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Spectacular docudrama! Photography alone is worth the watch. Story exploitative, yes, but probably more genuine than we'd wish to imagine...
I've always appreciated "White Shadows in the South Seas" (1928), but especially "Nanook of the North" (1922), although today both are being rejected and criticized for being "false", "faked", "white man's interpretation outside of his realm, and biased, and, therefore, a misrepresentation", etc., etc., etc. So far, for both of these I retain my fierce admiration of them, and I think that they're masterpieces of their day which deserve modern accolades for their art AND their representation, though qualified as all historical understanding improves, modifies, and justly represents what is learned or understood or even equalized justly in the interim. Some representations of the past - most certainly on film, too - justly deserve to be criticized heavily for biases that were ugly or prejudiced purposefully wrongly or just plain pitifully stupidly.

I watched "Eskimo" (1933) for the first time last night. For 1 hour and 57 minutes I was riveted to the picture. It's been a long time since I was so taken with a film. Directed by W. S. "Woody" Van Dyke (Woody-One-Take as he is remembered), he'd had much experience with on-location shooting for such films as "White Shadows" with Robert J. Flaherty and "Trader Horn", and here he puts that experience to outstanding use and creates a docu-drama style film that was a horrendous flop when it first came out. It premiered in December of 1933 in New York City, but didn't get general release for another month. Good that it got at least that, for by the middle of the year the Code went into effect, and a film like "Eskimo" would have been crushed. It opens with a scene of a native taking her breast out of her clothing and feeding her baby. Within a few minutes a husband is granting his wife permission to "lie" with his good friend, the "somebody" in a nearby summer abode. We are quickly introduced - as a typical white 1933/4 audience - to a culture that is very foreign and which allows/permits/is culturally raised to/even smiles at practices which are strictly forbidden or secreted or whatever in the culture of the viewer audience. The story proceeds documentarily for several minutes, then at about the 25 minute mark suddenly we're offered some wonderful cultural material, but it's back-lit. I must admit that I was startled a bit. After all, the film is a sound film, and the speech is totally (has been so far) in the native language of the "northern Eskimo", though translated with sub-titles at the bottom, and has been basically purely documentary. Then a story about "the white man" is introduced. Here, I must interject that when reading Woody Van Dyke's "Journal" he wrote for a possible publication someday about the making of "White Shadows" one is struck by his near condemnation of Flaherty's "faking" in the making of "Nanook" and "Moana", yet here Van Dyke begins a narrative based on a book by Peter Freuchen, a man who plays the ultimate bad white man in the film! Now the film turns to a scripted narrative that tells a purposed story, rather than views the culture in a purely documentary fashion. It's about the bad white men and how they rape and kill. The story is purposefully exploitative, but it's done very, very well nevertheless. The native, Mala, kills the sea captain of a boat who's raped his wife after giving her liquor, and she's been killed (actually, accidentally) and the captain doesn't care a whit because she's a native. Now it's time for the newly formed (in the area) RCMP to bring Mala in and try him, where he'll possibly be hanged for his "crime". Where Mala's come from is 500 miles away. We see him make this journey over snow ridden plains and hills and frozen waters several times. I don't think I need to narrate the story. Trust me, it's really a magnificent piece!

So highly recommended that most should see it if you enjoy fabulous photography and a very gripping story, mixed with genuine documentary filming of a society of what were called the northern Eskimo in 1934. It's gripping as can be. Now, some warnings: the killing of the whale(s) is genuine! The killing of the polar bear is genuine! The killing of the caribou is genuine! The caribou herd scenes are genuine, and they're so amazing your jaw will drop. The fact that they're real, and that nothing is faked, and that the camera people lived to see it on film is jaw-dropping. The hunting with the dogs is very real. Some of the scenes could not be done today for a "story" on film. This is a Warner Archive release from a couple of years ago. Rush to find it if you can't find this showing another way.

The "story" that's added to the documentary parts actually stars real actors, beginning with Joe Sauers (later Sawyer), Edgar Dearing, Lotus Long, Lulu Wong Wing (Anna May Wong's sister), Edward Hearn, Peter Freuchen, and the main star Mala (his real name, though he went by Ray Wise), a man born in Alaska who became a cameraman in silent films, later an actor. The film was predominately done near Teller, Alaska, not really the Arctic, though some scenes were actually filmed there. Sources vary as to legitimacy of which scenes were filmed where. The acting throughout is as good as it gets. Only the Royal Canadian Mounted Police scenes are more perfunctory Hollywood 1930s. Still, there's nothing bad about them.

My Lady o' the Pines

Nice little three-reeler with really good action; well acted; Mary Astor's second film.
"My Lady o' the Pines" (1921) was Mary Astor's second film, a nicely done three-reeler which also starred Huntley Gordon with whom Astor had starred in her first film, too, earlier in the year. Astor was a fifteen year old beauty who already had some acting chops, though her performance lacks the dynamics she picked up with forty more years experience. A gripping tale actually, this one has Astor the owner/proprietor of a section of pine woods - her "castle". She's being slyly bullied into selling, or even losing, her share to a competitor with absolutely no scruples or compunction, but she's unaware of the fact until Huntley Gordon comes to town. He's been hired to do a survey on the sly (by Astor's competitor) which will be used to coerce her into something she wouldn't want to do. But the bullies will have to pay, won't they? Such a rhetorical question shouldn't even have to be asked with respect to a 28 minute film of 1921.

This film appears along with the feature "Other Men's Shoes" (1920) which was a Kickstarter campaign by Ed Lorusso. Frankly, this short is far better than the feature, and it's actually extremely well acted and well directed, with decent progression, and a good share of fine photography. The action is first rate! Musical accompaniment is provided by Ed Lorusso who also provided the score - and it's really good, appropriate and well performed. Though most wouldn't notice, there are a couple of continuity things which I found only very slightly disconcerting: they were a cutting problem. As I say, most won't notice.

This is a Holman Day production starring Gordon, Astor, Bradley Barker, Charles Slattery and Fred Bond.

The Menace

Not bad. Certainly nothing major. Quite old fashioned, 30s style. Now dated.
Except for "Seed" (1931), I've now seen every Bette Davis film she made until 1951. Last night I watched "The Menace" (1932) with Arthur Byron, H. B. Warner, Bette Davis, Natalie Moorhead, William B. Davidson, Crauford Kent, Halliwell Hobbes, and Charles K. Gerrard, along with a couple of other minor characters. The print was so bad that I still have eye strain this morning! The sound was so good I had to listen to it at "4" out of "100". But I watched it all the way through. This is a minor, very old fashioned murder mystery with Gerrard thrown in for comedy relief. The comedy is broad and over-the-top and wears itself out. Still, overall, this is a decent mystery, one we know how to solve from the beginning, but we watch the protagonist solve the mystery all by himself - this, after he's been accused of murdering his father, been put in prison, escaped from prison, been severely burned in an oil fire (a business where's he's made a fortune in the three years since he escaped!), had plastic surgery to the point no one recognizes him, gone back to England to the old mansion where the baddies are still encamped, etc., etc., etc. Fun to watch, or, more correctly, should have been. It was torturous watching the bad print, but I felt compelled enough by the pot boiling to get boiled. This mornin' I'm a hot daddy with eye strain.

