catherine-71

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Reviews

The Devil Plays
(1931)

A Tea Cozy Mystery
This is a typical mansion murder or cozy mystery, with only four sets: the apartment where the murder takes place, the police captain's office, the low-rent hotel of a hard-bitten show girl and a tea room financed by shady money. I tuned in for the tea room, because collecting tea room memorabilia is one of my hobbies.

The set did not disappoint. It is the Universal "basement restaurant" set (seen in other movies as an Italian restaurant, etc.). outfitted with a bevy of what seem to be Pretty Little Dutch Girl waitresses and laid out to resemble the Bohemian basement tea rooms of Sheridan Square and Greenwich Village in the 1910s to 1920s, mostly fading from view by the time this was filmed in 1921.

There were some nice deco touches in the show girl's hotel room set as well. .

That was about it. The acting was slow and halted, the actors' mannerisms stylized and stagey, and the plot was totally random.

Hell Bound
(1957)

Like "The Killing" But with Foot Fetishism and Trains
This is an odd movie. The plot resembles of that of "The Killing" from 1956 (no spoilers from me, folks!), but with a train yard instead of and airport and an inexplicable amount of random foot fetishism scenes.

The location shots of the seedy, ugly industrial underbelly of the Port of Los Angeles, filled with clanging freighters, trains, cranes, derricks, busted lamps, bridges, weedy open areas, parking lots, and seedy neon streets are spectacular -- beautifully filmed in high-noir style, and almost documentary in their precision. The trolley graveyard, Southern Pacific freight yard, and piles of scrap metal are literally priceless as settings. For anyone seeking great, sharp-focus, high-contrast footage of the industrial junk piles in Los Angeles in 1957, this is valuable footage.

The plot is ... a plot (see "the Killing")) and the actors are competent, but the script is thin, so there are lots of unvoiced action scenes and facial dead-pan reaction shots that last too long. The repetitious, silent fetish scenes of women's feet, both in and out of shoes, also lack charm. And, inexplicably, several minutes are wasted on a pointless strip tease act right out of a Sack Entertainment exploitation film. The director was probably getting off on the high sleaze-quotient, but i found it awkward and childish.

I'm glad i saw this film, but i didn't really like it all that much.

When Were You Born
(1938)

The astrology is accurate
Nine out of ten films that make use of metaphysical matters such as palmistry or crystal gazing in their plots employ them merely as gimmicky window-dressing. This movie is different in that every bit of astrological business mentioned is accurate according to the principles of Western astrology -- which is odd, because Anna May Wong, the film's astrological expert, is Chinese-American and could have been expected to employ Chinese astrology.

What was most interesting to me was not that all of the actors were portraying people of zodiacal signs other than their own, or that the characters they portrayed were virtually stereotypical of Sun-sign astrology, but that there were many throw-away lines that only an actual astrologer would recognize.

For instance, when Wong is reading the chart of Miss. Kenton, the Cancer, she speaks of her having "certain habits." The woman admits to drinking, but a glance at her chart shows Saturn square Neptune, which can also imply drug addiction. Likewise, when the Pisces policeman says he's been having a hard time lately, Wong mentions that Saturn is currently in Pisces -- which it actually was during both 1937 and 1938.

In the end, however, despite such wonderful touches, and the delightful introduction by Manly P. Hall, a Pisces, whose feet doubtless hurt him, i could not rate this movie higher than 6/10 because the directing was set-bound and stodgy and much of the acting was wooden. In fact, aside from Miss Wong's pet monkey, the only character with any life in him was Dr. Fenton, the eccentric little Jewish crime expert -- but although Fenton was said to be a Capricorn, Russian-born Maurice Cass, who played him, was actually a Libra.

Eyes in the Night
(1942)

His Dog Friday
I decided to watch this film out of curiosity, because the cast included Edward Arnold, Donna Reed, Reginald Denny, Steven Geray, and Mantan Moreland -- and it was difficult to imagine what sort of film could include that diverse cast. Of course there are murders and it is a crime drama, but was rewarded far beyond my expectations, for this is a real gem of a feature, operating on many levels, all of them great.

Edward Arnold is very convincing as a blind detective who practices jiu-jitsu, Donna Reed is given a surprisingly selfish and treacherous role to play, Mantan Moreland is his usual great comedic self, and there are villains galore -- but the two actors who most impressed me were the charming and sincere Ann Harding, and Friday the dog, about whom more later.

The directing is excellent, albeit set-bound, with a particularly inventive shoot-out in a pitch-black basement. The plot is tight, the script is fascinating, and the acting is excellent. The casting was unusual for the number of stage-trained British actors it featured, and they all had a ripping good time, giving the whole affair a bit of the fun of an Ealing comedy -- which will doubtless annoy both film noir purists and gritty-grim crime movie buffs, but charmed me no end.

Outstanding was Stanley Ridges as an over-educated butler who bursts into a rapturously dramatic line reading from "Samson Agonistes" by Milton, which apparently cracked up Edward Arnold to the point that he could not quite keep a straight face. Additionally, the beloved Reginald Denny gives us all a lesson in baritone elocution, but the screenwriter delights us with some not-so-subtle in-joke references to Denny's heroic WW I fighter plane record, his days as a Hollywood stunt pilot, and his essential work for the US military -- even as the film was in production! -- developing radio-operated target drone planes.

