Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 9, Number 1: January 2009

Offtopic Perspective

50 Movie Hollywood Legends, Part 2

Disc 7

Let’s Live a Little, 1948, b&w. Richard Wallace (dir.), Hedy Lamarr, Robert Cummings, Anna Sten, Robert Shayne. 1:25 [1:24].

Robert (Bob) Cummings plays an overworked ad man (Duke Crawford—what a name!) whose ex-fiancée is also his client. She wants him back, holding up the contract renewal to get him. Meanwhile, there’s a psychiatrist with a new book entitled Let’s Live a Little and Duke is assigned to work on promoting it. He meets the psychiatrist, a beautiful woman, and he’s having a bit of a nervous breakdown. The psychiatrist shares an office suite with her maybe-boyfriend, a surgeon (doesn’t every shrink work next to a cutter?). Various light romantic-comedy stuff ensues, as does semi-psychiatric stuff—people hearing bells and seeing the wrong people—with what is apparently a happy ending. There’s a wonderful sequence early on. Cummings is on his way to meet the doctor, hasn’t had time to shave, so jumps into one of a fleet of cabs equipped with electric razors: An idea he created. He gets distracted and shaves off half his mustache—thus, not unreasonably, causing the office receptionist and psychiatrist to assume he’s a patient.

Cummings is great at this sort of role. Hedy Lamarr as the psychiatrist is first-rate as usual. Anna Sten as the ex-fiancée/cosmetics boss chews the scenery a little, and that’s probably appropriate for her role. It’s a decent little romantic-neurosis comedy. The print’s choppy at times and there’s a significant break in flow that’s either some missing minutes or pretty abrupt editing. One real oddity: In the opening credits, there’s a black shape superimposed on the lower right corner of the screen, obviously added in post-production. Did the original production company bail, leaving this to “United California Productions Inc.,” which as far as I can tell never released another movie? The sound is marred by heavy white noise, unfortunately, the main reason I can’t give this more than $1.00.

Lady of Burlesque, 1943, b&w. William A. Wellman (dir.), Barbara Stanwyck, Michael O’Shea, Iris Adrian, Charles Dingle, J. Edward Bromberg, Frank Conroy, Pinky Lee. 1:31 [1:27].

This is a mystery with comedy and musical numbers, based on The G-string Murders by Gypsy Rose Lee. It’s a charmer, making burlesque (clean burlesque in this case—comedy, music and dancing) neither glamorous nor too seedy (just seedy enough). Along with personal and professional jealousies that arise (which dominate the picture), we get the mystery itself—and it’s not as much a murder mystery as it might seem, although there are a couple of murders, both involving G-strings. (There’s also a great song, “Take it off the E string, play it on the G string.”) It’s distinctly a who-dun-it: Who’s trying to shut down the show—or the theatre—and why?

Well written and well acted. I have to downgrade it a little for the print quality: There are gaps at times, which is always disconcerting. Still, it’s an enjoyable, well-made picture. $1.25.

Love Affair, 1939, b&w. Leo McCarey (dir.), Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer, Maria Ouspenskaya. 1:27.

A classic. Not a romantic comedy, since there’s very little comedy, but a great romantic flick. He (Charles Boyer) is an engaged French playboy. She (Irene Dunne) is an American with a boyfriend. They meet on an ocean liner, share dinner, try to avoid making a scene. There’s a great sequence at his grandmother’s place—and Maria Ouspenskaya is magnificent in that role.

At the end of the cruise, in New York, she proposes that, if it makes sense for both of them, they’ll meet in on July 1 at the top of the Empire State Building and take it from there. Complications ensue—fairly serious complications. There’s a happy ending…of sorts. This one’s the original. It was remade twice, once by the same director as An Affair to Remember (and sleepless people can think of at least one more picture inspired by it).

Great stars, great acting, (Dunne and Ouspenskaya were both up for Oscars, as was the picture), well written (another nomination), well made. This version has two flaws (in addition to the usual VHS-quality print): the soundtrack’s a little damaged at points, and there are some fade-to-black breaks that make no sense thematically but might be well timed for advertisements. Even so, I’ll give it $1.75.

Letter of Introduction, 1938, b&w. John M. Stahl (dir.), Adolphe Menjoy, Adrea Leeds, George Murphy, Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd (in a bit part), Ann Sheridan, Eve Arden. 1:44 [1:29].