The Calgary Stampede

Outstanding Romance/Sport/Western/Drama! Gibson sits a horse as though he's part of it
"The Calgary Stampede" (1925) is a magnificent romance/sport/western/drama with Hoot Gibson, Virginia Brown Faire, Pierre Faunce, Jim Corey, Philo McCullough, Ena Gregory, Charles Sellon, Inez Seabury, W. T. McCulley, and others (including a very early Walter Brennan in a crowd scene in a bleacher). Lots of plot, though it boils down to a trope for future "B" Westerns used over and over: man is alone with a father of the girl he loves, a father who doesn't want his daughter to marry the man (here because the father is a Calgary game warden and the man's an Irisher, a cow bum, and named Malloy!), but father is killed and man goes to window with his gun and tries to shoot shooter of man; daughter rushes into the room, finds the father dead, and her love is standing over the father with his gun smoking. What's a man to do? Run, of course. But this man is from Cheyenne and this is Canada. He's there to ride in the Calgary Stampede, a world famous rodeo and horse event and wagon gala race. Next thing you know, the man is the prey of the Mounties.

The IMDb calls this an hour show. The new release on "Early Universal", volume 2, is a beautiful sepia toned print that runs over 100 minutes and is a hoot to watch! Pun intended. Filmed entirely in Calgary, Alta, with a whole host of rodeo scenes from the actual Calgary Stampede - all I can say is that if you love horses, this show is more than a feast. First of all, Hoot Gibson was a champion rodeo rider and, though he's definitely not the typical trim cowboy you think of when you see the likes of Mix or Steele, but actually a tad paunchy, he sits a horse at any speed as though he's part of the horse! He's as good a rider as Bob Steele ever was, maybe as good as Yakima Canutt. Also a genuine treat in this show is the bison range with hundreds and hundreds of the animals. They even stampede in one scene. Magnificently caught on film. Cinematography by Harry Neumann in general is excellent. There are also no prolonged gun battles, only the one gun play, and there's always a dose of humor sprinkled in the mix which is subtle, fun, and not in-your-face.

This won't be for everybody because the rodeo show goes on a long time. It's amazing, though. It also puts the suspense where it belongs. Gibson's being chased by a couple of Mounties who still want him for the murder he didn't commit! But watching Hoot ride the Roman horses in a race is outstanding!!

This new release from Eureka Masters of Cinema from Britain has a fine accompanying score by Chris Tin. Region B, but played when I set my all-region Blu-Ray to 2. Also on the discs are "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (1916) and "What Happened to Jones?" (1926). Really pleased with this release. Keep 'em coming, Universal!

Skinner's Dress Suit

Absolutely masterful comedy! Denny and La Plante are so watchable.
Years ago I watched a fading-to-white, scratchy, blurry old VHS tape of "Skinner's Dress Suit" (1926) which, when I'd finished, I thought had been a lot of fun; just wished it could have been a much better print. Well, the new Reginald Denny three film Blu-Ray set from Kino Lorber is now my answer. I re-watched the film and enjoyed it all over again, only this time my eyes weren't crossed when I finished watching. The print isn't necessarily pristine, as there are a few lines here and there, but they're so minor as to be barely noticeable. I have to admit that half-way through this the only thing running through my mind was that Cary Grant HAD to have learned to copy Denny at some time or other because I kept seeing Grant playing the part! Grant's farceuring in "Bringing Up Baby" and "Arsenic and Old Lace" come immediately to mind.

This one begins with Denny's wife, played by lovely Laura La Plante, wondering if Denny had asked his bosses for a raise yet. No, he hasn't. Well, when will you? Today... Bye, Dear, gotta dash, catch the 7:32. Of course, he doesn't get it. Plus, other factors enter into the picture which complicate all even more. He gets home. Does he have the raise? No, but does he tell his wife? No. But does she think he does? Yes. And so what does she do? Buys him a new dress suit - that is, white tie and tails evening dress. And does it stop there? Of course not! New suit for work. New set of furniture. And whose outfit is more expensive than his new dress suit? Hers! But does he get the raise yet? NO! And so forth and so on. But do you think the outcome will be tragic? OF COURSE NOT!

The plot is short on genuine comedic drive. But...with Denny in his top farceur mode - absolute non-stop body action and eye movements and mouth movements that scream farce; and with Laura La Plante matching him at every step of the way; and with all of the cast in top fashion under director William A. Seiter's helm - this is a comedy masterpiece. Such a pleasant journey from the get-go. Besides Denny and La Plante, we have Ben Hendricks, Jr., E. J. Ratcliffe, Arthur Lake, Hedda Hopper, Lionel Braham, Frona Hale, and two who simply outdo even the stars: William H. Strauss and Betty Morrissey. The last named can do a mean 20's dance, too. By the way, the dance everyone does in the film, called the Savannah Shuffle, a somewhat combination of the Black Bottom and the Charleston, was an invention of Denny himself. Denny, as we discover, was no mean dancer himself. Nor was Laura La Plante. The fun of the dance is strewn throughout the film at different points as we're given small doses here and there.

The film, for the record, is actually a re-make of a seemingly very successful 1917 film of the same name which had starred Bryant Washburn, Hazel Daly, Virginia Valli, and Ullrich Haupt. The Variety reviewer mentions the earlier version with a seeming nostalgia. The film was re-made even a third time for sound in 1929 with the bland Glenn Tryon and Myrna Kennedy in the leads. E. J. Ratcliffe, who appeared in the Denny version, also appears in the sound version.

If you look closely during the large party scene in the Denny version, you'll notice early silent star Minta Durfee, Janet Gaynor, and Grady Sutton as extras. This one is not to be missed.

The Virginian

Seminal sound Western is the best version of Owen Wister's book; yes, it's dated, but it's a pip!
I have been wanting to see the 1929 "The Virginian" again for a long time now, and yesterday I finally received a DVD I've been waiting for, and last night I watched it again with utter delight. I got rid of my VHS tape years ago, and I'm amazed that a good release - either remastered or restored - has yet to appear. This version is classic in every way. Starring Gary Cooper, Richard Arlen, Mary Brian, and Walter Huston, it also features Eugene Pallette, Helen Ware, Chester Conklin, E. H. Calvert, Nina Quartero, Victor Potel, Willie Fung, and many others. Look closely, you'll find Randolph Scott.