Now, on to Friday the dog. IMDb's biography does not tell us this, but according to his biography at the American Kennel Club's National Purebred Dog Day site, he was the son of Flash, a German Shepherd cinema dog who starred in "His Master's Voice" (1925), "The Flaming Signal" (1933), and "Call the Mesquiteers" (1938). Flash had the shorter ears and paler saddle of the "modern" German Shepherd, while Friday had the longer ears, a longer muzzle, and darker saddle seen in the original Rin Tin Tin.

Like all of the "Rinty" type dogs in the movies, Friday was trained in schutzhund or protection work, and could feign an attack on command. But he went far, far beyond that basic stunt. Throughout the film we see him leaping over shrubs, sailing over garden hurdles, opening doors with his mouth, fetching named objects, plunging out of windows and off of roofs to hard landings, and hair-raisingly scaling tall brick walls by leaping up, hooking his front feet on top and hoisting his body up with a scrabble of hind legs. He runs long distances unguided, escapes a cellar through clever direction, and walks in harness as a seeing eye dog to boot. He is an incredible agility stunt dog with a pleasingly emotive expression, perhaps the finest all-around dog actor i have seen next to Higgins, who was trained by Frank Inn and starred in the "Petticoat Junction" TV series (1964 - 1970), "Mooch Goes to Hollywood" (1971), and "Benji" (1974).

The resemblance between Friday and Higgins is more than a matter of acting style, by the way. In "Eyes in the Night," Friday performs a particularly difficult stunt, clambering up a wall, ascending a rising series of narrow ledges, turning to the right, and entering a window -- a stunt that is almost step for step the same as one later performed by Higgins in "Benji." It is pretty obvious to me that Friday was trained by Frank Inn during his days with Rudd and Frank Weatherwax, where he also helped train Pal, the star of "Lassie" and its sequels (1943 - 1954). The major difference between the two versions of the ledge-and-window stunt is that Friday ascends to the window, finds it closed, backs around and runs at it a second time, crashing through the glass and tearing a lace curtain inward behind him. When this spectacular stunt was reprised in "Benji," with the much smaller Higgins, the window was left slightly open, and Higgins wiggled inside, because it would have been unbelievable to have a tiny pooch break through the glass the way that Friday did. Although the duplication of this stunt, 32 years later, is all the proof i need that Friday was trained by Frank Inn, there is another similarity between the two dogs worth noting: both Friday and Higgins could sneeze on command, a rather unusual trick, and one of Inn's signature pieces of business.

I was so impressed with Friday that i am off to look for the sequel, "Hidden Eyes" (1945), starring Edward Arnold and Friday.

I rated this movie a solid 10 out of 10. Friday is so amazing that my husband and i re-ran his scenes several times, agape with awe over his power and balletic grace. What a wonderful dog!

One Way Street
(1950)

A Monotonic and Moronic Film
My husband and i couldn't stand this movie.

A dull, toneless James Mason is a depressed British gang-doctor in Los Angeles. A Swedish actress is his passionless love-interest who has been kept captive by psycho gangster Dan Duryea since she was 14 years old. William Conrad is a fat, lazy thug. Jack Elam poses a threat. Rock Hudson delivers his tiny part handsomely.

So much for Los Angeles Noir. Suddenly, Viva Mexico!

Stereotyped Mexicans, including banditos, peasants, rapists, a priest, and a curandera! enact meaningless roles as guitars are softly strummed. There are goats. chickens, and a horse. The priest is wise. The village peasants are trusting, like little children. Some of them actually are little children.

We disliked this movie so much we watched the second half in little snippets, making fun of it as we skipped ahead. When it ended, we were glad.

Sleeping Car to Trieste
(1948)

You may need a map
This a delightful detective thriller, made in the inimitable British post-war manner. The cast is comprised of more than a dozen unusual characters who have taken the Orient Express to Trieste. A few of them are innocent and charming, but most of them are law-breakers on one level or another, their crimes ranging from evading customs duties to adultery, theft, assault, and murder.

The plot concerns a stolen diary, but the real action is trying to figure out who is in whose compartment at any given time, because as the police move in on the murderer, the matter of timing and alibis becomes of paramount importance.

The documentary shots of the train itself are exemplary. If you are a train buff, you will greatly enjoy this crude, lumbering, noisy hunk of iron, a giant boiler on wheels, barreling down the tracks as the people inside change compartments, eat, drink, and plot their petty and grand crimes.

Secret Beyond the Door...
(1947)

The Death of Lisa Rosenthal
Fritz Lang has long been suspected of murder in the death of his first wife, Lisa Rosenthal. This movie is pretty obviously a creepy attempt on his part to psychoanalyze it all better for himself. It is a disturbing, violent, sadistic, and unconvincing look at femicide. Michael Graves plays a psychotic woman-hating architect who lies about everything, all the time, and keeps at least a dozen scarves laying around his mortgaged mansion so that the camera can zoom in on him twisting them in his hands as he contemplates throttling his wife. Miss Bennet's gowns, furs, and jewelry are literally the best thing this stinker of a film has to offer. Ugh.

