Thursday, April 28, 2011

On Screen -- Out of the Past (1947)

  If you watch only one film from the noir genre in your lifetime, make sure that one film is "Out of the Past" (1947).  Every fundamental element used in the making of a great noir film is present in the production of this classic.  Viewers are introduced to a dark and gritty atmosphere with the directors' superb use of light and shadow, and to the seemingly never-ending nights which contrast with the few bright and picturesque countryside scenes that make the characters seem as though they exist in two separate worlds.  Also, thrown in for good measure are the usual staples of any good noir film including the obligatory private eyes and hoodlums in trenchcoats and the story being told in retrospect and flashbacks as "Jeff Bailey" attempts to explain to his girlfriend "Ann" about his mysterious and questionable past.

I'll be the first to admit I'm not the biggest Robert Mitchum fan around, but after watching Out of the Past again I'm probably going to have to rewatch some of his other films and rethink my position.  Mitchum gives a rock-solid performance as private eye "Jeff Bailey aka Jeff Markham" and seems to be a natural for the part.  Jane Greer sparkles like a diamond with her portrayal of "Kathie Moffat" the quintessential femme fatale who made me wonder throughout the film what I would do if I were in Mitchums' place.  I came to the conclusion that I would probably do the exact same thing,  Greer is just too irresistible. 
When costar Virginia Hustons' character "Ann" tells Jeff  "She can't be all bad, no one is ...", Bailey replies "Well, she comes the closest ..."

The story grabs you and doesn't let go, right from the beginning when a mysterious stranger with a message arrives in a small town looking for Jeff Bailey who has changed his name and established a small business in order to try to escape his past.  Former business associate, boss, and gambler "Whit Sterling", played by Kirk Douglas, wants to hire Bailey to track down and bring back the woman who shot him and stole a large sum of money.  Bailey accepts the job with great skepticism and right from the beginning has a feeling as though he's being set up.  With this acceptance Baileys' spiral down into a deadly game of cat and mouse begins as he searches for, and finally finds Kathie and the tension between everyone involved builds like a rubber band being slowly stretched to its limit.

The film has some of the best writing and dialogue that I've ever heard. With lines like "A dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle ...", and "You're like a leaf the wind blows from one gutter to another ...", anyone who's seen Out of the Past doesn't soon forget it.  And if you haven't seen it yet, I envy you because you're in for a real treat.

If you enjoy the moody atmosphere of Out of the Past, you might want to check out director Jacques Tourneurs' collaboration with legendary producer Val Lewton in "Cat People"  (1942) and "I Walked With A Zombie" (1943), I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

From the Auction --

Mildred Harris Chaplin (Witzel and Hartsook, 1919)  - Two signed portraits of the first wife of Charlie Chaplin, Mildred Harris.  Ms. Harris was a most interesting woman, marrying Chaplin whilst only 17, and three years later, upon her divorce, immediately going into an affair with the Prince of Wales.  She has over 100 film credits which include everything from an uncredited appearance as a dancing girl in D.W. Griffiths' "Intolerance" (1916), to one of the best Three Stooges' shorts, 1936's "Movie Maniacs".  It was Ms. Harris who paired up Edward, Prince of Wales to Wallis Simpson (Duchess of Windsor).  Both photos are signed with the name she used from 1919-1920 while married to Chaplin, "Sincerely, Mildred Harris Chaplin."


 Original "The Return of Chandu" (Principal Distributing, 1934) 11x14 Lobby Card - Starring Bela Lugosi and Maria Alba.  The image is from the last scene of Chapter 12 of the serial.  Check out my previous review of "The Return of Chandu."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

On Screen -- Flight to Mars (1951)

 "Flight to Mars" is one of the first color science fiction films, and the first film to feature a trip to the planet Mars.  Produced by Monogram Pictures and filmed using the two-color CineColor process which allows the image color to come through very well, though the overall quality of the print that I viewed is a little scratchy.

