminal for what he is, the aging mother somehow convinces the parole board to free him.
Which, of course, does not go well. Need I recount the plot? He betrays his brother, seduces his brother’s girlfriend (who later commits suicide), sets up a really dumb armored car robbery that yields two dead in his little gang and two dead armored car employees…and eventually even his mother tells him what a piece of work he is, then dies. As does he, shortly thereafter. He never grows as a character; he’s scum, and seemingly proud of it.
I see no redeeming qualities in this other than its brief length. If you’re a believer that all noir has its worth (as, apparently, most of those who deigned to review this on IMDB do) and that badly done cheap flicks with no redeeming virtues are all noir, I suppose this could get $0.50.
Dick Tracy’s Dilemma, 1947, b&w. John Rawlins (dir.), Ralph Byrd, Lyle Latell, Kay Christopher, Jack Lambert, Ian Keith, Bernadene Hayes, Jimmy Conlin. 1:00.
It’s a Dick Tracy B programmer, and that means slightly over-acted with silly character names, oddly named villains and good clean fun. This time, the villain is The Claw, a criminal whose right hand was replaced with a hook in the same accident that messed up one of his legs. We also have Honesty Insurance (with Peter Premium as a VP), Vitamin Flintheart, Tess Trueheart, Sightless the ‘Blind’ Beggar (whose sign is honest: “I am Sightless”), Longshot Lillie and more.
The setup: A furrier’s fortune in furs is stolen from his vault—by somebody who clearly knew the combination, changed just a couple days ago when the furrier changed insurance companies. In the process, the night watchman was slain. Who did it and why? We find out in a spirited hour. Great fun, but also a one-hour flick (and exactly the right length); I give it $1.00.
Black Gold, 1936, b&w. Russell Hopton (dir.), Frankie Darro, LeRoy Mason, Gloria Shea, Berton Churchill, Stanley Fields, Frank Shannon, George Cleveland, Fred ‘Snowflake’ Toones, Dewey Robinson. 0:57 [0:54].
What we have here is a musical, with original songs. Or it’s a romantic dramedy, with a young couple meeting cute and immediately falling for each other. Or it’s a tale of industrial sabotage and ruthless oilmen. Or it’s a tale of rebellious youth. It’s really all of those, with easily enough plot for a three-hour extravaganza…and the whole thing runs 54 minutes. Of which the first 2+ minutes are essentially waste footage showing various oil-rig scenes and showing off the cinematographer’s love of fancy dissolves, and another couple of minutes are apparently stock footage with the star overlaid, also showing off both fancy dissolves and fancy picture overlays.
What it isn’t is a mystery. The villain’s obvious from the first time we meet him, the ending has to be a happy one (although there’s a twist to it that makes no sense at all to me, but to explain it would be a spoiler), and very little is mysterious along the way. I think the movie relies primarily on fans of Frankie Darro, and it’s one of those movies that begins by showing each major character with the actor’s name. It’s certainly fast moving, and enjoyable enough in its odd way. I’ll give it $1.00.
Blonde Ice, 1948, b&w. Jack Bernhard (dir.), Robert Paige, Leslie Brooks, Russ Vincent, Michael Whalen, James Griffith, Emory Parnell, Walter Sands, John Holland, Mildred Coles. 1:13.
This one starts out fast and never stops moving. We’re at a wedding, where various men are bemoaning the fact that their onetime girlfriend is marrying a wealthy man—and some of them have engraved cigarette cases from her. One throws the case away from a verandah (the wedding’s at the wealthy groom’s home), shortly before the new bride comes out and assures him that she loves him (not the groom) and will write to him from the honeymoon…
Now the couple is on the honeymoon. She’s writing a love letter to the spurned man; when her husband enters the room, she covers it with a brief letter to somebody else. Unfortunately, when he’s reading the innocent letter, he drops it, reveals the other letter, and walks out on her, flying back from the LA hotel to his home in San Francisco.
Without revealing too much of the plot, let’s just say that the next day the new widow goes after her old flame again…and then gets engaged to an up-and-coming Congressman, shedding more blood along the way. Oh, and pretty convincingly framing the old flame she still professes to love.