Based on the novel by Owen Wister, this was filmed in 1914 with Dustin Farnum, then again in 1923 with Kenneth Harlan, the latter with Russell Simpson as an excellent Trampas. After the 1929 version - the first sound version - it was made again in 1946 with Joel McCrea, then was a TV series, then made again in 2000 with Bill Pullman. It seems a new version is "in development."

The story has five separate facets, (1) the deep friendship between two cowboys, The Virginian (Cooper) and Steve (Arlen), (2) the rivalry between the two cowboys for the love of the new schoolmarm (Brian), (3) the eventual love of Brian for Cooper, (4) the horrible "crisis of conscience" of The Virginian when he discovers that Steve has been rustling cattle, and (5) the story of The Virginian versus the evil Trampas (played marvelously by Walter Huston).

If anyone is to receive acting honors it is Walter Huston in a shiny performance as Trampas, the gun-slinging cattle rustler who has absolutely no compunction. He roars into every scene in which he appears and he takes over like flashing silver - although dressed in black. However, nobody was ever to play The Virginian like Gary Cooper. He is here the essence of movie cowboy. You'd think that this is how the old West really was if you watch him. His body language is perfect. So, however, is Richard Arlen's. Arlen is given short shrift as an actor by a lot of critics, but he made a series of Westerns, including this one, that is quite wonderful to watch. After this film, "The Light of Western Stars" (1930), "The Conquering Horde" (1931), and "Gun Smoke" (1931) were all worthy candidates of extremely well done Westerns.

Mary Brian made four films and two other shorts with Gary Cooper. She was a staple of early 30's films.

I really like this film, from the story to the acting to the direction - brilliantly done by Victor Fleming - to the locations and photography to the editing - to, ultimately, the fun it is to watch. Full of swagger, pathos, humor, old-fashioned American toughness and adventure, and good mise-en-scene and local color. Recommended as highly as can be - even to those who don't care for Westerns.

I'm still waiting for an Early Gary Cooper Westerns package with "Nevada" (1927), "The Last Outlaw" (1927), "The Virginian" (1929), "The Texan" (1929), "The Spoilers" (1930), and "Fighting Caravans" (1931) - all restored, of course!

Out Yonder

Nicely done potboiler. Thomas is beautiful and does a fine acting job, as do all the performers!
"Out Yonder" (1919) stars Olive Thomas, Huntley Gordon, John Smiley, Edward Ellis, Louise Prussing, Marie Coverdale, and Cyril Chadwick. Thomas is the daughter of Smiley, a former captain who now runs a lighthouse with his assistant Ellis. Gordon, a wealthy yachtsman, is in the area near the lighthouse on his yacht and waiting for his mother to arrive. Her small vessel capsizes and Thomas saves her. Now she meets Gordon. His fiancé - or at least his intended, it appears - is also on the yacht. Gordon is more than thankful for Thomas saving his mother, as, of course, is his mother! He sticks around a day or so and finally meets Thomas' father, Smiley, and his assistant, Ellis. Ellis becomes rather jealous because he thinks Thomas should eventually become his [Ellis'] wife. Meanwhile, Prussing becomes jealous, too, because she thinks she's supposed to become the wife of Gordon. Meanwhile, too, Ellis makes a rumble that they're all (Ellis and Smiley) there "out yonder" at the lighthouse to escape what happened years ago - the murder of John Hamilton - who just happens to be the father of Gordon!! Oh, and Gordon looks just like his father, so he's haunting Smiley who thinks it was he who killed Gordon's father.

This is the setting for all the events which follow. It's a potboiler, but it's really a lot of fun watching the outcome of this soapoperaish drama. What I couldn't help thinking - constantly, constantly - was that the bad guy in all of this, only years younger, but with that same evil downturned snarly look in his jaw, was the future Thin Man of that series of sound films beginning in 1935 (even though he appeared only in the first one). Edward Ellis looked as if he was born to play this part.

Acting on all accounts was first rate. Restoration was also very, very good. This was a Kickstarter campaign funded restoration by the EYEmuseum of Amsterdam and Joseph Harvat, and the musical score composed and played by David Drazin. My only problem - and it's very minor - was that the titles were actually made to last just a tad TOO long. Usually the opposite is the problem. Here they just kept on being stagnantly long. The font on the title cards was disconcerting at first, but I became used to it. They're beautiful, but a bit artsy. Nevertheless, overall, a wonderful restoration and a wonderful film.

One last observation. From the front, Olive Thomas' face is Lee Remick!! I was constantly reminded of the later actress. Thomas is such a beautiful girl and her features are admirably captured by the cinematographer, Harold S. Sintzenich. Overall the photography is rather standard fare, but well done nonetheless. I found the story a bit hackneyed, but the performances and the direction and telling of the story made it worthwhile anyway. This will be something to come back to at a later date. I say that for Thomas because surviving films like "The Flapper" (1920) I found severely dated and wouldn't watch again. On the other hand, this one was a lot of fun. Good job, Joe!

The Web

Outstanding noir that should be much better known! One of Price's finest performances!
Edmond O'Brien appeared in a couple of near classic noirs, "D. O. A." (1950) and "Between Midnight and Dawn" (1950), and he appeared in a couple of classic Ida Lupino directed films that hinge on noir style, "The Hitch-hiker" (1953) and "The Bigamist" (1953). He was excellent in this kind of material, but he'd already essayed a film that fits the classic film noir, and it's a mystery to me why it isn't better known because it's truly an excellent film. "The Web" (1947) stars O'Brien, Ella Rains, William Bendix, and Vincent Price, and the last named gives one of his very best performances on film. Price is the consistency of 10-W-30 from the get-go in this one, and he gets thicker and thicker as the film progresses while we watch his extremely wealthy, greedy, selfish, no-compunctioned devil of a man reduce all around him to ashes. Bendix plays a very hard-nosed cop with typical Bendix flair, but he's very believable here and not just a Hollywood type playing to typicity all viewers expect. Ella Rains is the weakest link in the star chain, but she's at least satisfactory. Her character as written is not drawn very well by the writer, leaving a few plot question marks or implausibilities, and exactly what her relation to Price is becomes unsatisfactory at several junctures. As viewers, however, the plot moves at such a pace such holes are not really a problem unless the critic in the viewer is looking for them. There are murders, deceit, missing money from an ex-prisoner and several other lurid ingredients of intrigue, plus romance and thwarted romance in the film. O'Brien gives his standard excellent performance, and Bendix is even better than perhaps expected, just having come off the year before's jumping jack-in-the-box performance of wounded ex-GI who's having problems with "monkey music" in "The Blue Dahlia", but Price is spectacularly sinister and polished here, without the added frill of campy horror antics that came about in later years. Overall, this was a very good watch, and one that kept me riveted to the screen from start to finish. John Abbott, playing Price's go-for throughout, equals Price at every turn with his very tailored performance, at once sinister, crafty, snarky, but very watchful of his boss, and, as a result, naive as to his boss's possible duplicity towards him. One last note: the cinematography by Irving Glassberg is all over the board, for the most part quite good and noirish, though overall eccentric. There are moments when shots are done at oddball angles, and the question might be, "Why?" But they keep the attention. And that's what movies are all about.