An unusual movie in several respects. It’s a drama—but with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, as well as Eve Arden. It’s romantic—but in an odd way. Adolphe Menjou plays an oft-divorced actor who’s been away from the stage for years. Kay (Andrea Leeds) shows up with a letter of introduction—from her mother, letting Menjou know she’s his daughter. (The sleeve gets it wrong: He didn’t “sever his relationship” with her—he never knew she existed.) As he tries to make things right—but without simply announcing that she’s his daughter—complications ensue. What more to say?

Well played, but the print’s dirty, there must be some significant gaps and the sound’s not all that good. For this copy, no more than $1.25.

Disc 8

The Town Went Wild, 1944, b&w. Ralph Murphy (dir.), Freddie Bartholomew, Jimmy Lydon, Edward Everett Horton, Tom Tully, Jill Browning, Maude Eburne, Jimmy Conlin. 1:17 [1:05]

What dramatic sweep: Incest, infectious diseases, breaking and entering, family feuds, fistfights, two trials… Well, OK, it’s a screwball romantic comedy, with emphasis on screwball. The son of one feuding neighbor runs off with the daughter of the next-door feuding neighbor to elope in a nearby town—with the daughter’s brother finding transportation and cover. (The son’s on his way to Alaska, for reasons that aren’t quite clear. That’s important because he needs a copy of his birth certificate. Wait for it. Turns out they can’t get married yet: They have to wait three days after the license is issued, and it gets published in the meantime.)

Meanwhile, the clowns at city hall (in the first town) discover that two birth certificates may have been switched—and, in an immediate court hearing, the sons are told they belong with each other’s family (there’s no proof, but they both have a birthmark that should identify one of them). Which, if you think about it…well, bad enough that the kid would now be marrying his sister (I didn’t make up anything in the first sentence), but they conclude they’ll all go to prison because of the marriage license. So Steps Must Be Taken…which lead to another trial involving both fathers and their employer. (Measles are involved, not to spoil even more of the plot.)

It’s all played with great energy by a talented cast. As presented in this print, it’s really too short to be a full-fledged feature, but it plays like a brisk screwball comedy without big holes in the plot. The sound track’s a little iffy at times, and the video and sound are a bit out of synch. (That happens in some of the movies, but is usually corrected a few minutes in. Not so this time.) Those flaws and the brevity of the film bring a lively screwball comedy down to $1.25.

The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955, b&w. Otto Preminger (dir.), Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Parker, Kim Novak, Arnold Stang, Darren McGavin, Robert Strauss, John Conte, George E. Stone. 1:59.

The real stuff—not the most pleasant movie in the world, but powerful and well acted. Frank Sinatra plays the title role, Frankie Machine, where “golden arm” refers to his skill as an (illegal) poker dealer, his newfound talent as a drummer—and, to be sure, the gold that gets pumped into his arm, one needle at a time.

He gets off the dope and quits the illegal gambling after getting out of treatment—or at least he tries, but his wife (who appears to be wheelchair-bound after an accident he’s responsible for) wants him to stick with what he knows. There’s a very brief scene midway where it becomes clear that she’s faking the physical disability. In some ways, she’s more of an enabler than the slick pusher.

Kim Novak plays the girlfriend with heart, brains and determination—and does a superb job, as does Sinatra (who won an Oscar nomination for the role). For that matter, Darren McGavin as the dealer is first rate also. So is Eleanor Parker as the wife.

It’s a gritty, well-written, well-acted downer, and a true classic. The plot plays well throughout—as we watch someone get pulled back in to his bad old ways, and eventually go cold turkey in a harrowing sequence. The print’s generally good and the sound’s good enough to support Elmer Bernstein’s first-rate jazz score (another Oscar nomination). I don’t know that I’d watch it again, but can’t possibly give it less than $2.

High Voltage, 1929, b&w. Howard Higgin (dir.), William Boyd, Carole Lombard, Owen Moore, Phillips Smalley, Billy Bevan, Diane Ellis. 1:03.

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. (Sorry for the plot spoilers, but there’s not much plot here to spoil.)

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 Hoosier Schoolboy, 1937, b&w. William Nigh (dir.), Mickey Rooney, Anne Nagel, Frank Shields, Edward Pawley, William Gould, Dorothy Vaughan. 1:02.