It all works out in the end, and it’s quite an amalgam of newspaper life (the old flame’s a newspaper columnist, she was a society writer and has become the society editor) and sheer coldblooded ambition mixed with sociopathy. The only problem I had is that this woman strikes me as so absurdly cold that, stunning as she may be, I couldn’t see how she got so many men falling for her so rapidly. But I’m sure it happens. Despite that, this is a good one, worth $1.50.
The Bridge of Sighs, 1936, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Onslow Stevens, Dorothy Tree, Jack La Rue, Mary Doran, Walter Byron, Oscar Apdel, John Kelly, Paul Fix. 1:06.
We open on an astonishing trial scene, set high in a courtroom building—a courtroom that apparently emulates Venice, being connected by a bridge to the jail—thus, the Bridge of Sighs. “Commit perjury and it takes 10 seconds to walk over…and 10 years to walk back!” This as the prosecutor hectors the poor young woman mercilessly…except that it’s all an act, as she’s his girlfriend (who keeps rejecting his marriage proposal) and court’s not in session.
They go off to dinner. She sees someone she recognizes, but who has no time for her. The other man starts to sit down with two men and a woman—but they’re about to leave, and he goes with them. The next thing we know, there’s a shot, one of the group that just left is dead, the man she’d attempted to talk to runs away—and is captured by a cop responding to the gunfire.
With four eyewitnesses offering the same story, it’s a fairly cut-and-dried murder case—during which the prosecutor (the boyfriend) conceals evidence from the defense, which I guess was considered fair practice in 1936. The jury brings back a guilty plea and the man’s sentenced to death, albeit at the price of the woman among the foursome going to jail as an accessory (she hid the gun, claiming it was thrust at her).
The first woman’s convinced he’s innocent and sets about proving it—by getting herself convicted on phony check-kiting charges and being sent to the same women’s prison, where she gets the second woman as a roommate. They wind up escaping thanks to the actual killer. Add lots of suspense, an “electric ear” used to bug a hideout, a three-way car chase and a just-in-time happy ending. Lots of action, pretty good dialogue, and a fairly satisfactory early procedural/mystery. Some implausible points—such as a prosecuting attorney immediately taking over a crime scene because he happens to be nearby, and the road from sentencing to actual execution being no more than a couple of months—but never mind. Unfortunately, the sound and picture are both wavery at times, reducing the score to $1.25.
Circumstantial Evidence, 1935, b&w. Charles Lamont (dir.), Chick Chandler, Shirley Grey, Arthur Vinton, Claude King, Dorothy Revier, Lee Moran, Carl Stockdale. 1:07.
A newspaper reporter covering a murder trial along with his girlfriend, the newspaper’s sketch artist, is outraged because the defendant can be put to death based solely on circumstantial evidence. So, after proposing to the woman (which she accepts, then tells him that the newspaper’s gossip columnist had proposed the night before and been turned down), he decides to prove his point…by staging a mock murder with lots of circumstantial evidence pointing to him, getting arrested, tried and convicted, then showing how absurd the situation is. (Yes, it’s a second “getting convicted and sent up in order to right a wrong” flick.)
Right off the bat, that’s more than a little hard to take. A whole lot harder: He chooses the rejected suitor—who is an “old friend” but also has some fairly odd tastes—as the “victim.” Sure, because the other guy couldn’t possibly double-cross him or anything… At this point, I’m convinced that the reporter needs a long vacation and some therapy. But he does his thing, with various staged stuff culminating in the “friend” setting an old skeleton he has lying around into the room of his newly purchased country home and covering it with lots of wooden furniture. At this point, the agreement is that the friend will add kerosene-soaked rags and burn the place down, then go off to San Francisco under an assumed name until recalled to show up the situation. Except, except: The friend has a passport under another name and a ticket on a cruise ship to France. Except, except: As he starts the fire (and shoots the reporter’s gun into the skeleton to improve the frame), somebody shoots him. Dead.
The rest of the movie runs on from there. We have an over-the-top DA denouncing a signed document admitting the situation as being a probable forgery since the handwriting expert was paid by the defense. We have various shenanigans and, of course, a sort-of happy ending. And I found the whole thing so implausible that it was hard to take seriously as a mystery. There’s also an issue with the sound: For about 15 minutes in the second half of the film, it’s as though it was being recorded from an LP with a bad scratch and loads of surface noise. Still, the acting’s amusing; if you don’t mind the implausibility, this one might be worth $1.
