mmipyle

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Reviews

Back Pay
(1922)

Very good early Borzage directed film from Fannie Hurst novel. Seena Owen excellent in lead!
"Back Pay" (1922) stars Seena Owen, Matt Moore, J. Barney Sherry, Ethel Duray, Charles Craig, Jerry Sinclair, and others. Directed by Frank Borzage and based on a novel by Fannie Hurst, this has every single element of a Hurst plot in spades! It also shows Borzage gaining a genuine grip on his métier, a mature love story with overlying romantic idealism clouding reality, making a savory plot forced to be mixed with sweetness, something modern audiences may find slightly saccharine, but put in context with the mores of the 1920s and 1930s makes the mix rich with sophistication. What it lacks in cynicism it makes up in a nobility that seemingly has gone away from most modern productions. Borzage at his height becomes an auteur. "Back Pay" is at the beginning of Borzage's rise to prominence.

The blocking is played much like a large stage production, with nearly all close shots having actors turn toward the audience to react to a counterpart so that we can see all reaction, sometimes even speaking, when the reality would be face to face conversation. The blocking would not be thought about by an audience in 1922, but has some curiosity today that sometimes puts it out of place.

Seena Owen does a magnificent job in the lead rôle of an outlying town (read small town) girl who is far enough away from the big city (New York) to feel a thousand miles away from any modern day "action", from parties to dancing - and especially...Mammon...money, wealth enough to have anything she wants, from clothes to cars to...and this is the catcher...what?...what will satisfy her needs? Does she really know? She has a suitor, Matt Moore, just a good guy, a nice guy, a simple guy, who loves her more than anything else, who wishes to marry her and give her what he can. She loves him, too, but not enough to not want the money, the parties, the cars, the...what?

She goes to New York, meets a man of Wall Street, a much older man, J. Barney Sherry, a very street-wise, ultra sophisticated, but smarmy sugar daddy whose god is Mammon and whose soul is either missing or now in the hands of fallen angels. He gives Owen anything she wants - up to a point. She claims she has a "crepe-de-chine" soul. But she learns that Moore has been wounded in WWI, and he comes home blind and with only weeks to live. It's been more than five years since she left the small town in which she formerly lived. She's now bored to tears with her life, but doesn't know how to give it up. She goes to see Moore... Here a reformation begins, but I'll not give the plot: it's the film after all. It's Borzage.

Really good piece of film-making! There are moments of antiqueness in acting technique, but they are few and far between. Direction is impeccable for its day, though slightly hindered by some sets. Art direction is perfunctory, but especially good in the country scenes. Owen, Moore, and Barney Sherry, two of them (Owen and Sherry) former Griffith actors, are really quite good. This restored silent, part of a Kickstarter restoration project, is nicely presented on DVD by Undercrank Productions video. A very nice piano score written for this restoration accompanies the film.

Recommended. 88 minutes.

On Paper Wings
(2008)

What you probably would never know about the US being attacked at home during WWII!
"On Paper Wings" (2008) is a documentary about something most people never would know occurred. In the middle months of 1945, when Japan was realizing that they were not winning WWII, a number of Japanese school girls, ranging in age from as young as 7, and basically only to an age of little more than 10, were conscripted to make the foundation balloons for large craft balloons that would be connected to massive pyrotechnic devices which would explode when the balloons would come down onto land at their final destination. There were approximately 900 of these made; they were then launched, and they drifted toward the United States' West coast. Several made it there, and, in fact, at least one drifted as far as Minnesota. A couple of them exploded with devastating results. The United States military has only released information on a couple of the ones that exploded. How many actually did may never be known. How many actually made it here may never be known. The families who suffered - those whose members and relatives were killed - were forbidden to talk about the occurrences. Absolutely forbidden! As a result, Japan thought that their attempt had failed, and they then ceased to try to send any more balloons to explode in America. Only a couple of months later Nagasaki and Hiroshima occurred, and the war ended.

This documentary is fascinating because it shows a reconciliation among the members of the families whose members were killed in Oregon and the actual ladies who were forced in Japan to make the balloons - those young school girls, most of whom never knew their project had had some success. This reconciliation took place approximately 40 years after the balloons killed those in Oregon. The documentary shows much of the meeting between the two groups, and it interviews several of the ladies - on both sides. The attack is considered the only on-land attack in the US by a foreign invader during WWII.

My sister-in-law, Judith Hassen, participated in the making of this documentary and is given two credits at the end. She was once a member of the staff of Klamath, Oregon Museum.

Finding this documentary may not be an easy thing; however, its little more than an hour length is worth the time if you have an interest in WWII and things that are kept very secret from the public.