The story is about a group of scientists and a news reporter being rocketed into space on a journey to the planet Mars. Of course coming before the advent of manned space flight to any planet the principle behind the special effects used are a little rough around the edges.  At takeoff the launch essentially consists of shaking hands with the reporters gathered at the base of the launch pad, and closing and latching the door behind them as the group gets aboard the ship.  Spacesuits are nothing more than leather bomber jackets and uniforms used by pilots in WWII.  And as they get ready for liftoff everyone gets into their standard issue military type cots and strap in for takeoff with a couple of leather belts, with the actual liftoff being initiated by the pilot pushing the button on a handheld clicker. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to make fun of the film it's actually pretty good, but the special effects and the film itself are definitely on the low budget end of the spectrum.  During the flight the crew encounters the usual dangers associated with space flight including meteor storms and a crash landing on the planet.  Upon arrival on Mars the crew then wonders if  a return trip back to Earth is even possible.  Mars as we all know is a hotbed of beautiful women in miniskirts and high heels as well as sinister men plotting to commandeer the rebuilt space ship and fly it back to takeover the Earth.  The film is a must-see for any fan of the 50s sci-fi genre.
The film stars Cameron Mitchell as "Steve Abbot", a cute and perky Virginia Huston as "Carol Stafford", John Litel as "Dr. Lane", and a very leggy Marguerite Chapman as "Alita"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On Screen -- Angels Over Broadway (1940)

 This film is not what I expected...  at all.  From the title I expected "Angels Over Broadway" to be a light, fun, maybe even a heartwarming type of film (why did I have visions of a Busby Berkeley musical?).  In my opinion, it's none of the above.  Not even close.  It's a good film but I found it very dark and kind of moody. 

Take the characters for example, there's a con man who's down-on-his-luck looking for his next sucker.  Then there's a chorus girl, down-on-her-luck, who's willing to do anything to get in a show.  There's a drunken playwright whose show just closed because it was a flop.  And last but not least, you have a meek embezzler, with a money squandering wife, who's caught stealing $3,000 by his boss and threatened with jail unless he replaces the money by 6 AM the next morning.  Oh and by the way, the embezzler is now suicidal. 

Director Ben Hecht packs a lot of drama into 78 minutes so hold on tight because it is a roller coaster ride.  The ending comes kind of abruptly and left me scratching my head, not knowing if I wanted more or that I was glad it was over.
The film stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as "Bill O'Brien" the con man, and an enchanting Rita Hayworth as "Nina Barona" the chorus girl.  But it's Thomas Mitchell who steals the show as "Gene Gibbons" the playwright.
I think the film is also known as "Before I Die" which suits it much better ...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On Screen -- The Return of Chandu (1934)

Lugosi, Alba, and Kimball-Young
Princess Nadji of Egypt is in danger and only one person can help her, "Frank Chandler", better known as "Chandu the Magician".  With the advent of DVDs and DVD players we've kind of lost the anticipation that was associated with the cliffhanger serials of the 30s and 40s.  Not that it isn't great to be able to watch your favorites whenever you like, but like I said, wondering if your favorite serial character is going to survive whatever peril they're in is now just a fast-forward button push away. 

The "Return of Chandu" is a great example of one of these serials.  Chock full of evil characters and their henchmen, women in danger, secret societies, shipwrecks, and great sets, this serial won't disappoint.  Chandu, who was raised in the East, uses his White Magic to try to save a princess from the clutches of a secret cult and their Black Magic who are going to sacrifice her in order to resurrect the goddess Ossana.  With 12 chapters in all, each chapter (except the last of course) ends in true cliffhanger fashion.  If the jungle sets look familiar, you're right ... they were used a year earlier in the filming of the 1933 action/adventure classic "King Kong". 

Another great vehicle for Bela Lugosi who stars as "Chandu", with Maria Alba as "Princess Nadji", Clara Kimball Young as "Dorothy Regent", and Lucien Prival as "The High Priest".

Friday, April 15, 2011

On Screen -- You're Telling Me! (1934)

Howard, Ames, and Fields

"You're Telling Me!" is a very funny film starring one of the greatest comedians ever, W.C. Fields.  "Samuel Bisbee" is an oddball inventor who likes to drink and lives in a small town.  He's married and has a beautiful daughter and like any parent, only wants the best for his little girl.  Up to this point his inventions (I'm not going to tell you what they are, you have to see them to believe them) have mostly been a flop, until he invents and tries to market a puncture-proof tire.

When his daughter decides she's going to marry into the richest family in town, the "Murchisons", what could go wrong?.  Everything, that's what.  Did I mention that Sam likes to drink?  Mrs. Murchison calls off the engagement because she doesn't think the Bisbees' are a worthy enough family to have her son marry into.  Sam, wanting to make a name for himself and make his family proud,  goes into the city to market his puncture-proof tire and of course things don't go exactly as planned.  Among other things, Sam then proceeds to shoot the tires off of a police car,  he attempts to commit suicide, and wrangles with an ostrich. 