Ostensibly, this movie’s about a kid from the wrong side of the tracks and the new schoolteacher who—after almost being sent packing because she might be a labor agitator—tries to redeem him and his drunken war-hero father. But the plot is equally about a “milk strike,” with dairy farmers who worked with a “cooperative” dairy whose owner is now underpricing them under difficult circumstances. Or maybe it’s about the new schoolteacher, possibly too spunky for her own good, and the seemingly-playboy son of the dairy owner who wants to make everything right (and win her affection).

That’s a lot of plot for a one-hour movie and it didn’t feel as though any element was explored very well. If you love Mickey Rooney’s tough kid with a heart of gold character, you’ll probably like this movie. Between dark video at times, flawed video at other times and a sense that the movie wasn’t ready to explore anything very deeply, I didn’t find it very satisfactory. $0.75.

I Cover the Waterfront, 1933, b&w. James Cruze (dir.), Ben Lyon, Claudette Colbert, Ernest Torrence, Hobart Cavanaugh, Maurice Black, Purnell Pratt. 1:15 [1:01].

The waterfront reporter promises his editor a big story on Chinese immigrants being smuggled. He winds up with a “bad lead” because the fishing captain involved is so ruthless he’ll cheerfully drown an immigrant rather than risk exposure. Eventually, the reporter gets the story through a plot involving romancing the captain’s daughter; he also gets shot along the way. There’s a side story involving a drunken reporter who turns up in his apartment. Unfortunately, the whole thing seems scattered, possibly because of missing footage. It’s not bad, but hardly a classic in this rendition. $1.00.

Disc 9

Penny Serenade, 1941, b&w. George Stevens (dir.), Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Beulah Bondi, Edgar Buchanan. 1:59 [1:57].

Great stars, a generally good print, good soundtrack—but I found this one disappointing. It’s told entirely in flashbacks as Irene Dunne plays records from her “Album of a Happy Marriage” as she’s about to walk out the door. Seems Grant, a reporter, meets her while she’s working in a music store, romances her, gets sent to Japan and marries her just before leaving. She shows up in Japan, pregnant, and they’re happy. He gets a (modest) inheritance and decides to blow the job. A huge earthquake hits, taking away the baby and her ability to have others. So they look into adoption—while he’s put his inheritance into a failing weekly paper in a small town. With the help of an adoption-agency person, they do find a baby girl—and somehow manage to keep her, a year later, despite having no source of income. (There’s some good domestic comedy along the way—many parts of this film are quite good.) Everything’s wonderful…until the girl dies suddenly at age six. And the two seem to have nothing to say to each other, which is why she’s leaving.

Enough plot for you? I was wondering how it would end—and the ending, which I assume to be considered a happy one, struck me as a bit creepy. I won’t give it away just in case you might see it, but let’s say that it doesn’t do anything to reassure me that these two have a fundamentally sound marriage. There’s an interesting third character, Applejack (played by Edgar Buchanan), who’s known them all along—and who somehow manages to stay around the little town (he was hired as press manager and troubleshooter) even though the newspaper’s gone under. He does a fine job (hey, he’s Edgar Buchanan), as do all the actors. I just found the movie more depressing than uplifting and the ending odd at best. I’ll give it $1.25.

Dark Mountain, 1944, b&w. William Berke (dir.), Robert Lowery, Ellen Drew, Regis Toomey, Eddie Quillan. 0:56.

This one’s unusual—a combination of noir and comedy wrapped up in a tightly made hour. Basically, you have a forest ranger who disobeys orders to save his horses—and shortly thereafter gets promoted, which means he has the money to pursue his old girlfriend. Who has since gotten married…to a smuggler (Regis Toomey), who shortly thereafter kills two (or three) people and goes on the lam. The rest has to do with hideouts, psychology, the whole thing. Meanwhile, there’s another ranger who’s basically a funny sidekick (with a wife who’s in the military, in Africa—this is set in WWII).

It’s well written, well acted and moves nicely. I really have no particular criticism of this flick; it’s quite good. The value is based on its short running time—but even so it gets $1.25.