Exposed
(1947)

Nice Tree!
This was one of those Republic films in which the parts are definitely greater than the whole. It is watchable one time for * Nice location shots all over Los Angeles. * An impressive half-timbered Turdoresque mansion. * A stunningly beautiful oak tree outside the mansion with charisma supreme. * Nice cars. * Fine stunt fighting. * Robert Armstrong. And that's it.

The smart mouthed female detective is grating. The murder arouses no emotion beyond a gasp and a whimper from good-hearted Mary Gordon as a servant. The magnetism between the two young leads is null and void. The stunt fight is lengthy and satisfying, in the true-blue Republic manner. Robert Armstrong is delightful as the good-natured Homicide Detective. And the tree....

Ah, the tree. My husband and i actually re-ran the scene in which the tree first appeared, just to freeze-frame it. What a beautiful tree. I am being completely unironic. The director obviously liked the tree enough that it was given a brief reprise just before the boring all-the-suspects-are-assembled-in-the-drawing-room scene.

The actors who made this film are likely all dead by now. I hope the tree is still living. It was stout and strong in 1947. I wish it well.

Fallguy
(1962)

Blood Simple, Alphaville, and 77 Sunset Strip rolled into one
This is, obviously, a low budget movie with a fairly predictable "man on the run" plot. Leaving that aside ...

The opening credits are as good as anything Saul Bass did in the wake of "Anatomy of a Murder."

The jazz score is wonderful, and it is not the composer's fault that the director chose to turn up the volume so high that it becomes intrusive at times and even overrides the dialogue. There is a proto-Peter-Gunn feel to it that is really better than this film deserves.

There are some nice location shots around Los Angeles, and the scenes of the teens dancing at the hamburger joint are almost documentary-like in their naturalness.

Nice cars! Nice bus! Nice short-bed newspaper delivery truck! The hot little convertible and the young male lead give the whole affair the air of an episode of "77 Sunset Strip."

The director seems to come from a planet where people's faces are not important but their shoes, legs, and waists are. Shot after shot is deliberately set up to scope out men's shoes and trousers. The result is almost fetishistic, but, weirdly enough, kind of "manly" at the same time.

The bizarre angle shots in the sterile modern rooms look forward to the 1965 French New Wave Science Fiction / Film Noir cult classic "Alphaville" by Jean-Luc Godard -- only not ironic.

The sleazy exploitation subplot, including underwear-clad escorts, a ridiculous cat-fight, men slapping women around and roughing them up, and multiple negligee scenes, are spectacular examples of what happens when a demented director tries to interject a bevy of pretty young "blonde models" with no acting experience into a noirish crime drama.

Some of the actors are wooden and many of the interior scenes were badly miked, so there are unexpected echoes. and the resultant efforts to correct these deficiencies with overdubbing are failures. So what? Who cares?

The build-up of violence has an early Coen Brothers feel to it, somewhere between "Blood Simple" and "Miller's Crossing," only without their great dialogue. In fact, there is very little dialogue in this film at all, and some of what there is seems improvised.

The ending is completely over the top and veers off into Quentin Tarantino territory, and the denouement is a sweet heartbreaker, and entirely unexpected.

I gave this movie a solid "7" because i think it should be shown to all aspiring film-makers. It is a fascinating study in good intentions that do not quite make it to a professional level. It is not a travesty, like an Ed Wood film, but it is just enough below the threshold of what you are expecting that you wish Raymond Burr, Frank Cady, Edd "Kookie" Byrnes, and Sterling Hayden had been in the cast, and that the director had been Edgar G. Ulmer.

The Judge
(1949)

The Judge -- Pilot for a Series That Never Was?
This is a freakish movie, and it plays a bit like the old radio series "The Whistler."

(Remember that one? "I am the Whistler -- and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes, I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak.")

In this case, instead of The Whistler, we have "The Judge," who opens up his file cabinet of past cases, narrates some opening psychobabble about human minds, and lets us witness first hand the sordid horrors of human psychiatric neurosis, complete with a woozy flashback scene, more casual gun-handling than i have seen outside of a Western, and an acapella choir that sounds like it swallowed a theramin.

And what about Milburn Stone? Wow! Doc Adams on TV's "Gunsmoke" surely deserves kudos for playing firmly against type here. as a man so unexpectedly motivated that to say anything more about his intentions would be to ruin the experience of watching the looks on his face shift with almost every line he delivers.

If this had been a pilot for a very weird short-run TV series, it would have become a cult classic. As it is, it is just straight-out bizarre.

By the way, i'll bet you dollars to donuts that the dog in the opening scenes was trained by Frank Inn, uncredited. It's a larger "Benji" type terrier-shaggy cross, and the stunt is set up exactly like all of Inn's best work with Higgins and his other dogs: The dog has a whole routine or scene memorized, and pulls it off in a nice, long take without ever once looking at the trainer for instructions. Good job, Anonymous Dog! Good job, Frank Inn!

Dead Man
(1995)

No No No No No Not the Shiba Inu Puppy!
I am with the reviewer Sean Hooks, who wrote, "I honestly cannot recall the last time I saw a film this bad," and the reviewer Bradley, who wrote, "The editing was so poorly executed that I thought my Wifi went down." -- the funny thing is, i too had exactly the same thought, for real!

I love train films. Aside from some poorly filmed Walschaert valve gears, this movie offers nothing in the way of train footage. You can find better Walschaert valve gears footage on a home video of a G-Scale Bachmann ten wheeler model running in someone's backyard.