The Struggle

Really excellent early Thomas Ince produced drama/Western
Last night I decided to re-visit an early drama/Western, "The Struggle" (1913), a Thomas Ince produced and directed film with Elmer Morrow, Richard Stanton, E. H. Allen, and others, including an unnamed lead female whose name seems not to be known. This became the stuff of potboilers for decades, but this is an early example of a story really well told. It opens with Morrow as a youngster, perhaps just entering his teen years (and played by an unnamed actor) who goes out with his father to help his father, leaving his sister inside to do chores in a shack that has few amenities except the love that the inhabitants put as an aura around it. While out, a stranger comes to visit, evidently asking for a meal. He's a dusty traveler, and he tries to ingratiate himself to the sister, but after a meal instead begins to try to make love to her. She tries to resist, but is forced to scream for help, which her son hears as he returns for something to take back to the work he and his father are doing. The son tries to interfere and help his mother, but is unable to fend off a vicious attack, but he escapes, runs back to his father who comes back to help his wife, but then is killed by the stranger who also beats up the son. Five years later we see a grown son who's now a scout for the army. On a jaunt to town he goes into a saloon and runs into a drunk who causes a scene which Morrow tries to smooth over by acceding to the drunk's request for "just one more". While inside a fight breaks out among four card players, one of whom Morrow recognizes as the man who accosted his mother and killed his father five years before. During the scuffle, someone shoots the man Morrow recognizes as his father's killer. Unfortunately, Morrow is accused of the murder, and the sheriff comes to take him to justice.

The next section deals with Morrow on the loose and having to fight Apaches on the warpath who try to take his life. Though this all sounds clichéd today, this must have been very exciting to early 20th century filmgoers only twenty to thirty years removed from incidents that actually occurred like this one. Of course, the pitting of white settlers against native tribes was already a trope in the early 1910s and before, and this would become a staple for Western films for decades in the future. This film is only about 30 minutes long, so three reels approximately, but it takes the story in directions that had only been touched upon a little in the few years before in which such themes had been shown.

After this battle, Morrow is again in the clutches of the sheriff, but now both are attacked by the Apaches. All the while this is going on, we have Morrow's girl, played by the anonymous actress, wondering what can be done to save her innocent guy. Her father is the commandant of the fort of soldiers in the surrounding area. He is seemingly helpless in his ability to save Morrow. Just as Morrow and the sheriff are about to be killed by the Apaches, soldiers from the fort show up to save them. Meanwhile, a dying man has confessed on his deathbed that he killed the man in the fight in the bar. A signed confession is rushed to the fort as the injured sheriff and Morrow are being helped after their battle with the Apache renegades.

The story sounds perhaps trite, but upon my watching this for the second time seems even better than before. It's well told, well directed, and the scenery is rough and tough and very real, the kind of mise-en-scene that Broncho Billy Anderson used in his early Westerns and the kind of thing one eventually saw, too, in the films of William S. Hart only a couple of years later. Thomas Ince in his early films did a remarkable job of simply giving great entertainment value to his customers. The acting still had some touches of nineteenth century histrionics, but for the most part these actors do a very commendable job. Well worth the watch!

Produced by the Broncho Film company for distribution by Mutual Films.

The Hidden Way

Excellent drama, well-acted, with a moral; Santschi and Carr in particular are superb!
"The Hidden Way" (1926) is a spiritual driven drama that is beautifully realized for putting across its message with an extremely well-acted drama wrapped around it. If there's hokum at all, it's wrapped up wholly in the character played by Ned Sparks - Mulligan - a slick and unreformed pickpocket whose breezy way and cigar chewing demeanor almost caricature a stand-up comic, one you love to watch when you should be watching out. Sparks is fun nevertheless, even though we know he's just no good. Then there are two just released prisoners from the nearby prison, Tom Santschi and Arthur Rankin. They'd perhaps like to go straight, but... Then the leads, Mary Carr - as Mother - and Gloria Grey - as Mary - are the propelling forces of the plot. Mary is trapped on board a runaway wagon with a bolting, spooked horse and is "saved" by Santschi and Rankin. This leads to their being given temporary residence and food with Carr and Grey. Meanwhile, Sparks shows up to make the men a threesome. They plot and they plot to get money out of a jar so they can split it. Then it's discovered that there's a natural spring on the property. They plot and they plot to make it a profit making venture. They try to "fix" the water to give it character enough to make it a legitimate "spring water" for safe consumption at sale. What they don't realize, but discover too late, is that the water was already good enough. Now there are three more characters to introduce. One of them is Jane Thomas, a woman with a baby who becomes a part of the group, a group that is in constant flux because Mother always - always - always accepts the needy for either supper or even lodging for a while. Then there's the father and son duo, Wilbur Mack and William Ryno, businessmen (though one of them's a sharpie), and one of whom is the father of Thomas' baby, though he won't pay any alimony and, well...a creep.

Mother here is biblical. She often is seen reading scripture to lead her life in the way the scriptures prescribe. It's not something that "interferes" with the plot driven drama of the characters, but, frankly, it's the "message" that Ida Mae Park, the author of the play and the script for the film wished her director-husband, Joseph de Grasse to leave with the viewer. It's not necessarily done subtly, but it's also not shoved down the viewers throat. Indeed, the acting is so top notch that the "message" is received much like reading an essay of Emerson. If you don't wish to read it - if you don't wish to watch - you can turn away and not be any the wiser. Too bad for you.

Tom Santschi and Mary Carr are both particularly outstanding. Santschi has several layers to his performance. Remembered especially for his characterization in films like "3 Bad Men", directed by John Ford, he shows he had multiple gifts for his profession when allowed to show them. Mary Carr was "Mother", or a character of a mother, in a long host of films. Here she seamlessly fits her ability to the rôle and makes it utterly genuine. Well worth the watch; although the younger set may find the underlying moral purpose trying in the aura of today's feature films and their content.