The Valley of Silent Men
(1922)

Breathtaking photography in this early Frank Borzage directed film. Exciting, if preposterous; but highly recommended!
"The Valley of Silent Men" (1922), directed by Frank Borzage, starring Alma Rubens, Lew Cody, Joe King, Mario Majeroni, George Nash, and Jack W. Johnston, and based on a novel by James Oliver Curwood, is a super, exciting action drama that takes place on the boundaries of Quebec and Ontario, and was filmed in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada, Banff National Park in Alberta, with some interior scenes filmed at Lake Louise in Alberta. The scenery is absolutely spectacular! The film is missing somewhere in the vicinity of 2 reels of its original 7. Although some continuity, as a result, is not as fluid as it should be, this restoration (part of a Kickstarter campaign) has put in connecting intertitles based on Curwood's novel, and the interruptions are nicely bridged. Near the end, however, where the climax occurs, much missing footage that explains the outcome and reasoning for the happenings that have gone on has needed to be filled in with explanatory intertitles. That alone is disconcerting, but not enough to not enjoy the film overall. The restoration is actually quite well done and very much appreciated.

Alma Rubens shows up after we've seen Lew Cody shot and told he has only a couple of weeks to live. She moves into the home of the head Royal Canadian Mounted Police individual of the area, George Nash. At this point we not sure why. Cody's best friend, Joe King, is staying in the area, too, waiting for Cody to die. Another person has been found murdered, and Cody takes the blame, even though he didn't commit the murder. He thinks he's going to die, and he doesn't want his best friend to be accused of the murder. Suddenly, the doctor realizes he's made a mistake. Cody isn't going to die after all! Now Cody has to face a murder charge. Meanwhile, a couple of other murders occur. Cody and Alma Rubens escape together (for reasons not made immediately clear) to go to the Valley of Silent Men where they will probably not be found. The escape route is over a glacier. The photography during this escape attempt is breathtaking!

The plot makes sense, but the reality of the occurrence is simply nonsense and the stuff of fantasy and fiction. Indeed, the probability of a genuine escape the way it's shown is preposterous. BUT - the way this is filmed - especially for 1922 - is magnificent and really a fun watch. It keeps the viewer glued to the screen. Really enjoyed this film and the nice restoration. Music by Andrew Earle Simpson is an organ score which I wasn't sure about when the film began, but it accompanied the film extremely well! My compliments all around.

Very much recommended! This is an Undercrank Production release.

Palos brudefærd
(1934)

An arctic quasi-docudrama/drama that really hits the mark!
"The Wedding of Palo" (originally "Palos Brudefærd") (1934) is not technically a silent, but it is a film made in Greenland in the form of a docu-drama (though really only a drama with equally as much cultural anthropological/ethnographic feature) which has only a muted overlay of speaking featuring the natural speech of the arctic tribe studied by famed Danish explorer and anthropologist Knud Rasmussen. Nevertheless, the film plays much like a silent, and much of the film IS silent. The "plot" features two young men vying for the hand of the same woman. The "vying" ends up being done by "singing" satirical/sarcastic/insulting rhythmic words, aimed by one man against the other, then the other back against his "foe", though one of the men pulls a knife and... The story really then begins...

What attracted me most was that, though the "antics" and the doings were staged, the rowing of the kayaks in very obviously treacherous waters(!) was simply amazing!! Watching the kayaks and the umyaks being maneuvered in general was quite a treat, and though an obvious part of the lives of these people, is alien to most landlubbers in the middle of the States. A bear hunt also occurs among ice floes from a degrading glacier, and the filming is striking and beautifully done. In today's world, you may pull for the bear...

Photographed much like a documentary, the roughness and toughness of the whole (perhaps seemingly antiquated to many modern viewers) actually accentuates the filmography of this early "study", much in the mode of "Nanook of the North", "Eskimo", "The Silent Enemy", and others of the same ilk made in the same time period.

Absolutely worth the watch. This is on the "Nanook of the North" Blu-Ray with other shorts included besides this and "Nanook", released by Flicker Alley. Directed by German director Friedrich Dalsheim.

Casanova
(1927)

An absolute romp! Really fun - but - it's long, so beware...
"Casanova" (1927) is absolutely from start to finish a complete romp and a hoot. Starring Ivan Mosshukhin in the titular rôle, along with a huge cast of ladies, including Suzanne Bianchetti, Diana Karenne, Jenny Jugo, Rina De Liguoro, and many others, plus great extra character actors such as Rudolf Klein-Rogge, this is the supposed biography (read "fantasy") of the 18th century rake Giacomo Casanova. Some will find Mosshukhin's rendition somewhat too old for the actor, or his gaze a little perturbing, but overall he acquits himself very well. The star, even the story, are all secondary to the immense sets, the gorgeous scenery, the pomp, the circumstance, some of which is the finest I've ever seen in any film, silent or sound! The scene where Queen Catherine of Russia is led into her hall at a ball for her inauguration as Czaress, and those with her behind are carrying her robe train is incredible!! Her train must be thirty or thirty five feet long, and it's wide, a huge and heavy train. It's a marvelous and beautifully filmed episode.