The Big Show, 1936, b&w, Mack V. Wright (dir.), Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Kay Hughes, Sally Payne, William Newell, Max Terhune, Sons of the Pioneers, the Jones Boys, the Beverly Hillbillies, the Light Crust Doughboys, Champion, Rex King. 1:10/0:54. [0:55]

[Note: This movie also appears in the Classic Musicals set, and this review was done for that copy. The price has been adjusted downward since I no longer allow more than $1.25 for a one-hour movie.] The plot: Tom Ford’s making a movie with Gene Autry as his stuntman. Ford goes on vacation (and to hide out from $10,000 gambling debts) and the studio publicist says he’s needed at the Texas World’s Fair in Dallas (where most of this was filmed). Solution? Have Gene Autry don a fake mustache and impersonate Tom Ford. But Ford doesn’t sing—and that’s Autry’s big thing. Lots of music, lots of action with the gangster (who decides to blackmail the studio about the Autry-as-Ford thing, which doesn’t work well because the studio loves having a singing cowboy). Autry wasn’t that hot as an actor at the time, but since he was also playing Ford, he acted as well as Ford. More show biz than western, but plenty of music—and the Beverly Hillbillies were a western singing group a long time before the title was used for a TV show. $1.25.

The Joyless Street, 1925, silent, b&w (sepiatone), original title Die Freudlose Gasse. Georg Wilhelm Pabst (dir.), Greta Garbo, Werner Krauss, Asta Nielsen and a bunch of others—none of them credited (including Garbo). 2:05 to 2:55 [1:00].

This sepiatone rerelease of a silent movie (with symphonic, entirely unrelated, soundtrack added) leaves no doubt as to why it was rereleased: “The incomparable Greta Garbo” with preliminary title cards about getting to see her wonderful mannerisms, etc. When Greta (a character in the movie) first appears, the new title card makes sure you know that Greta is Greta Garbo! (Apparently, she wasn’t the star in the original film.)

Take away the supposed star power and it’s a sad little story of postwar Vienna (The Great War, that is). It starts with a downtrodden family in a flat—the daughter comes back without meat (the butcher doesn’t have any) and the father beats her. Then we go upstairs to a flat with a retired civil servant and two daughters (one the fully-grown Greta, the other a subteen girl)—and that’s it for the first family: They’re never heard from again. Unless the daughter was in the long line overnight at the butcher’s for promised “frozen beef tomorrow”—with little enough that most are turned away.

There’s almost too much plot to summarize, having to do with the father making incredibly stupid decisions for a retiree (“let’s cash out our pension and buy speculative stock on margin!”), leering bosses, stock manipulation, cabarets, American relief workers and an ending that feels pulled out of nowhere. Maybe it’s the fact that this is somewhere between one-third and one-half of the original film. Maybe it’s bad English titles. Without Garbo, I’d say it’s a curious little relic, worth maybe $0.75—the print’s not too bad. With Garbo—well, she may have been incomparable, but in this movie she just seemed to be overacting and her famed beauty mostly seemed to be huge eyes. I’ll stick with $0.75.

Blood and Sand, 1922, silent, b&w. Fred Niblo (dir.), Rudolph Valentino, Rosa Rosanova, Leo White, Lila Lee, Nita Naldi. 1:48 [1:00].

Another silent with unrelated music—but this one’s in generally-good black & white, and every significant actor is introduced with a title card showing the role and the actor’s name, not just the star. (No credits on this one either.) Rudolph Valentino was clearly the star in this one—and he doesn’t overact and does display a pretty fair amount of magnetism. (Actually, for a silent-movie, he acts fairly subtly.)

The story? If you haven’t heard it by now… Poor boy becomes toreador, marries childhood sweetheart, becomes a Very Big Deal, gets seduced by a society type, and all does not go well. Strong anti-bullfighting messages in the titles and one side character. Still a lot missing (20 to 48 minutes), but what’s there works reasonably well. Well done for what it is; I’ll give it $1.00.

Disc 10

Gold, 1974, color. Peter R. Hunt (dir.), Roger Moore, Susannah York, Ray Milland, Bradford Dillman, John Gielgud, Simon Sabela. Elmer Bernstein, score. 1:59.

Quite a cast and quite a plot. The action’s centered in a South African gold mine—but the plot’s centered in a secret cabal. The gold mine’s separated from a huge body of water by a natural barrier. The cabal figures that, if they could break through that barrier, it would flood not only this mine but the whole district, thus (supposedly) raising the price of gold by 30% and elevating all the other mining stocks. It would ruin this particular company and kill a few hundred miners, but that offers short-sale opportunities (and almost all of the miners are black).