The Mystic Hour

Cheapie with some good stunts. Only lasts for one hour. Won't hurt even if it bites.
"The Mystic Hour" (1934) stars Charles Hutchison, a renowned Hollywood stuntman famous for his motorcycle riding, especially in serials such as "Lightning Hutch" (1926). Here he's the lead in a grade "B" cheapie made by Reliable Pictures, with co-stars Lucille Powers, Montagu Love, Charles Middleton, Edith Thornton, Eddie Phillips, and Jimmy Aubrey. You can understand how cheap this is by its television re-title of years later, "At Twelve Midnight", signaling something ominous and imminent. This has crooks galore, and from the beginning we're not sure who all the crooks are, but by the middle everybody but the girls seem to be law-breakers or schemers of the worst sort. Hutch loves Powers, but her guardian doesn't think he's the right guy. Why? People begin being bumped off. Hutch is up to be bumped off. Can he overcome all the obstacles? Will this end the way it should? Is the Pope Catholic? I've seen worse, but, boy-o, it's cheap. Hutch is a pretty good actor, though he's not very charismatic. Powers isn't much. She made 11 features and 1 short in five years. Charles Middleton was in serials to the point you'd think he was in every one ever made. Usually a baddie in some shiny other world suit with a mask or a helmet. Now, Montagu Love...there's talent; and he makes this thing actually very watchable. He and stunts by Hutch - some of them really amazing - make this watchable when it probably shouldn't be. It only lasts for one hour exactly. Directed by Melville De Lay: he only directed 2 movies including this one, but was assistant director on 113 films!

Murder on Lenox Avenue

Better than most "race films", as they were known; has limitations, but well worth the watch...
"Murder on Lenox Avenue" (1941) is a Harlem based "race film" starring Mamie Smith, Alec Lovejoy, Norman Astwood, Augustus Smith, Alberta Perkins, Edna Mae Harris, Sidney Easton, and many others. This tries to do too many things for its own good, but compared to many of this ilk, this is actually pretty good. Acting is severely stage-bound; so is cinematography, which honestly at times is stagnant. Opening scene is a nice montage, with odd angles, etc., but photography for the most part is claustrophobic and uncreative. Story regards the black race and white grifting and grafting, the rise of black business in a black community, but mostly this is about a black man who promises women his love and forfeits his promises over and over, leading to one pregnancy and suicide and eventually...well, that would be a spoiler.

Fascinating from an historical view. Not the best film ever made, but certainly better than a lot of others of its type that were made almost strictly for black theaters in black neighborhoods and starring nearly an all-black cast and made on the cheap-cheap. Music here alone would make this worthwhile. It's performed off-the-cuff, actually raw in some numbers with mistakes and all, though the jazz numbers with Smith and one or two others are quite okay, if not smooth. Musical numbers pervade the film. For the record, though I'm not sure it's really accurate, Mamie Smith has been listed as "the first recorded American female black blues artist." In 1920 she recorded "Crazy Blues".

Lights of Old Broadway

Wonderful vehicle for Davies! Loads of fun, well done on all accounts.
"Lights of Old Broadway" (1925) stars Marion Davies and Conrad Nagel. Davies plays twins whose mother dies on the way over to America on a ship, and now the twins are separated by being given to two different families, one a very poor Irish immigrating family and the other a very wealthy American banking family. Based on the stage play "The Merry Wives of Gotham", this is told in rip-snorting style, with Davies as the Irish lassie now a star in an earthy burlesque (not strip!) joint in a tough section of NYC around 1870. She's also (as her twin) the respectable, slightly uppity daughter of banker Frank Currier and his wife Julia Swayne Gordon. Eventually the two meet, of course, but do they ever figure out who they are? Is it necessary that they do? It's the DNA and how it makes the girls behave when together that counts!

Conrad Nagel plays the son of banker Currier, and he falls madly in love with the poor squatter, the Irish lass Fely O'Tandy. Of course this starts a rumpus which drives the wheels of the film; that, and the fact that Currier wishes to drive off the squatters, all the Irish and other immigrant souls who've squatted on a certain piece of land. Of course, too, the O'Tandy's live on that land.

Wonderful bit of hokum! It's loads of fun watching Davies and her Irish father, Charles McHugh, battle their way through all of the plotting before them. This new release from Kino-Lorber is superb! Tinted, with at least one handschiegl scene and Technicolor in a couple of others, this is an absolutely beautiful restoration. Very highly recommended!

For the record, you'll love seeing Teddy Roosevelt as a young boy, Tom Edison trying to market his "sound machine", and all the references to lighting the streets of the downtown city with electric arc lamps as opposed to gas. The last figures prominently in the plot of the film. Tony Pastor and Weber and Fields are also integrated into the plot. If you look closely, you'll see Karl Dane, George K. Arthur, and even Mary Gordon in small or insignificant parts. Matthew Betz has one scene as the leader of a plot against those who would move the squatters from their property.

Pier 23

Lesser programmer. Hugh Beaumont is Beaver's dad, not really a detective...ah, hum...but Mike Mazurki's always good!
"Pier 23" (1951) was the third of three Dennis O'Brien mystery feature films released the same year with Hugh Beaumont, each separated at one-half hour so that two episodes of O'Brien solving cases could be had in a quick hour. These were obviously originally planned as a television series of half-hour shows which didn't happen. Beaver's father gets to be almost tiring, watching him get beat up in every episode, chase after broads that nobody would dare have, even as left-over fodder, because they're so duplicitous, fend his way through his live-in whatever ex-professor Edward Brophy's lexicographical bull, and fend off Richard Travis's bad-ass detective cop who always thinks him guilty of murder twice or more during each show.

This one is the best of the three. It's dialogue sounds like an old radio program, though thirties dime novels did it better. Beaumont is still Beaver's dad, and watching him do these is like genuinely trying to make Groucho be Clark Gable. Can be done in a comedy routine, but if played seriously sounds like Groucho playing Carole Lombard and not her husband. This one has Ann Savage, Margia Dean, and Mike Mazurki. Mazurki makes this one definitely worthwhile. I got to see Mazurki two nights in a row. I'd seen him the night before in another film. Now that's good watchin'. He's so good when he's bad, and combine him with Ann Savage and that's some detour. I know: ta-dum.

Average at best. I'm glad I've seen all three and can now give these away. Hey, the three altogether were less than $5. For a Scotsman, that's a bargain with butter.

Roaring City

Decent programmer that was probably originally going to be a TV series...Acting by actresses is amateurish...gangsterish dialogue is actually ludicrous.
"Roaring City" (1951) was the second of three "Dennis O'Brien" mystery films starring Hugh Beaumont. Actually, each of the three has two parts, each a half-hour segment episode that somewhat obviously was supposed to be part of a planned television series which didn't materialize. They're all actually pretty decent little shows, though the dialogue is such that Dashiell Hammett would have had to use a sledgehammer to cut the radio-style gangsterese down to size. In this "feature", as in all of them, Ed Brophy is a drunken partner - a live-in - an ex-professor whose own dialogue is basically nothing but ten dollar gibberish to say anything. It's the humor of these pieces, and it's okay, but that's about it; and Richard Travis is a cop who constantly tries to pin the murders that ubiquitously occur on O'Brien, but in the end has to admit defeat and be "glad" O'Brien helped him - I guess. Joan Valerie, Wanda McKay, and Rebel Randall fill out the female bills in the two episodes which occur here. Bad girls, all of them. Valerie and McKay give rather poor performances. Randall is better. Anthony Warde, Greg McClure, William Tannen, Abner Biberman, and a couple of others are all complicit in being bad. Mediocre stuff, but easy to watch anyway. Directed by William Berke.

