Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On Screen -- Strange Impersonation (1946)

Marshall and Brooke

"Strange Impersonation"  is a low budget film noir put out by Republic Pictures.  But don't let this fool you.  The film is an early directorial piece from Anthony Mann, better known for his later films "T-Men", "Raw Deal" (both 1948), and "Border Incident" (1949). 

The film is about a chemical research scientist, Nora Goodrich, who is experimenting with a new anesthetic.  Nora has rejected marriage proposals from her fiance/coworker Dr. Stephen Lindstrom.  This has made Nora's assistant Arline a little testy because she is actually in love with Stephen and is willing to do just about anything to get him for herself. 

I don't want to give away too much of the story, but from this point on we get a pretty good mix of attempted murder, extortion, murder, plastic surgery, identity theft, and revenge.  One thing I will say is that something happens in the beginning of the film that pretty much gives away the ending, so anyone who is familiar with noir films will probably catch it.  With a running time of only 68 minutes the story moves right along.
The film stars Brenda Marshall as "Nora", frequent noir femme fatale Hillary Brooke as "Arline", William Gargan as "Stephen", Ruth Ford as "Jane", and H.B. Warner as "Dr. Mansfield".  Also worth mentioning is actress Mary Treen who plays Nora's irritating and very talkative nurse who provides a little (very little) comic relief.  Overall a film worth watching at least once, especially for fans of Mr. Mann.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On Screen -- Grand Hotel (1932)

Joan Crawford

Where do I start ??  As the resident doctor at the "Grand Hotel" states "People come -- people go -- nothing ever happens ..."  This could be the greatest understatement ever uttered in cinema history.  The cast assembled for this film may only be rivaled by the cast of "Dinner at Eight" (1934) or "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963).  The collection of characters is amazing - a tormented/eccentric ballerina, an aristocratic hotel thief, a pompous textile magnate, a sickly and dying bookkeeper, and a flirtatious stenographer are the main characters whose lives intertwine over the course of 24 hours at the "most expensive hotel in Berlin" the Grand Hotel. 

The stellar cast includes Greta Garbo in a  heartbreaking portrayal of "Grusinskaya the dancer".   John Barrymore evokes a sense of pity from the viewer as "the Baron".   Wallace Beery seems larger-than-life as "Director Preysing".   Joan Crawford is young and beautiful as "Miss Flaemmchen".  Lionel Barrymore is the underdog that you root for throughout the entire film as "poor Mr. Kringelein", and Lewis Stone lives out a seemingly wasted life as drunken "Dr. Otternschlag".  Lewis Stone also played opposite Garbo in "Queen Christina" (1933). Grand Hotel was the "Best Picture" Oscar winner in 1932 and was directed by Edmund Goulding ("Dark Victory" and "The Old Maid", both from 1939).

Monday, March 28, 2011

On Screen -- The Man From Planet X (1951)


 "The Man From Planet X" is pretty well done considering the budget for it was only about $50,000.  It's a moody story about a scientist, Professor Elliot, who sets up an observatory on a Scottish island to study an uncharted planet that is passing very close to the Earth.  A news reporter John Lawrence,  is there to cover the story.  Also staying with the professor is his daughter, Enid,  and his assistant Dr. Mears who just happened to arrive there a couple of weeks earlier and who has a shady and questionable past. 

While walking out on the moors John and Enid find an alien object and bring it back to the lab to examine it.  Not long afterwards, Enids' car breaks down along the road and as she's walking back home she notices strange flashing lights coming from a spacecraft and very shortly thereafter comes face to face with an alien, "The Man From Planet X."  Everyone goes to investigate and when the alien follows them back to the observatory, the professor and doctor try to communicate with the alien to determine if he is here peacefully or with hostile intentions.  We soon find out as the alien begins taking control of the villagers by mental telepathy.  Basic 50s low budget sci fi.

"Professor Elliot" is played by Raymond Bond, and his daughter "Enid" is played by Margaret Field (mother of actress Sally Field).  The reporter is played by Robert Clarke, and "Dr. Mears" is played by one of the hardest working people in film and television William Schallert.
MGM fun facts - Edgar G. Ulmer filmed "The Man From Planet X" using some of the same sets that were used during the filming of "Joan of Arc" (1948) starring Ingrid Bergman.  The alien can only communicate in musical tones, a concept used over 25 years later in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Friday, March 25, 2011

On Screen -- Laurel & Hardy, A Few Shorts

Busch, Ollie, Stan and Middleton
"The Fixer Uppers" (1935) - Stan and Oliver are a couple of greeting card salesmen who attempt to help a woman with her marital problems by trying to make her husband jealous.  The usual chaos ensues.  There's way too much to say about this comedy team, these guys are my favorites and they are as hilarious as always.  Charles Middleton plays the husband and Mae Busch the wife.