Convicted, 1931, b&w. Christy Cabanne (dir.), Aileen Pringle, Jameson Thomas, Dorothy Christy, Richard Tucker, Harry Myers, Nike Welch. 1:03 [0:57]
There’s something special about mysteries that involve transport—all those great train-based mysteries, some airplane-based mysteries, and a few cruise ship mysteries. Like this one—except that the mystery only seems to occupy about half of an already-short movie and then moves too fast and erratically to be satisfying.
As far as I can figure out, we have a slick type in First Class on a cruise ship (the kind where everybody’s formally dressed all day and all night, which I suppose could have been true in 1931) who makes a point of greeting a young woman who wants nothing to do with him. He’s then approached by another young woman who he wants nothing to do with—but who clearly has unfinished business with him. We also meet an investigative reporter, a drunk and his cabin mate and a few others. As things progress, the reporter encounters the man refusing to let the first woman go and Has Stern Words. There’s dancing. The man, the drunk and cabin-mate, some other random passenger and a ship’s officer wind up playing poker (the first man losing badly to one person and refusing to pay his losses to another, who he knows was at one point convicted as a cardsharp)—and a couple of hours later, the man’s dead: Hit over the head with a blunt instrument but killed by stabbing.
Somehow, the investigative reporter winds up heading up the case and interviewing all those who might have been involved. Suspicion falls on the first young woman—and she later admits to coshing him over the head (but that wasn’t what killed him). The captain finds out that the ship had been wired (a wire that never reached its destination) that the man had embezzled $100,000 from his company and was to be arrested—and, oh look, there’s some money in the young woman’s closet. Oh, by the way, there’s another murder, one the woman could not plausibly have been involved in. In any case, the way it plays out means nobody could plausibly have guessed what’s going on. And after the mystery’s solved, there’s another five or ten minutes as the ship docks and we learn that the reporter and the young woman are, he believes, engaged.
All bizarrely staged: They keep reminding us that it’s a cruise by having wholly irrelevant scenes on the bridge, about positioning via sextant and calling out headings. There’s very little background to understand why or how either woman is or would be involved with the man; in fact, no motivation appears for any character in the movie. Additionally, there’s so much background noise on the print that the sound is unpleasant through much of the movie. The movie’s title doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything. Maybe the missing six minutes explain everything—but as it is, there’s so much idle footage in this flick, that’s a little hard to believe. (Looking at the IMDB reviews, I rather like the one that assumes this is actually a documentary on cruise ship life, interrupted annoyingly with a silly murder plot. I might be more charitably inclined if that was true.) All in all, and most of the rating only for the early shipboard scenes, I can’t go above $0.75.
The Devil Diamond, 1937, b&w. Lesslie Goodwins (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, June Gale, Rosita Butler, Robert Fiske. 1:01 [1:00]
I’m not sure whether I could take another Frankie Darro, All-American Kid with a Fast Right, but in any case this movie—about a cursed diamond that a bunch of jewelers want a retired cutter to split into smaller, presumably uncursed stones, and one or two groups planning to steal the jewels—had so many missing syllables and words that I gave up partway through: The quality of the print made it tiresome to try to follow the dialog. I wonder about the IMDB timing—I’d say there was at least a minute’s worth of missing footage during the 15 minutes I watched. Unrated.
So what do we have for the fifth segment of this monster collection? Nothing that I’d consider a classic or near classic (that is, $1.75 or above), but five that are in the general ballpark ($1.50 each): Big Town After Dark, Borderline, The Most Dangerous Game, Shoot to Kill and Blonde Ice. Admittedly, two of those are repeats from other boxes.
Another six are in the “decent” $1.25 category, with six in the “adequate” $1 slot, for a total of 17 out of 24 that are potentially rewatchable, for a total of $21. You can skip the five movies that are fairly mediocre ($0.75) and certainly the barely-watchable $0.50 (and, to my taste, unwatchable one that didn’t get an amount).
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