Devil's Squadron

Excellent action film! Dix in top form, aerial stunts really fun to watch.
I've had a Richard Dix film on hold for months now. It's about fliers - test pilots, to be exact. Margaret just won't watch flying films, so I held off. I now have seen "Devil's Squadron" (1936) and it's a super film! The title refers to the fact that these test pilots, working for a company that makes planes with the aim of a military contract for many planes, have a good probability of dying on the job because the planes are aerodynamically experimental and very dangerous until proved not so, or conformed eventually to be safe and sound and fit and a challenge to all competitors, whether in the United States or those countries against whom they were made to defend.

Co-starring Lloyd Nolan, Karen Morley, Shirley Ross, Henry Mollison, Gene Morgan, Gordon Jones, Thurston Hall, and others, this one is great action from the beginning to the end. The stunt flying is, quite frankly, unbelieveable! However, there are miniatures in many parts, too. But - as opposed to ships and back-lit scenes of automobiles and other things used ubiquitously during those days, these are exceptional. The comedy in the love scenes gets monotonous and over-the-top, but it's only a minuscule part of the plot and screen time - thankfully. The action scenes possibly will be complained about as clichéd - yeah, we know that's going to happen probably - but they're so well done as to be utterly enjoyable. The action's quick and intense. The parts are well done, though, as mentioned, the comedy, especially by Gordon Jones, is grating. Karen Morley, an actress I particularly admire, is wonderful and real here. Shirley Ross gets to sing. Very enjoyable. Dix is particularly excellent in this one. Reserved until needed, but when needed, tough and a good showman. Recommended for sure.

Nightmare Alley

Ty Power's finest hour! A gripping, slow-starter that has you glued to it by the end.
"Nightmare Alley" (1947) stars Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Mike Mazurki, Ian Keith, and Taylor Holmes. The new Blu-Ray release from Criterion Collection is so pristine as to look as if it has never been shown! Now, this is described as film-noir, and it is in many ways, but, frankly, this is a psychological thriller that, almost with Hitchcockian timing, takes its time to step in each of the directions Edmund Goulding was leading it. Ty Power plays a carny utterly against typicity and becomes a manipulative, scheming, gruesome character right before our eyes; but, the wings is Helen Walker... Joan Blondell is outstanding as a carny with a penchant for mentalism - fake, of course - but she also reads tarot cards with a seeming ability beyond luck. She's also one who wants Tyrone Power to succeed because her husband, Ian Keith, is now alcoholic and unreliable; so, she teaches Power the code... Then there's Colleen Gray. She's in the carnival in an act with Mike Mazurki, a hulk who's more than protective of her. Then...then there's Helen Walker, a "psychologist" who...well, you watch and see how she fits the noir bill.

It took some time to get used to seeing Power in such a rôle, but once you realize he's phenomenal you're hooked. The entire cast is flawless; the script one that draws you in like a creepy magnet; the direction slow but sure; the photography gritty, gripping, and purposefully slick.

For those who've never seen Tyrone Power sink his teeth into a dramatic rôle that had to be very challenging, and then do it superbly - except, perhaps the prior year's "The Razor's Edge" or his last major dramatic rôle, "Witness for the Prosecution", this will be a wake-up beyond expectation. Without question, his finest performance, even surpassing "Witness for the Prosecution". Blondell is equally gripping in a part that asks for straight drama of the highest order. Helen Walker will open eyes with her icy beauty and chilling performance. Who stands out above all the rest is Colleen Gray who is startlingly great in a very difficult rôle as one who loves Power, gets married to him, then... Ian Keith as an alcoholic could have won a Best Supporting Actor award. Some may expect the ending, but it will haunt the viewer anyway. This is very highly recommended!

The Last Warning

Fun film! Old dark house style, but in the theater; basically "The Cat and the Canary" again...
"The Last Warning" (1928) was Paul Leni's last film as director before his untimely death from sepsis at the age of 44. Starring Laura La Plante, Montague Love, John Boles, Margaret Livingston, Roy D'Arcy, and a host of other pre-eminent silent film actors of the day, this film continues in the vein of "The Cat and the Canary" (1927), another Leni film starring Laura La Plante. Based on a successful 1922 play, the film opens on a stage play where John Woodford (D'Arcy Corrigan) is on stage reaching for a candle, but dies as the mechanical candle electrocutes Woodford. Now, the play is halted, police called in, and, after a series of several hectic and quickly moved-through scenes, the body disappears, never to be seen again. Five years later, a "producer", Montague Love, decides to re-open the theater - which had been closed in the interim - and re-stage the same play Woodford had been killed performing in, and now have the same cast perform the play for the re-opening of the theater. Roy D'Arcy will replace Woodford in that part and John Boles will replace D'Arcy in his old part. Well, D'Arcy is nearly electrocuted during a rehearsal; then seemingly disappears! Boles replaces D'Arcy, and the play opens that night! Near the scene where the candle is to be reached for and grabbed, the police - a group of at least 10 and perhaps a couple of unsuspected persons who might be the police - are ready for anything.

The photography; that is, the movement of the camera, what it captures and how, is how Leni made his reputation. He'd done remarkable things with films like "Hintertreppe" (1921), "Waxworks" (1924) and "The Man Who Laughs" (1928). Hal Mohr was Leni's cinematographer on this shoot, and the fluidity and creative shooting is what makes this film a cinematic masterpiece. The story is rather "old dark house", and it's fun, with comic touches and dramatic incident, but it's the deft direction and smart editing, along with a cast of pros, that makes this film something to enjoy and wish to come back to in the future.

There were a few sound scenes added to the original release that are no longer extant. The restored version is quite good, though a few scratches here and there, especially near the beginning and end, are evident. My print is the European restored one from Eureka Masters of Cinema. I needed to re-set my Blu-Ray to Region 2 to play it. It didn't do it automatically.

The opening and closing scenes have been described as 'kaleidoscopic', and that is a perfect description. Wonderful cinematography and editing throughout make this a wonderful experience over 90 years after release! Highly recommended. Among others in the remarkable cast are Burr McIntosh, Bert Roach, Mack Swain, Slim Summerville, and Carrie Daumery.