This is the fairly recently restored version, now available through Flicker Alley. The IMDb says the film is 132 minutes long. This version is 159 minutes, and I guarantee that it seems it. Not to quibble, but I had to divide my viewing over two nights.

Certainly recommended for those who wish to be enthralled in a silent film that has so much to offer. It's light-heartedness completely charms, though the length sometimes makes one wonder if it will ever end. Go for it!

Within Our Gates
(1920)

Riveting introduction to initial black cinema from its seminal master, Oscar Micheaux!
"Within Our Gates" (1920) is an amazing "race film" whose quality I'd always heard was much less than the ordinary film of its day because of its barely existing budget and amateur performances from a nearly all-black group of actors and actresses. This sort of critique is utterly false and has been, in the last twenty years or so, lifted out of the morass of the word 'amateurish' into a studied and re-evaluated piece of superb movie making for its many constraints under which it was produced and finally released.

Directed by Oscar Micheaux, himself a fascinating character who wrote seven novels, produced movies, wrote movies, and directed them, the film is his first surviving feature film. His first feature, based on one of his novels, The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer, but called "The Homesteader", preceded WOG by one year, 1919, but unfortunately is seemingly no longer extant.

"Within Our Gates" has several layers of plot, but is no doubt best remembered for the latter one-third better than the rest. In its boundaries are a horrendous lynching of a family and the attempted rape of another daughter. The first part of the film, dealing with romance, thwarted romance, and the education of the black race in 1920 is equally interesting, but not nearly as riveting, except in pieces. Certainly the corrosive attitude of Micheaux regarding members of his own race, especially clergy, is more than eye-opening. The last named feature is taken up again in Micheaux's 1925 feature film, "Body and Soul" with even more corrosiveness.

The theme of education is obviously an exclusive interest of Micheaux. With the lead character's part Micheaux makes her a champion of black education, one trying to equal that of the white man. We see a leading white woman trying to help the lead character raise money to preserve a school, but her attempt to raise the money via another white woman is first thwarted when the white woman asks her for help trying to raise the money. The other white woman sneers at the suggestion by saying that blacks are only meant to be laborers and servants, that education will give them a headache! Later, however, the white woman asked by the lead character gives $50,000 of her own money and exonerates the thought of equal education. Nevertheless, Micheaux gets his digs in hard showing the attempt.

The film is deservedly one of the films preserved as a national treasure of film-making. Its original eight reels is now only about six, and there are obvious places where scenes that probably were there are now missing. No, the film is not perfect. There are one or two small continuity problems, and the editing shifts sometimes into slippery mode and jerky mode. Still, the film is riveting, and should be seen by all who enjoy the silent film. It is also a very fine foil to Griffith's "Birth of a Nation". It also should be considered in light of other 1920 films made in Hollywood. Comparisons in the past say that it just doesn't measure up. I've watched literally several thousand silent films. If it doesn't measure up to the top 10%, I'd have to agree. But that it doesn't measure up to those just under that 10% is just nonsense. If Micheaux had had $100,000 the film would be among the masterpieces produced before sound. As it now stands, condemnation at the time causing severe cuts due to censorship and just plain racial prejudice in society in general didn't give Micheaux the due he deserved.

The film stars Evelyn Preer, Flo Clements, James D. Ruffin, Jack Chenault, and others. Evelyn Preer's daughter, Sister Francesca Thompson, BA, MS, PhD, still alive at 90, is one of the top experts in the world in the field of black film, and became head of the department of cinema studies at Marian University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her own story is as interesting as her mother's. She has been a leading academic in the field of African and African-American studies.

This appears on disc one in the Blu-Ray set "Pioneers of African-American Cinema", a Kino-Lorber release of immense value to the history of cinema in general, and certainly an excellent introduction to the earliest black cinema, both silent and early sound.

Salomé
(1922)

Perfect vehicle for MST3000 added soundtrack. So over-the-top it's...it's...it's...
After all these years, I finally have watched Salomé (1922) with Alla Nazimova, Nigel de Brulier, Mitchell Lewis, Rose Dione, and others. I had been forewarned in many, many articles and books, but I still wasn't ready for what hit me. About ten minutes into the show my wife joined me and began a MST3000 banter that she continued with until the end. Very fitting! The best thing about the show was the costuming, the incredible costumes designed by Natasha Rambova. The tight fitting skirt Nazimova wore during the dance she did so that her step-father Herod (Lewis) would accede to his oath to give her whatever she wished for was straight out of the late 60s, early 70s - not only far ahead of its time, but probably as scandalous as could be in 1922 when skirts began to rise and rise and flappers ruled the roost. It was so tight that Nazimova's veins showed through the material. Her arteries looked as if they might be belts. Her breaths were the jumping she was calling dancing.