But, i hear you object, it stars Johnny Depp! No, actually it misuses Johnny Depp. It is, like, if Johnny Depp was a slightly overfed puppy, say a pudgy shiba inu puppy, and someone put cute little Willie Wonka clothes on him and made him die slowly, slowly, slowly, while ghastly pseudo folk guitar tones droned on and on and this missgeburt appeared in your Facebook feed and when you tried to report it for violating community standards, you got a message from Facebook saying that, no, actually it was fine, because Johnny Depp will be a dead shiba inu puppy now for all eternity.

I Confess
(1953)

Worst Movie I Have Seen in the Past Ten Years
I confess that "I Confess" is the ONLY film to which i have given a rating of "1" in all the years i have been coming to IMDb and rating films. It is a ghastly, embarrassingly bad, over-acted, under-plotted, intensely smarmy and "reverential" social drama. I had high hopes for it because it was on an IMDb list of "100 best film noir movies." What a joke! It is not a film noir movie. It is not a police procedural. It is not a psychological thriller. It is not an action thriller. It was a downright waste of film stock when it was released -- and now it is a downright waste of electrons.

The only, and i mean the only, only, only reason to watch this movie is to get a nice look at the architecture and clothing of the era. Hitchcock never disappoints as a film director when it comes to the long shot, the composition of black and white, the interplay of light and shadow. Okay. That's out of the way. Turn the damnable thing into still frames and have done with it.

There is no way to write a "spoiler" for this mess because it doesn't have an actual plot. Well, actually, it has what i call a "buzz-buzz plot" -- that is, the whole thing hinges on the type of scene that marks a failed script, where one character turns to another and says, "Here's what i want you to do ... i want you to (sound drops) buzz buzz buzz (scene cut)." That is it. THAT, friends, is the plot.

Mongomery Clift is completely unconvincing as anyone's former love-interest or as a World War Two veteran or as a priest. His idea of emoting is to clench his jaw a little.

And as for the classic goof with Anne Baxter's costume (detailed here in the "goofs" section) it is more than a little "goof" -- it is a jaw-droppingly obvlivious loss of filmic continuity that will make your head spin.

The jumbled use of about 16 different forms of post-War French and British and American and Mittel-European accents is just the kind of thing that makes me wish that i was watching "The Third Man" with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten instead of this waste of Brian Aherne's time.

Oh, and "reverential." I did mention that above. Please, if you want "reverential," do yourself a favour and watch "Going My Way" with Bing Crosby." Great film.

Okay, i am done. My one consolation is that i will never have to watch this movie again.

Mystery in Swing
(1940)

Pleasings Swing Music, Simple Murder Mystery
A fairly routine "cozy" murder mystery in which a hated person is killed in an enclosed environment (in this case a jazz nightclub), witnesses are threatened, and all the suspects are rounded up in the final reel by the bumbling police for a revelatory showdown outlined by a non-professional detective (in this case a newspaper reporter). The plot is handled well enough -- it's just an over-used device.

What sets this movie apart from other films of its ilk -- both white-cast and black-cast -- are the interesting and well-played musical interludes and the comedic turn by F. E. Miller as Sgt. Slim. Miller is better known as the vaudeville (and film) partner of Mantan Moreland, but both had separate film outings as well. Both are always worth watching, alone or as a pair. Also notable here is Buck Woods, as a valet who has some memorable scenes ranging from the dramatic to the comedic.

Marching On!
(1943)

Historic Footage of Black Soldiers at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, in WW II
This film is available in a cut-up print. As another reviewer noted, the acting is uneven as well. However, let's forgo all of that.

What we have here is some AMAZING documentary footage of black soldiers at Fort Huachuca, Arizona in world War II. This material is PRICELESS. The value of this footage is unknown to scholars because the plot synopsis generally cited, from a University of California book on African Americans in film, which is quoted verbatim by the TCM and AFI sites, incorrectly names the camp phonetically as "Fort Watchuka," a stupid, stupid error, propagated all over the internet. In reality, Fort Huachuca was the home of the famous black Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Regiment, renamed in 1935 as the 25th Regiment. Background information on African Americans in the military is supplied as well: The character of "Gramps" Tucker speaks about his service in the Spanish American War and the bravery of Black soldiers at Mindanao, Philippines. Rodney's father served in WWI in France. (By the way, the same oft-cited synopsis also lamely states that Rodney's father lost his memory in "a traffic accident." I distinctly heard the actor say, "a tragic accident.") The print i have, a DVD from Alpha Video, is titled "Where Is My Man To-Nite."

As with many Sack Amusement releases i have seen over the years, a reel of burlesque dance acts and "exotic" night club material has been grafted into this film with no attempt to link it into the plot. There is a title card that reads "Featuring the Original 'Brownskin Models'" but no other performers are credited. This footage was probably NOT in the original release. Featured are a jump-blues or proto rock'n'roll band with the monogrammed initials "J.B." (Jackie Brenston???) and "H.Y." on the drums and bandstand. The drummer and guitarist are excellent! Then we see several dance acts -- a West Indian-themed one, an "Apache dance" with hair-pulling, a rather ill-trained chorus line, a contortionist dance, a jitterbug (with the tall woman and short man found in many All Negro Cast movies of this time period), a very good break-dancer, and a couple of comedians. This errant reel has nothing to do with "Marching On" in any way -- but here it is, and it is quite pleasing as a documentation of early 1940s break dancing and jump-blues.