On his way home from the city a despondent Sam meets "Marie" on the train and thinks that she's going to kill herself and proceeds to talk her out of it.  Marie who is actually a princess decides to repay Sams' kind gesture and pays a visit to the Bisbee household, much to the chagrin of the Murchisons' and just about everyone else in town.  Watch for Sam swinging a golf club at the opening of a new golf course.

W.C. Fields stars as "Sam Bisbee", Louise Carter as "Mrs. Bisbee", and a lovely Joan Marsh stars as Sams' daughter "Pauline".  Adrienne Ames is striking and sophisticated as "Princess Lescaboura", Kathleen Howard, a familiar face in Fields' films, costars as "Mrs. Murchison", with a post-Tarzan and pre-Flash Gordon Larry "Buster" Crabbe as "Bob Murchison".

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Screen -- Laurel & Hardy - Dirty Work (1933)

Stan and Ollie

Some would say "Dirty Work" is one of Laurel & Hardy's best shorts.  Not that I don't agree, it's just that there are so many great shorts and films by these two that I can't single out any one or few as being better than any other.  Each short and film has it's own special L&H moment that various fans appreciate.  This short features Stanley and Oliver as chimney sweeps working at the home of an eccentric professor.  After destroying the house in their usual hilarious fashion, Oliver gets a dose of the professors "rejuvenation" formula.  Great short, but then again like I said, I like'em all ...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Screen -- Black Legion (1937)

Bogart and Helen Flint
"Black Legion" is a very powerful film with a topic that's as sensitive today as it was during production of the film over 70 years ago.  The story begins in a machine shop in a typical American town in that era.  A promotion leaves a position open for a plant foreman and one of the workers "Frank Taylor" thinks he'll get the job due to his seniority.  Frank goes home and plans a big celebration with his wife "Ruth" and his son "Buddy".  But when the position goes to "Joe Dombrowski" who developed a device for the company, and who also happens to be an immigrant, Frank becomes very displeased. 

When "Cliff" one of Frank's coworkers notices how upset he is, he asks Frank if he would like to join the "Black Legion", a Klan type organization whose purpose is to rid the country of immigrants.  The gang, with Frank as a member, burns down the Dombrowski home and run Joe and his father out of town.  The thugs all celebrate and Frank gets his foreman position, but then loses it due to the time he wastes on the job recruiting for the organization.  The gang then systematically disposes of anyone who crosses their path.  When one confrontation leads to Frank panicking and killing one of his coworkers "Ed Jackson" because he knew too much, things get serious for Frank in a hurry.

Humphrey Bogart stars as "Frank Taylor", B movie idol and crooner Dick Foran as "Ed Jackson", Erin O'Brien-Moore as Frank's wife "Ruth", and Dickie Jones as Frank's son "Buddy".  Ann Sheridan also costars as "Betty Grogan" and Joseph Sawyer as "Cliff".

Monday, April 11, 2011

On Screen -- Dead End (1937)

Bogart and Trevor

"Dead End" is a tough, gritty drama about life on one of the streets on the East side of New York city in the 30s.  The film depicts the conflict between the tenement dwellers trying to make ends meet and the well-to-do neighbors who quite obviously seem to look down upon them. 

A killer, "Baby Face Martin", on the run returns to his old neighborhood attempting to reconcile with his mother and an old acquaintance, but is not exactly welcomed with open arms.  Martin has a corrupting influence on the local boys, making a life of crime seem glamorous.  "Drina" is a young woman on strike and picketing at her job for better wages in order to be able to move out of the apartment that she shares with "Tommy" her young brother that she's trying to keep from living a life of crime.  "Dave" is an out of work architect who dreams of moving away from the tenements with "Kay", the girlfriend of one of his rich neighbors.  But it's Drina who's actually been in love with Dave for years. 