Das Wachsfigurenkabinett

Restored version is spectacularly gorgeous! Still, the film overall is dull, though beautifully acted, directed, photographed; sets are the star.
I watched the recent (2019) release in the Eureka Masters of Cinema series, "Waxworks" (1924) (originally titled "Wachsfigurenkabinett"), directed by Paul Leni, with William Dieterle, Olga Belajeff, Emil Jannings, Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, Georg John, Ernst Legal, and John Gottowt. An original German release print no longer exists, so this was put together from several other prints, especially the British release, the intertitles of which were the basis for the reconstructed English titles here. Unfortunately, the original was probably at least 20-25 minutes longer, but only the final part of the three part story is truncated in any major way. What's unfortunate about that, however, is the fact that the final segment is by far the most creative and interesting.

The restoration is spectacular, with gorgeous tinting and very sharp and clear photography of magnificent expressionistic sets definitely derivative and showily imitative of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920). The plot begins in a carnival where a waxwork display needs stories to tell about the characters represented, the Caliph of Bagdad, Harun al Raschid (Emil Jannings), Ivan the Terrible, Czar (Conrad Veidt), and Spring-Heeled Jack, aka Jack the Ripper (Werner Krauss). William Dieterle plays the writer/poet hired to come up with stories which can be told about the characters in wax to glorify them with horror enough to open the eyes of the patron viewers. Dieterle also plays a baker to the Caliph, a Russian Prince during the Ivan the Terrible segment, and the dreamer of the dream during the Ripper segment. During all these segments Olga Belajeff is the female foil.

The show is so very derivative of "The Cabinet of Caligari" as to be slightly dull to those who might have seen its inspiring film. The first segment is too long and too slow. The second is slow, too, though Veidt is without question captivating with his magnetic eyes. The last segment is unbelievably imaginative for 1923/4, but, as mentioned, is now only surviving in a truncated version. Its use of multiple exposure is dream-like as it represents exactly that, a dream. The photography overall is the driving force for watching the film. Beautifully done by cinematographer Helmar Lerski, it perfectly imitates "Caligari", and even more so captures the bizarre rapture of the sets.

Though perfectly acted, aptly directed, photographed to perfection, the overall complex of the film is still dull. It's not stultifying in any sense, but, were it not considered in the framework of 1924 and silent film, this would only be a 5/6 out of 10. As it is, I'd rate it 8 stars out of 10. Jannings is always so good in his films, but here he just gets to be a fat Caliph who acts the fat Caliph with intents that are obvious, movements that are clichéd, and a story that's told as if to children, but heard before by the adults accompanying them. Veidt is marvelous, but we wonder what the point of the story is. The last story - well, it's told quickly because it's truncated. Who knows? It's still the best.

Devil's Playground

Would have been rated higher if writing hadn't been so diffuse...the definition of potboiler, and a decent one in some respects...
"The Devil's Playground" (1937) is the definition of potboiler. It's a romance/drama/adventure/sailor/submarine/two-timing/buddy movie starring Richard Dix, Delores Del Rio, Chester Morris, and many others, from Lionel Hampton to Ward Bond. Pierre Watkin (listed in the credits as Watkins) plays the submarine captain, and it's a riot seeing Si Jenks playing the telephone installation man in his old-timer mining hat and beard and pipe that he wore in countless Westerns and other films. This is basically a re-make of 1928's "Submarine", a film that was re-made again in 1931 as "Fifty Fathoms Deep", both of which starred Jack Holt. The devil in this version is probably Del Rio as she proudly and ferociously devours men, even marrying Dix, then carrying on with his pal Morris when Dix is away, then...well, I'll leave it at that. The submarine scenes are intense and extremely well-played. The first twenty minutes or so move slowly and don't really get anywhere, or so it seems. A quicker editing, or cutting(s) would have helped immensely. Once the action really begins where Dix, the navy's best deep sea diver, is needed to rescue stranded submarine personnel, including his buddy, Morris, then the show moves like greased lightning. The end nearly seems tacked on. Generally a-jumble, this is edited poorly. Del Rio is super as a bad girl! Morris steals all acting honors. Dix seems very laid back, even bored. I've got him in a few '37 movies, and he's the same in all of them. Don't quite understand (?).

It was a fun movie, but believe it or not, at 74 minutes was 10 minutes too long! Del Rio was worth the watch, if only the writing had been more integrated and less diffuse...

The Wheel of Life

Absolutely awful! Esther Ralston's performance is unwatchable. Dix with a script so bad it's...well...

"Warming Up" (1928) had both a music and sound effects track and "The Love Doctor" (1929) was made as both a silent and a sound release. Then "Nothing But the Truth" (1929) was a totally sound release. Other than these three, Richard Dix had been a successful silent film actor, and now was one of Paramount's top draw performers. The sound film and sound acting were both in their infant stages, and not every film in '28-'29'-'30 was out of the creaks yet. Indeed, films into the early '30s, especially those made by producers on the excruciatingly cheap, many times lacked the consummate flow that late silent films had achieved; some creaked so badly that today they're nearly impossible to watch. So was my experience last night. With headliners Richard Dix and Esther Ralston, and accomplished silent second bananas O. P. Heggie, Nigel de Brulier, Arthur Hoyt, and Myrtle Stedman, along with up and coming pros like Regis Toomey, I thought "The Wheel of Life" (1929) held some good potential. To sum it up quickly, it disappointed on two accounts: (1) a script so banal on a theme seen over and over and over, and (2) Esther Ralston's absolutely embarrassingly bad performance (she gave a silent film acting performance with stilted and over-emoted body movements, especially her arms, and delivered her lines as if she were reading them from a teleprompter somewhere - awful!).

About a soldier who, on leave, saves a woman from committing suicide. Turns out she was going to do that because she'd agreed to marry a man twice her age because he was so nice. The man turns out to be Dix's commanding officer. When Dix returns to find his commanding officer's wife is the lady he saved - well, what's he to do? Quit the regiment he's been in for 12 years, of course! Go somewhere else. But, no... He can't do that. Oops, here come the foes to the fort! Look out, it's curtains! Will the commanding officer die so that Dix can have Ralston? Does the Wheel of Life mean that we'll be reincarnated and live again and again. What? I didn't mention that that theme all of a sudden comes into the film? Oh, I'm sorry...

Had enough? I couldn't wait for this short 55 minute (seemed like 2½ hours) film to be over and done with. Even if you're a completist, especially for Dix (whom I greatly admire almost always!), or you really want to see the transition from silent to sound - avoid this film. It's just bad altogether. Directed by Victor Schertzinger from a script by John Farrow (and two others), all of them could and would do much, much, much better work.