Also, for train spotters, there is LONG footage of a train (Southern Pacific, i presume) approaching Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and a scene inside a boxcar.

My Boys Are Good Boys
(1979)

Strange Movie, and not in a good way
I would have rated this film with 1 star, but it got an additional 1 for Lloyd Nolan's brave performance as a security officer and an extra 1/2 for Ida Lupino as a shrewish wife, and an extra 1/2 for Ralph Meeker's role as a truculent drunk bad dad.

But the MUSIC! Oh my God. The music. The horrible synthesizer music bubbling away like little rodential heartbeats as we are supposed to feel fear, tension, drama, interest, or some other emotion which we cannot feel because the music is popping like popcorn farts! Oh, Lord have mercy. If you are the kind of person who can't take bad music, please, be cautious -- the sound track may damage your internal organs.

Also this film is a wasteland of bad late 1970s architecture, as it was filmed right before Post-Modern architecture saved us all from architectural cultural suicide. Just keep reciting your mantra, "Later on there would be good architecture. This was not the end of the world." Oh, and there's this insane fainting-gas stuff. The teens buy it at the local convenience store, no doubt. Another reviewer suggested the idea came from "Batman." I concur.

And i will offer a sparkly reward to anyone who can tell me the name of the book that Ida Lupino is reading on her bed when Ralph Meeker comes home after a long day in the armoured car industry. My TV was too small to zero in on it, but i have the feeling that if i could have read that title, i would have been rewarded by some sort of fabulous in-joke. Or maybe not.

Lloyd Nolan is okay. Ida Lupino is okay. Ralph Meeker is okay. The rest of this movie is insanely useless except to people who want to watch cars crash into one another over and over and over and over again.

August Weekend
(1936)

A fine country-weekend social drama
"August Weekend," adapted from a great ensemble-cast story by Faith Baldwin, stars, among others, Valerie Hobson, Paul Harvey, Claire McDowell, and Betty Compson. Those who enjoy such "weekend at the country estate" stories along the line of Aldous Huxley's "Crome Yellow" will recognize the genre and surely appreciate the deft plot, which pits the stock-market rich against the socially prominent who are financially impoverished, and drags the servants and gardeners along for the ride. Lots of fun 1930s touches here too -- "The Proletarian Handbook" among them. The plot is complex, so don't think that a quick viewing is in order. Each individual has a story to tell, and repressed sexual desire drives those who are not fueled by a desire for wealth. Excellent social observations can be found amidst the old-school styling of the script. Enjoy!

The Loudspeaker
(1934)

Fun Comedy-Romance, Great Locations & Sets, Great Girl Trio
This little screwball romantic comedy has a whole lot going for it. The lead character, Joe Miller, played by Ray Walker, is a very funny schtick comedian, and Julie Bishop (billed as Jacqueline Wells) plays his dream-girl most convincingly.

The rise-fall-redemption plot of Joe's self-confidence and pep, which take him into show biz, and his arrogance and drunkenness, which cause his on-air debacle, follows a predictable story-arc, but there are lots of very funny lines, delivered with genuine wit, and enough of a competition with another suitor to bring tension to the drama.

If "The Loudspeaker" had been made in the late 20th century, Tom Hanks, Bill Murray, or Jim Carey would have gotten the role of Joe Miller. What we have instead is a tightly constructed, fluffy pancake of a show, well worth watching in its own right. Character actor Charley Grapewin is charming as "Pops," and sweet Mary Carr does a walk-on as a star-struck land-lady.

Best of all, for those who follow old movies for other reasons than the story-line, it must be noted that we have some great 1934 vintage "stuff" on display here: live steam locomotive action filmed at a real railway depot; a Horn and Hardardt's automat set filled with vintage chrome goodness; a fabulous art deco penthouse that should rate a mention in any book on art deco set decoration; a lot of gorgeously chic gowns from an unexpectedly high-class wardrobe department, considering the film's probable budget; and an otherwise-unfilmed but very hot threesome of African American jazz and scat singers billed here as The Brownies Trio. (Sensitive viewers are advised to overlook the radio sponsor's logo of a smiling Black cook and the fact that The Brownies are dressed in silver-spangled Aunt Jemima outfits. Relax -- just enjoy the music!) I liked this one a lot -- unpretentious, well directed, a clean print (from Alpha Video), and lots of vitality make it a perfect little mid-1930s gem -- kinda like the very small diamond on the ring that Joe gives to his gal before he becomes a star.

The Devil on Horseback
(1936)

A Mexican Surprise Package!
This is a strange movie. Most of the cast members speak English with Spanish or French accents, there is a crypto-Lesbian, a crypto-Gay man, some serious senorita knife throwing (by the delightful Guatemalan dancer Blanca Vischer, whose line delivery is so astoundingly lame it is almost cult-worthy), a bizarre Samba-esque ancient fiesta dance to the Moon (totally wacko), some glorious shots of a nice Mexican steam locomotive, an incredible singing performance by the remarkable Del Campo (WHAT A VOICE!), and more cute double-entendres than you can shake a stick at. (He: "My love for you is like a rushing river that can't be stopped!" She: "I'll dam it.").