Stan, Busch, Hall and Ollie

"Them Thar Hills" (1934) - Stan and Oliver take a trip out to the country because of Olivers' gout.  They end up camping out by a well that moonshiners have dumped their liquor into. A stranded couple happen to stop at the campsite looking for gas and I don't think I need to tell you what happens next ...  Costarring in this short is frequent rival Charlie Hall and Mae Busch.

Ollie, Stan and Hall
"Tit for Tat" (1934) - This short is actually a sequel to "Them Thar Hills". When Stan and Ollie open up an electrical supply business they find out that their neighbors and store owners next door are none other than Charlie Hall and Mae Busch.  The shop owners feud escalates, and the laughs as well, as they exchange pranks and practical jokes.

The running time of these shorts is about 20 minutes each.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On Screen -- Horror Maniacs (1948)

Tod Slaughter

"Horror Maniacs" is a little tough to watch. Not because of the story line, but because of the remastering of the DVD.  I have a copy of the Alpha Video release, I'll explain the problem in a second.  The story is based on Scotland's real life murderers and grave robbers William Burke and William Hare.  Due to the British censors the names of the characters had to be changed after production of the film.  This left quite distinct gaps in the audio track since it had to be rerecorded with different character names dubbed in. So as the film plays along and it goes from dialogue to no dialogue, it sounds as if the volume is being turned on and off.  This is not an Alpha Video issue, just a production issue in general.

The film stars the uber-melodramatic Tod Slaughter as William Hart, leader of the grave robbing gang.  Anyone who hasn't watched a film starring Mr. Slaughter is in for a real treat.  His performances are usually way over the top, complete with dastardly moustache twirling, sinister laughs, etc., but at the same time he is a delight to watch.  He seems to relish in playing the evil characters that he's portrayed in the Victorian melodramas that he is known for.  One of his frequent co-stars was also his wife Jenny Lynn. 

If you enjoy this film you have to see his portrayal of the title character in "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (1936).  You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On Screen -- Safe in Hell (1931)

Dorothy Mackaill

"Safe in Hell" is a nice little Pre-Code film about a prostitute named Gilda who is on the run after believing she committed a murder.  She's then smuggled on board a ship by her returning sailor boyfriend, and soon-to-be husband, and taken to an island in the Caribbean where the laws of extradition don't apply.  Here the story continues when Gilda tries to remain true to her husband while he is back off to sea to earn money to support her, and she is trying to fend off the cutthroats and criminals who inhabit the island and who are constantly trying to seduce her. The story has a couple of plot twists thrown in for good measure and a pretty good ending so I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. 

Dorothy Mackaill portrays the prostitute and Donald Cook her boyfriend/husband.  Dorothy played opposite Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in "No Man of Her Own" (1931), and Donald played James Cagney's brother in "The Public Enemy" in 1931 and was in "Baby Face" (1933) with Barbara Stanwyck.  The film also stars a pre-Flash Gordon Charles Middleton as the corrupt lawyer and is directed by William Wellman.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

On Screen -- The Divorcee (1930)

"The Divorcee" is a great film featuring one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the big screen, Norma Shearer. One look from her could melt your heart or make your blood freeze in your veins. This film is one of the early talkies from 1930 and also stars Chester Morris who was featured in the "Boston Blackie" series of films. It's a story about love, betrayal, getting even, and reconciliation. This was Shearer's fifth film and, if I'm not mistaken, won her an Academy Award for "Best Actress". She was also married to MGM genius Irving Thalberg.

Friday, March 11, 2011

So about the remakes ...

Is there no one in Hollywood that has any type of creative skills left. Now and then something original comes along, but a lot of times when someone decides to remake an old film, television program, or serial, they make a total mockery of the original subject matter. Some are passable as decent viewing material, but most, not so much.

Case in point - the new "Green Hornet" film. Granted, I haven't seen the film but watching trailers was about all I could stomach. I own a copy of the original Green Hornet serials that starred Gordon Jones and Keye Luke on DVD. I find them very entertaining and they still manage to keep me interested even though they are kind of predictable and a little dated. I believe they were just released as part of a 75th anniversary collector set. Every time Hollywood churns out something new from something old I hold my breath, I exhale slowly, and usually go back and watch the original show or film that the new remake is based on.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Oh, I forgot ...

I kind of get in these themes now and then where I'll watch a certain directors' films or I'll watch silent films for a while or a certain actor or actress.  So bear with me ...  Also, for all the collectors out there, if your interested in any of my films let me know.  Some of them are not available on DVD or video but I may be able to work something out for you ...  I'm still working on an updated listing of my films, it's quite extensive, but I'll start posting some of them soon as soon as I figure out the best way to do so ...

Coming up ...

Hey Guys !!!

So I'm going to be posting info about my favorite classic films.  I literally own thousands on DVD and my collection is growing all the time.  If anyone has any questions about any of the films I own, or just classic films in general such as availability etc., just let me know and I'll get back to you ASAP ...

Thanks in advance everybody and keep checking in ...