The second-in-command at the gold mine (Dillman in one of his properly villainous roles) is part of the plot. He gets Moore appointed as the new mine manager, figuring he won’t ask too many questions when he’s told there’s really more gold on the other side of the barrier—if you just blast through deep enough. But Moore (when he’s not seducing or being seduced by the second-in-command’s wife, Susannah York) is sharp enough to set up a safety, a second set of explosives to seal off the situation if the “gold on the other side” report turns out to be wrong. Ray Milland plays well as York’s grandfather and head of the mining company. Gielgud is part of the cabal—a group nasty enough to blow up one of its members (and family) when he starts to sell off stock too obviously and early.

Lots’o’plot, particularly as the bad guys conspire to make sure the safety can’t work. A strong opening sequence in the mines, and a stirring final fifteen minutes, mostly in rushing water deep in the mine. Generally very good print and sound. Not a great movie, but not a bad two hours either. $1.50.

Home Town Story, 1951, b&w. Arthur Pierson (dir.), Jeffrey Lynn, Donald Crisp, Marjorie Reynolds, Alan Hale Jr., Marilyn Monroe. 1:01.

Man climbs off a plane. Group comes toward him, one of them making a crack about political campaign. Man slugs him. As we find out, this fellow served five years in the Armed Forces, was immediately elected to the State Senate and was defeated for reelection by the son of a local manufacturer—and he has a chip on his shoulder the size of a redwood. He’s also the nephew of the newspaper owner, who’s only too happy to make him editor, and he’s going to Tell The Truth About Big Business.

First, he sets out to show that the manufacturer discharges stuff into the stream it’s next to—but he’s assured that it does no such thing. So instead he starts writing editorials about excess profits and how they hurt the country. His best friend (a reporter) is so disgusted he’s about to quit. His long-time fiancée doesn’t know what to make of it. An oddly recognizable secretary with a remarkable figure has a few lines. The manufacturer comes in to discuss his theory that corporate profits only happen because of consumer profits—if someone doesn’t profit more from buying something, they won’t buy it.

After the editor laughs the manufacturer out of the office, he gets a phone call: His little sister (?) is trapped in an abandoned mine, there on a school outing. Everybody jumps into action with remarkable speed, flying the little girl to a hospital in the manufacturer’s plane—and when she’s saved, the manufacturer happens to notice one of his company’s motors on some piece of equipment at the hospital. Suddenly enlightened, the editor decides he should really be an editor and give up politics, and writes a new editorial about the good side of corporate profits.

But here’s the thing. The little girl was in trouble because (a) the for-profit mining company failed to properly shore up and close up the mine when it stopped mining—you know, that would have cost money—and (b) the employees of a for-profit company doing work on what was supposed to be a closed road to the mine didn’t take the time to put back the warning sign, and I believe it was the employee who thinks the editor’s a troublemaker who couldn’t be bothered. So another moral might be “There are good companies and there are bad companies.” I don’t think that’s what General Motors, who apparently commissioned this odd little propaganda piece, had in mind. I’m sure glad we’re reassured that responsible companies never, ever dumped chemicals in streams back in the Fifties, though. That’s probably why the Cuyahoga has always run sweet and clear. Alan Hale Jr. does a good job as Slim Haskins, the buddy/reporter. Strictly as a curiosity, with an odd little role by Marilyn Monroe (who isn’t one of the leads), I’ll give it $1.

Meet John Doe, 1941, b&w. Frank Capra (dir.), Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold, Walter Brennan, Spring Byington, James Gleason, Gene Lockhart, Rod LaRocque, Regis Toomey. 2:02.

If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know the plot of this Frank Capra classic… Big businessman (Edward Arnold) takes over honorable newspaper, turns it into streamlined rag, fires people—including a columnist (Stanwyck) who really needs to work. As her last column, she turns in a phony suicide note from a John Doe who’s out of luck, fed up with everything and will jump off City Hall at Christmas. Well…people want to offer John Doe a job and there’s a possible circulation booster—so they choose one of many out-of-work people saying they’re John Doe, a baseball pitcher named Long John Willoughby (Cooper) who needs surgery to be able to pitch. They put him and his grouchy friend (Walter Brennan, who keeps talking about how Helots will grab you if you don’t stay on the bum) up at a hotel, put him on the radio—with speeches she’s writing—and soon enough, folks are forming John Doe Clubs and getting to know their neighbors.

Well, naturally, there’s evil behind the bossman’s helping John Doe Clubs: He wants to turn them into a third party and get elected President, then take over and Run Things Properly. Doe finds out about it but the big man’s goons make sure he can’t get the word out. Down and out, he’s about to make good on the suicide threat he actually never made…and, of course, it all works out.