Oh, and the lead horse -- Del Campo's horse -- my god, what a beautiful animal. He's a tall black Arabian-style guy. A stupendous horse. There's a nice dun too, and a blaze-faced horse who doubles first as a bandito pony and later as an Army mount. Really, for horse fans, this movie is a treat because these animals are not from the usual Hollywood remuda -- these are some fine Mexican horses, well bred, well caparisoned, and very well ridden. If that black Arabian had been in America, he'd have been some Western star's steady ride very soon. As it is, this may be his only starring film. Kinda like Blanca Vischer.

Lady Luck
(1936)

What a cute little movie!
I ran across this in a load of cheap public-domain movies of the Monogram/Chesterfield/PRC type and, boy was i surprised! What a snappy little comedy-drama this one is! The script by John W. Krafft is a humdinger, and if the actors had all been A-list types (think Carole Lombard and Jimmy Stewart or Jean Arthur and Henry Fonda) and the settings has been filmed at Warner's instead of on Poverty Row, we would be hailing "Lady Luck" as a classic along the order of a Preston Sturges piece. It really is that zingy.

Cultural and racial stereotypes are lovingly exploited for inoffensive comedic effect: Patrica Farr plays Mamie Murphy, a spunky Irish American manicurist who has to fight off the wolves in the fancy hotel barbershop where she works. (Also, as a completely irrelevant aside, her voice timbre and accent remind me a lot of Judy Garland. Strange but true.) Duncan Reynaldo (pre Cisco Kid) plays Tony Morelli, a slick Italian mobster and nightclub boss. He's saddled with a jealous Latin spitfire of a girlfriend named Rita (Iris Adrian). Mamie is picked to win the Irish Sweepstakes -- but then another Mamie Murphy shows up, a warm-hearted Irish washerwoman, no less, played by the underrated Lulu McConnell. The two women team up to pose as aunt and niece, and agree to split the profits from the race.

Young Mamie's frustrated true love is an all-American boy reporter, played by William Bakewell, but she dumps him for a British "financial sculptor" (i.e. a chiseler) played by Jameson Thomas, but although he poses as a wealthy suitor, he is so broke he has to borrow money from his equally British valet, the delightful Robert Corey, just to take Mamie out to Morelli's night club. Then murder -- or at least a bit of gun play -- enters the scene when meek, bespectacled Mr. Hemingway (Arthur Hoyt) is informed that Conroy has been seen at Morelli's in the company of his bullish blonde wife Cora Hemmingway, played with mesmerizing lesbian overtones by the alternately brooding and baby-talking Vivian Oakland.

Along the way we get dancing chorus girls, a French maid, the wonderfully laconic checkers-playing Irish detective James O'Reilly (Lew Kelly at his very best), a babyish Irish hood (Claud Allister) who gets his first manicure and wishes his mother were still alive to see his clean fingernails, a smiling black shoeshine guy who does a towel-dance on Morelli's shoes, an incomprehensibly accented Latino head barber (Pedro Regas), a freaked out and eye-rolling black elevator operator (Ray Turner), and the hilarious team of Charles Lane and Joe Barton as Feinberg and Goldberg, a pair of fast-talking Jewish celebrity agents ("You wanna be notorious? Call Feinberg, Goldberg, Rosenberg, and O'Rooney." ... "What? You think business comes to a stop just because a guy's been killed? Sign here.") Oh yeah, a guy does get killed. But that's not the point -- this is just a sweet little depression-era confection that is more lovable that you'd expect from a plot synopsis. It's not A-list stuff, but it's well worth the few bucks you'll spend to buy it on DVD. Oh, and by the way, speaking of DVDs, except for a few pops and cuts, the print i got from Alpha Video was an extremely crisp, clean, and evenly exposed copy with excellent sound quality that showed off Charles Lamont's directing and the nice set decorations, and caught every bit of the snappy patter. "Lady Luck" is my sleeper selection of the month. Try it -- i think you'll like this one!

The World Accuses
(1934)

Nice Little Story
This movie has a bit of the quality of the many movies adapted from Saturday Evening Post or Collier's magazine short stores. It is tidy, neat, and well paced, with a satisfying resolution in a manner that makes such films (and stories) pleasing but not amazing.

Vivian Tobin did not make a lot of films, but she is quite charming here as Lola, a spunky Broadway actress who marries a wealthy but spineless socialite (Paul Fix). Unfortunately for Lola, her husband is under the complete domination of his wealthy and narcissistic mother (Sarah Edwards). The couple has a child, but then tragedy intervenes in the person of a psychopathic book-maker (Harold Huber) and a not-so-kindly judge (Lloyd Ingraham).

Suffice it to say that Lola's next five years are rough, but she manages to make a go of it, thanks to the help of a gentle older woman (Mary Carr) and her helper (the extremely tall Jane Keckley), a gregarious suitor (Russell Hopton), and a passel of young kids, including the boisterous pair played by Cora Sue Collins and Dickie Moore. And then, just when you thought this would become a tear-jerker of a "woman's movie," danger strikes, and it turns out that everybody has a gun, even poor downtrodden Lola! This is not the usual last reel wrap-up to the semi-Stella-Dallas set-up we've been watching up to that point.