Joel McCrea stars as "Dave", and Sylvia Sidney as "Drina", with Billy Halop as her brother "Tommy", while Humphrey Bogart steals the show starring as "Baby Face Martin".  The film marks the first on screen appearance of the "Dead End Kids" including Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, and Leo GorceyMarjorie Main has a couple of brief but memorable appearances as Mrs. Martin, as does Claire Trevor costarring as "Francey".  Essential viewing for any Humphrey Bogart fan.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

On Screen -- Railroaded ! (1947)

Ireland and Randolph

Great film and an A+ effort from film noir director extraordinaire Anthony Mann.  He's assembled a great cast that works very well together.  As expected from any good noir film "Railroaded !" overflows with images of double crossing, dark alleys, and dimly lit streets as Mann shows his expertise in working with light and shadows. The film begins with a staged robbery gone bad, and an innocent man framed for murder.  From there begins a roller coaster ride through a world of short days, long nights, and characters including a ruthless gangster, beautiful dames, and tough cops.

The film stars John Ireland as menacing bad guy "Duke Martin", Hugh Beaumont as homocide detective "Mickey Ferguson", Jane Randolph as an emotionally confused "Clara Calhoun", Ed Kelly as "Steve Ryan", and Sheila Ryan as Ed's determined sister "Rosie".  It's fun to watch a pre"Ward Cleaver" Hugh Beaumont spouting the hard boiled slang that's usually found in any good noir film, and he does a really good job with his character,   He's definitely underrated as an actor.  A must see for any noir fan, and even those who aren't true fans will still enjoy it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

On Screen -- Target Earth (1954)

Invader, Crowley and Denning

 "Target Earth" is a pretty good 50s sci fi flick.  A woman awakens in her apartment to find the electricity and water not working and the apartment building as well as the surrounding area deserted.  As she makes her way through the city (possibly Chicago, though the name of the city is never mentioned) she discovers a dead body and then a few survivors. The group learns that there has been a mass evacuation due to "an invading army".  The survivors soon find that the "invaders" are mechanical men from another planet. 

Members of the group learn about each others personal lives while they try to avoid being detected by their attackers who stalk the streets and lurk around every corner.  The use of special effects is minimal.  Still photos and stock footage are used throughout the film and the design of the robots can't compare to the multimillion dollar special effects budgets available to production companies and studios today.  Overall the film is fun to watch, and fans of the genre won't be disappointed.

The film stars Kathleen Crowley as "Nora King", Richard Denning as "Frank Brooks", Virginia Grey as "Vicki Harris" and Richard Reeves as "Jim Wilson".  Costarring is veteran actor Whit Bissel as the "scientist".

Friday, April 8, 2011

Auction Time --

I'm bidding on a couple of pretty cool autographed photos of my favorites ...
I won't know 'til the auction actually closes on Sunday night if I won, so I'll be tracking it for the next couple of days.  If I win I"ll post some photos ...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

On Screen -- Daughter of the Night (1920)

Lugosi and Parry
Oh boy ...  A supposedly lost Bela Lugosi silent film known in Europe as "Dance on the Volcano" is available on DVD.  "Daughter of the Night" had potential, a spy drama about a French aristocrat "Andrew Fleurot" that gets involved with a Russian cabaret singer "Die Grafin Kaminska" who also happens to be associated with the underground revolutionary movement. 

Again this film seems to have continuity issues perhaps due to lost or damaged footage or just poor editing, and the transfer seems to have come from a well viewed VHS tape.  The awful contrast and loss of detail is even more evident when viewed on a larger screen.  There seems to have been more attention paid to the piano score for the film which comes through very nicely. 

The over exaggerated gestures usually seen in the early silent films are even more prevalent here.  Bela Lugosi does a nice job though as the aristocrat drawn into the revolution, Violetta Napierska as the spy and Lee Parry as "Tatiana/Marie Dorouska".  And I guarantee, if you're like me, you'll constantly be distracted by the "Marge Simpson" hairdos. 

Remember this was filmed more than a decade before Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula in 1931 so he's definitely not as refined in his acting skills as he is in his future attempts.  The best part of the film is when the peasants storm the castle,  unfortunately you have to sit through the entire film to get to it.  The only saving grace is that the actual running time of the film is less than an hour long. 

I would have to say that this would be another film for die hard Lugosi fans only, otherwise skip it.  Save yourself an hour and just watch the bonus feature on the Alpha Video release of Bela Lugosi’s July 27th 1953 appearance on the "You Asked for It" television show. It's about 8 minutes long and more interesting than the feature itself.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On Screen -- Return of the Vampire (1943)

Foch and Lugosi
 "Return of the Vampire" is a rather anemic (sorry) retelling of the same basic vampire story.  This is a low budget Columbia Pictures B-movie and it shows.  The story starts in the early 1900s with an English family disposing of "Armand Tesla", a vampire who has been terrorizing them.  Flash forward to England during WWII when a stray bomb dropped by the Nazis lands in the cemetery where Tesla's body has been resting. 