The Crowd

Truly a great film, but one of the most depressing films ever made
It's been thirty-five years since I last saw "The Crowd" (1928) with James Murray and Eleanor Boardman. Maybe I'll still be alive in another thirty-five to see if I wish to watch it again. It's an extremely well-made film, but it so depresses me that I just don't like it. It's an American slice of life in the late twenties when people went to the Big Apple to become successes. Well, Murray does exactly that, but his lack of connecting and genuinely challenging himself; his self-absorption and race-into-life and do what feels good gets him a wife and two children, but his naivete and can't-get-over-his-childhood-trauma with the loss of his father and perhaps a lack of direction following puts him in a position to fail. What's so irritating to me, more than anything else, though, is his in-laws. Murray doesn't have the balls to stand up their bullying. It gets him into more trouble than it's worth. He nearly loses everything in his existence he has. I'll leave it there. Again, King Vidor does a meticulous job of directing; almost too meticulous. It stretches the pain excruciatingly.

Murray's performance is superb. Boardman's is almost as if she were living the character. Her mother is played by Lucy Beaumont and her two brothers by Dell Henderson and Daniel G. Tomlinson. Murray's friend is Bert Roach in a straight part that really shows a depth when one is used to his drunk characters in so many films later. He isn't much better at being sober here, but the tenor of the part is very different. Look for Sally Eilers in a throwaway part. Famous film, and justifiably so, and nominated for 2 Oscars, Best director and Best Picture. Won neither.

Winner Take All

Fast moving Pre-Code; Cagney in excellent form, but he's no angel! Ginny Bruce is gorgeous; Marian Nixon in fine fettle.
"Winner Take All" (1932) is Jimmy Cagney in the Pre-Code mode par excellence. He's a professional fighter who sees too many women, smokes, and drinks to excess. Too much of everything for the good of himself in the ring - or any concentration about such. He's sent off to what amounts to a sanitorium in New Mexico to calm down, concentrate, and get back into mental shape to be able to fight again. No women, no smoking, no drinking, no... But...he meets Marian Nixon, a widow with a small child (Dickie Moore). He falls for her, and she falls for him. Eventually, he needs to go back to New York and Madison Square Garden and get back into the ring. He does. Meanwhile, while he's on a huge winning streak, he meets Virginia Bruce. Now, Ginny Bruce in this 1932 drama/romance is about as alluring as I've ever seen her. She's stunningly beautiful, and she's a diamond hard, glistening piece of tease ice. Cagney falls for this high-class, wealthy, spoiled society Arctic winter, and she says that she's fallen for him, too. Only, to her, he's only a plaything. Cagney doesn't realize this. He comes from the earth; she's from somewhere in the ether. He discovers a little too late that he can't make the ethersphere his sphere. Meanwhile, Nixon's discovered his two-timing and is heart-broken. I won't mention the ending because I shouldn't. However, the way it ends makes this in toto the definition of Pre-Code. It may end on the right note, but getting there wouldn't have been allowed for a 1934 release after June...

Fun film, but Cagney's not the nicest guy here. But...what an actor! He just didn't make a bad one in those early days. Moves like there's steam coming out of the vents. Also has Guy Kibbee, Clarence Muse, Alan Mowbray, John Roche, and others. What's really fascinating is an insert scene from Texas Guinan's night club - a genuine scene - and guess who's conducting the night club orchestra? George Raft. He looks to be about twenty! Actually, this snippet is from another movie (!), Raft's first, and now a lost film, "Queen of the Night Clubs" (1929).

Riders of the Purple Sage

If it were as good as the 1925 silent with Tom Mix, I'd have given this 10 stars; still, it's a superb Western! Great action!
After about a twenty-five year stretch I re-watched "Riders of the Purple Sage" (1931) with George O'Brien. I'm a great fan of the 1925 silent with Tom Mix, a Western that really showcased the best of Mix and the silent Western. O'Brien stars along with Marguerite Churchill, Noah Beery, Sr., Yvonne Pelletier, James Todd, Stanley Fields, Frank McGlynn, Jr., and others. The photography in many places is absolutely superb! The story is exciting and well mounted by director Lynn Reynolds. All the actors give very high caliber performances. If one is familiar with the 1925 version, the story will slightly disappoint because it doesn't give enough early material to focus just who Lassiter (O'Brien) is, or why he's the man he is now, or what his purpose of being where he is - is. Nevertheless, the way the story's told here makes the mystery of Lassiter really play out, and O'Brien is just the man for the part. He gives a great performance. The show only lasts 56 minutes, and it's 56 minutes crammed full of good action wrapped around a really great story. The one disappointment for me - and I'm comparing it again with the 1925 silent - is that the secret valley is barely seen at all, and nothing like the ideal place it was made to seem to be in the silent. Oh, well, it is still a wonderful Western, one of O'Brien's best! Recommended for those who love the oaters.


It Happened in Soho

So bad it's, not really...but I'd watch it because it should have been...
"It Happened in Soho" (1948) stars Richard Murdoch, Henry Oscar, Patricia Raine, Paul Demel, John Bailey, Eunice Gayson, and others. This grade Z film, even though it is such, is still otherwise very interesting, but it's SO badly made! Whoever edited this - well, didn't! The director was asleep MOST of the time, but not all the time. The actors do what they can with the material - which isn't necessarily bad. It's the way it's put together. And that music... What was someone thinking? Oh, that's right, they weren't.

Yes, this takes place in Soho. Soho in 1948 was a rough place. For its time, very rough. You'd barely know it based on the film. The action...I'll use the word loosely...takes place almost entirely in a café run by Paul Demel, an immigrant from somewhere based on his accent. Many of the patrons are prostitutes or former ones. Some are pretty and some are much more than just a little faded. Then there's the artist/caricaturist. He's a former medical student/dropout, or so he says, John Bailey... The main character is Richard Murdoch, an optimistic cynic, whose demeanor throughout just...doesn' the character as written. He's very good, but I'd have chosen someone more like the American actor Dana Andrews. Instead, the character Murdoch plays is more like a very serious Herbert Anderson who played Dennis the Menace's father in the 1950s/60s television series. He even looks a tad like him. The main female of the piece is Patricia Raine. She just drops out of the sky into this Soho café in the middle of the night from a date with someone she had to get away from - and she's from the country - and ends up in the picture for the rest of it, staying with Eunice Gayson, probably a prostitute, as though this kind of thing happens every second of the day. Gayson offers her the place to stay, food on the house, just stay and make yourself at home... Uh, huh...

Two murders occur. It even looks as if Murdoch may be the murderer at a crucial moment. Is he? Well, if you can stand it, watch. You'll enjoy seeing Soho in '48, I'll grant you that. HOWEVER, be warned that most of the shots outside showing the tours of Soho - which are eccentrically edited into this film! - are done at night with lighting that is so dim you can barely see the scene!! It wasn't my DVD; that's the way it's shot. Just for charity, I'll give this one 4 stars out of 10. It's a 1 star film, but it has potential that just wasn't realized with the finished product. The potential's so good that it makes it worth the watch for some. Are you one of those?

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