To say any more would be essentially to spoil the film, for in a plot as economical and precise as this one, each scene leads to the next in a way that cannot be teased apart for examination without deconstructing the entire edifice.

I'm pretty sure that at 62 minutes, the print i saw had been chopped for television, and the cuts seem to have come at all the predictable character-building spots, but still, it's better to have seen it in this form than to have missed it altogether. It's a nice little first feature for a double-bill home-showing of old-time movies.

Luck
(2009)

See Intacto Instead
If you thought this movie would be a fun way to spend an evening, just ... don't bother. "Luck" is like a cold, heartless alternative-universe version of the subtle and complex psychological thriller "Intacto" with Max von Sydow, which is also about a world championship of luck, with people betting their luckiness against one another.

One major difference between these two thrillers is that "Intacto" has character depth and this flop does not. Consider: the man organizing the "games" here is a mafia boss and the character-bits are just dialed in from the Mafia stock tropes we have all come to expect; in "Intacto" the master of the games is an elderly World War Two concentration camp survivor, and there is a slight possibility of unspoken and non-physical homosexual love between him and the lucky man who arranges his deadly games

If you arrived at this review because you are exploring films about luckiness rather than searching for thrillers per se, there are a number of earlier films that also deal with the theme of luck, mostly in a humorous way. Check out Mantan Moreland in "Irish Luck," for instance.

Criminals Within
(1941)

Low Budget, But Stylish
The plot development of this film is very serviceable -- everything is laid out a half reel to a reel before you need to remember who said what -- and there are no cheats, no "bzzz-bzzz" whispered bits to cover plot holes. It all develops very naturally, with a rather outstanding cast of character actors livening up the proceedings.

Ben Alexander is one of my favourite gentle actors, and he wowed me here. Dudley Dickerson and Bernice Pilot are enjoyable as comedic servants with a central role in moving the plot forward on several occasions. I. Standofrd Jolley is at his handsomest and most sinister -- a great non-Western role for this versatile villain. Ann Doran is nice too. Oh, and Boyd Irwin is so British as an American colonel -- quite splendid -- and kudos too to the prolific Robert Frazier, always good looking in uniform, and an intriguing actor.

The print i saw was remarkably clear and crisp, with good sound quality, something worth mentioning in a PRC picture. The end of the film comes very suddenly -- one wonders if some footage is missing -- and there is no musical score to heighten the drama of some otherwise very tense scenes. In fact, i think that had this film been scored, film critics who like Joseph Lewis' "Gun Crazy" (and who doesn't?) would compare this movie much more favourably to that film noir cult classic than they have. The scenes in which people move from room to room, doors locking and opening behind them, menace just out of sight, are exemplary film-making, but seem dulled a bit due to the complete lack of a score.

Well, i may be in the minority, but i liked this film a lot. I wonder why it was held two years, lacks a proper ending (by which i mean the extra two to three minutes of wrap-up dialogue one would expect), and was released with no score.... Something odd about that. Anyway, It is well worth a look.

The Lightning Warrior
(1931)

Rinty, Yakima Canutt, and Frankie Darro
This was Rin-Tin-Tin's last film and i believe that he was about 13 years old at the time. He is not an expressive dog actor like Higgins ("Benji") or Skippy (Asta in "The Thin Man") and yet there is something rather grand about him, even in old age, with a grizzled grey muzzle that no one bothered to dye, the way they would have had he been a human actor. In one of the early scenes, a cowboy bystander calls him "Old Timer," with no attempt to hide his age, and indeed there is a kind of elegiac quality to his work, like the latter day James Garner, whom he much resembles, in a spiritual sense. Rinty is a superlative schutzhund (trained attack dog) and many of his best scenes feature him jumping and wrestling humans to the ground or running after horses at the gallop. At least one (and maybe two) younger, darker-pelted stunt doubles are used for some of the long running scenes, but Rinty takes all the close-ups. He always did suffer from "trainer eye" (looking for cues from his off-camera trainer), but not being food-motivated, he never blew a scene by nuzzling for his hidden treat the way Skippy did. I actually teared up a little at seeing the old guy put through the rigour of being trapped in a mine shaft when the door gets blown off by dynamite. The human actors were expecting the loud pyrotechnics, but Rinty was not, and he was obviously on a "hard stay," so when the blast went off, he jumped and turned in place, torn between fear and the "stay" command. He looked terrified, and i think he was actually tied down with an off-camera leash to restrain him from bolting. Sweetly, his essential good nature and willingness to please asserts itself at the conclusion of every fight scene, when, after apparently half-killing his human sparring partner, he is called off by Frankie Darro or George Brent, then breaks character to stand around with a big smile on his face, wag-wag-wagging his tail: "Was i good? Did i do that right? Am i a good dog?" What a trooper!

Yakima Canutt is the unspoken 2nd star of this feature, of course. He plays a minor character but also supplies the remuda and doubles for almost every actor in the film who does a horse transfer, bucking bronc stunt, or -- Yak's specialty -- the stagecoach stunt. This film presents a variation on the latter with an open buckboard and six horses instead of the usual four. Strangely, the rear pair are white, the only time i've seen Yak use white horses in this stunt; the front four are his usual browns. In addition to the stage coach team, the horse i call "Yak's Big White" (the stunt double for Gene Autry's Champion), a cute fat brown pony for Frankie Darro to use in a flying mount, a half dozen randomly great cow ponies, and a trained bucking bronc, there are four or five fine Indian Paint ponies, including "the one with a white neck and brown head." (If you watch Yak's stunts, you'll know which horse i mean -- he was in many dozens of movies, and Yak always made sure he turned his right side to the camera (his "good side" -- very beautifully marked) during Indian attack scenes.