Sounds a little sappy, but it’s not. It’s a great cast, well-written, well-directed, well-acted, well worth watching. It’s not a wonderful print, but it’s not bad, and the movie’s a classic. $2.00.

His Private Secretary, 1933, b&w. Phil Whitman (dir.), Evalyn Knapp, John Wayne, Reginald Barlow, Alec B. Francis. 1:00.

A young John Wayne plays the playboy son of a millionaire businessman. The father demands the son take over as collection agent. He goes to a nearby small town to collect a debt, in the process picking up (and offending) a beautiful young girl—who turns out to be the daughter of the near-deaf minister he’s supposed to collect the debt from. He winds up forgiving the debt and getting fired for his trouble.

After various shenanigans and his continued stalking attempts to get on the right side of the girl, he succeeds and marries her—but his father assumes she’s a gold-digger and tells him to get rid of her. Somehow, she winds up becoming her father’s new private secretary—the best he’s ever had—but then leaves town because she thinks the playboy’s still a player. Everything works out in the end: This is, after all, a romantic comedy, if a surprisingly short one. Nothing spectacular, but not bad. I’ll give it $1.25.

Disc 11

Heartbeat, 1946, b&w. Sam Wood (dir.), Ginger Rogers, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Adolphe Menjou, Melville Cooper, Basil Rathbone. 1:42.

A young woman escaped from reform school shows up at a Paris school for pickpockets, where she seems to be doing well—but when she attempts to lift something, she’s caught. The person catching her—an older diplomat--tells her to steal a watch from a young diplomat at a dress ball (or she’ll go to prison). She does, notices there’s a picture of the older diplomat’s wife inside the watch, removes it before giving it to the older diplomat. He tells her to return the watch, which she does—and in the process of the two dances, she and the younger diplomat fall for one another. Maybe.

That’s just the beginning of a moderately confused plot involving marriages of conveniences, a variety of con men, trains to and from Geneva…naturally, it all works out in the end. (The sleeve plot description is wrong on several counts, but that’s par for the course.) The movie’s well filmed and generally well played—but to me, Ginger Rogers seemed more vapid than she needed to be in the star role, seeming not to show much of any emotion or even interest, even when she’s crying from happiness. That hurts the picture. So, in the case of this print, do minor visual damage and fairly major sound problems—the sound is frequently distorted, making dialogue a bit difficult to understand. In the end, I come up with $1.25.

He Found a Star, 1941, b&w. John Paddy Carstairs (dir.), Vic Oliver, Sarah Churchill, Evelyn Dall, Gabrielle Brune, J.H. Roberts. 1:29 [1:15].

A British stage manager wants to be more, and with the help of a woman friend (played by Winston Churchill’s daughter) starts a small-time talent agency, specifically looking to help out unknown talents. They struggle for some time but eventually build a business of sorts—and he continues to treat her as nothing but a secretary. It all climaxes when he gets a would-be star (who’s a reasonable success, and who he wants to propose to) out of multiple “exclusive” contracts, signs her up for a big new show—and finds that she’s going to run off to Hollywood.

Naturally, it all works out in the end. In the meantime, the action’s constant but the plot’s a bit hectic, possibly because of a lot of missing footage. To my eye, the various acts were fine (the traditional baritone turned one-man band is a charmer) but the dramatic actors didn’t make much impact, and I never got any sense that the secretary desired the talent agent until the last few minutes of the flick, somewhat undermining the dramatic conflict. Given that, a sometimes-damaged print and a sometimes-damaged soundtrack, I’m hard put to give this more than $0.75.

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]

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.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro, 1952, color. Henry King (dir.), Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Hildegard Knef, Leo G. Carroll. 1:54 [1:53].

Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Susan Hayward. Spectacular scenery, well filmed. Ernest Hemingway. What more could you ask for? Well… Not to speak ill of classics, but this movie seemed a little thin and soapy to me, apart from the starpower and writer’s credentials. (On the other hand, it’s a Hemingway short story, so maybe it is a little thin for a two-hour flick.) But that may be me. Good print (by and large), although there’s ticking on the soundtrack for a few minutes near the end. Even though it isn’t quite my cup of tea, it deserves $1.50.