Tesla is resurrected with the aid of a couple of clueless workers in the cemetery and then assumes the identity of Dr. Bruckner who has just escaped from a prison camp. The vampire with the aid of a werewolf servant seeks revenge against the woman, "Lady Jane Ainsley" who had previously done away with him, through her son "John" and his fiance "Nicki".

This film comes complete with everything you would expect in a story about vampires including a skeptical police inspector, timelapse human to werewolf transformation., a beautiful potential victim, and fog machines working on overdrive.   At times some of the actors seem to be struggling through their lines and the continuity of the film seems a bit off.  I'm not sure if it's Matt Willis' acting or the script, most likely a combination of the two, that brings to the screen the worst werewolf character I've ever seen in a horror film (is he actually carrying laundry in that bundle?). 

A great performance, as usual, by Bela Lugosi as "Armand Tesla/Dr. Bruckner" and Nina Foch as "Nicki Saunders" make the viewing more enjoyable.  The film also costars Frieda Inescort as "Lady Jane" and Roland Varno as "John", with veteran actor Miles Mander as "Sir Frederick".  I wouldn't go as far as to say only Bela Lugosi fans need apply, the movie does have it's moments, but I think only hardcore Lugosi fans will have their horror cravings truly satisfied.

Monday, April 4, 2011

On Screen -- The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

Rathbone, Greene, and Atwill
 "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is a very entertaining mystery based on a story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  This is the first on screen pairing of Basil Rathbone as "Sherlock Holmes" and Nigel Bruce as "Dr. John Watson".  The chemistry between these two actors is pure magic.  I'm not going to write too much about the story because I'm sure everyone knows it by now.  Basically Holmes and Watson are brought in to investigate the legend of a vicious hound that menaces the descendants of Sir Hugo Baskerville.  Holmes not believing in the legend of the hound rounds up the probable suspects in his own elementary and often imitated style.

This is probably one of the best known big screen versions of the story, and Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce went on to star together in a total of twelve Sherlock Holmes films.  This film also has a strong supporting cast including  Richard Greene who plays a dual role as both Sir Hugo and Sir Henry Baskerville.  Greene achieved fame in the 1950s as televisions' "Robin Hood".  Also costarring are Lionel Atwill as "Dr. Mortimer", John Carradine as "Barryman" the butler, and Wendy Barrie as "Beryl Stapleton". 

TCM Trivia Note  --  In the original novel, and in all later film versions, the butler is named Barrymore. In 1939  this had to be changed to Barryman because the famous Barrymore family was still acting in films.  In fact, John Barrymore himself portrayed Sherlock Holmes in a 1922 silent feature.

Friday, April 1, 2011

On Screen -- Of Human Bondage (1934)

Davis and Howard
   "Of Human Bondage"is a great film.  It's a story about "Philip Carey" a sensitive, clubfooted painter and potential art student who then has his life turned upside down when he is told by a local artist/critic that he has no artistic talent.  Philip decides to enroll in medical school and shortly after he crosses paths with "Mildred Rogers", a flirtatious tearoom waitress.  Philip becomes obsessed with Mildred to the point of failing his mid-term exam, but Mildred shows no interest in him whatsoever.  She breaks dates with him to go out with "Emile Miller", a womanizing regular who visits her at the tearoom. 

To help Philip forget Mildred his friend "Harry" introduces him to "Norah" who shows great affection towards him.  But Philip leaves Norah for Mildred when the waitress shows up pregnant and has nowhere to stay.  Without giving too much away I'll just say the cycle continues through the rest of the film.  A satisfying ending wraps things up very nicely which makes the film definitely worth a look. 

Leslie Howard stars as "Philip", Bette Davis stars in a breakthrough role as "Mildred", and Alan Hale costars as "Emile Miller".  Reginald Denny also costars as "Harry", with Kay Johnson as "Norah" and Frances Dee as "Sally Athelny".  A "pre-Ebeneezer Scrooge" Reginald Owen also costars as "Thrope Athelny".  Watch for Bette Davis letting loose with one of the most venomous tirades I've ever heard in a film.