The film is based on Oscar Wilde's play from 1895, and it deals with the biblical story of John the Baptist being kept in a solitary place - in a prison - hidden away from those of his own race who wish to kill him - by Tetrarch Herod, leader of Judea. Herod has murdered his brother and married his brother's wife. He's beginning to fall in love - read lust - with his step-daughter Salomé. Salomé has become infatuated with the prisoner, Jokanaan (John the Baptist), but he has utterly rejected her. She now wishes his head on a platter - a silver charger - so that she can kiss him on the lips.

Utterly watchable non-watchable stuff. Acting technique is more like watching some sort of comic ballet, but it's done for real. You'll love it whether you want to or not. It's not lovable, and you'll wish to have it on a platter, but you'll kiss its carcass anyway, the same way Nazimova kissed the head of Jokanaan. By the way Jokanaan is played by Nigel de Brulier, who never looked so gaunt and sickly. Herod is Mitchell Lewis.

This is in the Blu-Ray set "Pioneers: First Women Film-makers" on disc 6.

Coda: An almost unbelievable fact: Alla Nazimova, the director-star of this camp of herself and Rambova, was already 43 years old when she played this young daughter of Herodias (Rose Dione, who was only 2 years older than Nazimova in real life!). There are scenes when you'll believe Nazimova is Dione's mother. And I shouldn't forget to mention that Dione's hair in the film looks like the cone of a cone-shaped mountain, one where the fourth quadrant allows for a face to stick out.

Possibly the closest type of thing to this film is the German kammerspiel, an intimate theater technique that did indeed reach film in the early 20s in things like "Hintertreppe" (1921). "Sappho" (1921) also is close to the stylization. Both are outstanding films, with genuinely realized technique, great writing, great acting, great directing. Salomé is more like watching a grotesque burlesque of the form.

The Oubliette
(1914)

Nicely restored by Library of Congress; show is worth watching ONLY for Lon Chaney...
Years ago I had an old VHS version of "The Oubliette" (1914) that was so difficult to watch due to its condition that I couldn't even figure out what it was about. Then I found a DVD that was an upgrade, but I didn't think much of what was left, a 33 minute lump of story that still made little sense. Well, I've finally been able to view a relatively nicely restored version of this film on Ben Model's Undercrank Productions release with Jon Mirsalis' original musical accompaniments. Restored by Library of Congress, the film (actually, "The Oubliette" is Part I of a serial production that would have been called "The Adventures of François Villon") is now 46 minutes long, a 3 reel production that is nearly complete of itself with only small snippets apparently no longer there. Also, it seems to be linearly in genuine continuity, something some of the earlier releases on VHS and DVD were not! Scenes have been put in and back where they belong. The final one third of the film is tinted. Overall, the film is fun to watch, but it is certainly of the old declamatory stage acting style and now very, very out of date. Arms are constantly stretched to emote, faces put to the camera for emphasis, and eyes widened until they look as if they might pop.

Murdock MacQuarrie, one of four acting brothers whose career lasted until his death in 1942 (284 known film credits, feature and short), stars as the fifteenth century French rake and poet François Villon (1431-1463?). This part of the serial also stars Pauline Bush, Lon Chaney, Sr., Harry F. (Doc) Crane, Chester Withey, and others. Chaney plays the part of the rogue Chevalier Bertrand de la Pogne (de la Payne on the IMDb). Crane is King Louis XI. Villon does a good amount of emoting but little acting with action, though the action itself is non-stop. Plot is good, but the acting only mediocre. Chaney is a silent nasty here if ever there was one. He's okay, but perfunctory at best. Plot is the main thing here; the actors simply move the plot along. It would have made a better read. A word would have been better than a thousand pictures, but it's a good thing that this 1914 108 year old film is still around to show us where we were and what we've come to on the screen.

Worth the see on this new Blu-Ray, if only to upgrade the view if one has seen this earlier on the terrible releases. The entire release of two Blu-Ray discs in "Lon Chaney: Before the Thousand Faces II" is wonderful, and a very thankful release for us Chaney film lovers!

Best thing in the film: the hanging scene of Villon's compatriot and fellow vagabond, Colin, played by Chester Withey. It's brutal, yet well-staged and very well directed - and actually moving. Attributed director is Charles Giblyn.

One final note: an oubliette is a dungeon with a trap door from the ceiling. Usually it's thought of as a secret dungeon!

Eskimo
(1933)

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
(1921)

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
(1932)

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
(1925)

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
(1926)

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
(1929)

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
(1919)

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
(1947)

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
(1913)

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
(1926)

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
(1933)

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
(1941)

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
(1925)

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
(1951)

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
(1951)

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
(1936)

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
(1947)

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, wait...in 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!

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