Disc 12

Indiscreet, 1931, b&w. Leo McCarey (dir.), Gloria Swanson, Ben Lyon, Monroe Owsley, Barbara Kent, Arthur Lake, Maude Eburne. 1:32 [1:13]

I’m of two minds on this one. On one hand, it’s a nicely done romantic comedy with remarkable comedic turns by Gloria Swanson (particularly when she demonstrates the “slight touch of insanity” in her family), a satisfying overall plot and generally solid acting. Yes, there’s some uneasiness between melodrama and comedy, and the occasional songs seem out of place—but it was fun overall.

On the other, the soundtrack’s sometimes damaged enough to be really annoying, and once in a while there’s visible damage as well. The missing 19 minutes would probably improve the movie.

Overall, it’s a good romantic comedy undone by the print quality, yielding $1.25.

Chandu on the Magic Island, 1935, b&w. Ray Taylor (dir.), Bela Lugosi, Maria Alba. 1:10 [1:06].

This is apparently a sequel to some other movie or movies (or recut episodes of a serial) with Bela Lugosi as Frank Chandler, aka Chandu the Magician. This one involves a Princess Nadji, a yacht, evil crewmen, the lost island of Lemuria, some dark-magic cat-worshiping religion and a proposed sacrifice to reanimate a dead ruler.

I could say the print’s damaged in some parts and the sound’s questionable. Both of those are true—but I really don’t think seeing this one in vivid Technicolor with crystal-clear surround sound and on a big screen would help. It struck me as incoherent even by the standards of Z-grade mystic-“scifi” flicks. (There’s no science here, but plenty of fiction.) My charitable quick review: An awful mess, but devoted fans of Bela Lugosi might find something to like. For that, I’ll give a reluctant $0.50.

Hell’s House, 1932, b&w, Howard Higgin (dir.), Bette Davis, Pat O’Brien, Junior Durkin. 1:12.

Rural kid sees his mother get run over by a car (driver gets out, looks at victim, drives away; kid makes no move to remember license plate or, apparently, call authorities). Next scene: Kid shows up at urban home of aunt & uncle, who have a boarder who acts like a hotshot—and the uncle’s out of work. Next scene: Kid asks hotshot if he knows of a job; hotshot, who’s actually a bootlegger, hires kid to take phone calls but never say who he works for or where he lives. Next scene—this movie moves fast—cops show up, kid won’t talk, kid gets sent to reformatory for three years.

Then there’s a bunch of reformatory stuff, with a side plot of newspaper reporter trying to blow the lid off the terrible conditions there but not getting cooperation. Kid’s best buddy, another kid with a heart condition, tries to smuggle letter out for kid, gets caught, won’t snitch, goes to solitary, where the ticker goes worse. Kid knows this, busts out (in the outgoing garbage), pleads with hotshot to help. Despite hotshot’s not actually knowing anybody, he manages to get in to see the reporter, kid tells story…and, as the cops arrive, the bootlegger finally develops a heart and signs a confession. After which, of course, the reformatory gets cleaned up (the kid doesn’t go back). Oh, his friend dies.

Pat O’Brien’s the hotshot. Bette Davis is his girlfriend, who suspects he’s mostly a blowhard. Incidentally, the plot summary on the sleeve gets it badly wrong, having the kid escape because the hotshot Kelly is seeing too much of the kid’s girlfriend—but the kid doesn’t have a girlfriend in the movie.

All a little too formulaic—and maybe it doesn’t matter in this case. While the print’s so-so visually, the soundtrack is so scratchy that I almost gave up on it several times. I can’t imagine most sane people would ever listen all the way through. Given that, it can’t earn more than $0.50.

The Evil Mind (or The Clairvoyant), 1934, b&w. Maurice Elvey (dir.), Claude Rains, Jane Baxter, Athole Stewart. 1:21 [1:08].

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.

Summing Up

So how does the whole set work out?

The excellent short list ($2.00): Good News, The Man with the Golden Arm, Meet John Doe. Also very fine or pretty good: Second Chorus, A Walk in the Sun, The Most Dangerous Game, Borderline, Carnival Story, Love Affair, Gold, The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

Eleven out of 50—not bad, given that 19 more scored $1.25 (possibly worth seeing again). That’s 60% of the flicks. Another 14 are so-so at $1.00, leaving five more trouble to watch than they were worth ($0.75 and below). Only one was an utter loser ($0.25) and none earned the “totally worthless” $0 rating. I come up with $59.75 for this $12-$15 set—or $42 for 30 movies possibly worth watching again.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 9, Number 1, Whole Issue 111, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Editorial Director of the PALINET Leadership Network.

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