Frankie Darro was a fine kid actor. Like other reviewers, i also love his young adult films co-starring with Mantan Moreland -- but here we see him in top gymnastic form, carrying a reasonable amount of his own weight in stunt work. His greatest drawback at this age is a certain staginess in close-ups, but since the film is a Western, we don't see much of that "mush." I really dug the scene of Frankie making a getaway on a chubby brown pony -- the scene is played straight, and Frankie is in top form, but i laughed to see the pony scramble to keep up with the larger horses.

Georgia Hale, the romantic interest, deserves a quick mention too -- her split-skirt culotte riding garb, with matching vest and silk bandanna, is extremely cute. Both she and Theordore Lorch, who plays her father, carry the baggage of silent film mannerisms, but she is an appealing and spunky actress and looks more than right in the part of the Sheriff's adopted daughter.

The Alpha Video print has better sound than other versions, but there are a number of annoyingly chopped up bits, including some mangled chapter endings, dropped words, and overly-dark scenes -- which, as far as i know, are found in every version currently on the market. Still, i'm glad i saw this film, and i recommend it without reservation to anyone who likes animal actors and stunt work.

Zorro's Fighting Legion
(1939)

Great music, great stunt work
Reed Hadley makes a better foppish Don Diego than he does a dashing and daring Zorro, but that's almost beside the point because this serial features the bar-none best theme song of any serial, ever -- and the best version of Yakima Canutt's famous stagecoach stunt. There are other good stunts, and lots of action, and plenty of hair-raising cliff-hanger chapter endings, but if for no other reason, you must see this film to watch the stagecoach stunt, then re-watch it in slow motion. It is incredible, and, despite the lower budget for this chapter play, Yak turns in a better take on the stunt here than he did in the far more celebrated film "Stagecoach." Indiana Jones, eat your heart out: This is the real deal!

The Black Coin
(1936)

An excellent globe-trotting serial
If you like the old cliff-hanger serials, but are generally a step ahead of the plots, this one is sure to surprise you. It begins in Egypt, with camels, horses, and a battle featuring the colonial British versus uprising tribespeople, introduces the cursed coins of Santa Clara, and suddenly shifts to a smuggling plot at sea, then to old California, to the cantinas of Baja California, to the Republic Ranch, back to sea, to a sheep ranch in Mexico (a working ranch, somewhere in Southern California), back to the Republic Rocks, out to sea again, back to suburban Santa Barbara -- it's half travelogue and half adventure, and you never know where it's going next.

There are actually two plots -- one involving the cursed Black Coins and the treasure map imprinted on them, and the other involving the smuggling of contraband into the United States via Mexican wool shipments. Both plots focus around the same batch of people, who are variously trying to collect and/or steal the coins and/or stop or carry out the smuggling.

The film stars the wonderful Dave Tex O'Brien as a young man in a business suit and fedora with the improbable Old California name of Terry Navarro (pronounced Nah-Vare-Oh) and features as his father, Don Pedro Nah-Vare-Oh, the gracious Central European-accented Josef Swickard. Yakima Canutt steals the show many times, not only as the thug Ed McMahon, but also for his stunt work on the horses in the first chapter. Bob (Robert) Walker, as Captain Shark Malone, is strangely romantic and appealing, despite his wickedness, and he also has a strange superpower -- he can knock almost anyone down with just one blow. There is plenty of fist-fighting in this series, some wrestling, an attack on a British fort, a train versus car wreck (the car loses), menacing sharks, a burned down jail, the sinking of a large ship, a tree struck by lightning, and a two-cars-over-the-cliff extravaganza -- a tremendous amount of high-budget action accomplished by the judicious use of stock footage from other films.

Ruth Mix as secret agent Dorothy Dale is an enlivening presence as well -- dashing about in her Arab robes, her Mexican peasant dress, and her slim-tailored city suits. Her secret agent sidekick Prescott, played by former silent film star Ralph Graves, is strangely white-faced and wooden,which makes the sleuthy couple's repeated interactions with Dave Tex O'Brien all the weirder, since they barely introduce themselves to him. Dave gets knocked unconscious somewhere between nine and eleven times, not counting being suffocated into unconsciousness by smoke inhalation once. Snub Pollard has some great comic turns as a hapless aviator and ladies' man. The theme music is stirring. The stock chapter endings -- "What happened to Terry?" "What happened to Dorothy?" are amusing, and all in all this is one roller-coaster of a ride.

Twenty points for Yakima Canutt getting to talk! Ten points for Dave Tex O'Brien doing at least a modicum of his own stunt work. Ten points for Bob (Robert) Walker's facial stubble and boxing abilities. Five points for the sound effect of fingers splashing in a dish pan every time someone is shown swimming. Ten points for the fabulous old moving van that swallows the car. Ten points for the transportation motif featuring horses, boxy sedans, streamlined coupes, motorcycle cops, trucks, a train, and many ship scenes. Enjoy!

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