1940

The Mummy’s Hand (1940, Christy Cabanne)

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this film.

There’s no discernible reason for it to be called The Mummy’s Hand. I can only guess it has to do with the way they cut the trailer, maybe having the hand come out as a shocker.

It’s not a traditional Universal horror film; it’s one of the first where they cut the budget. Until this point, the films were higher profile (the first three Frankenstein films, even Dracula’s Daughter).

The script is lousy, but it also introduces these bad comic elements–mostly from Wallace Ford, playing the idiot sidekick. The film also has George Zucco as the villain (not the mummy, but the mummy’s master). It’s impossible to take Zucco seriously as a villain in this one–especially since he’s a lecherous villain, lusting after Peggy Moran in these creepy scenes.

She probably gives the film’s best performance; she doesn’t have much competition. Dick Foran’s the lead, who is almost as dumb as Ford.

Cecil Kellaway is good as Moran’s father. Charles Trowbridge as the smart guy who helps the two morons, he’s fine.

Watching The Mummy’s Hand, you can see it as a straight comedy, with the bang, pop, zows of the 1960s “Batman” show, with a laugh track. They kind of need a laugh track. They ape lines from Dracula. It feels desperate.

Vera West gives Moran an amusing Egyptian desert nightgown and Jack P. Pierce’s makeup is great.

It’s hard to make it through the seventy minutes.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christy Cabanne; screenplay by Griffin Jay and Maxwell Shane, based on a story by Jay; director of photography, Elwood Bredell; edited by Philip Cahn; music by Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner; produced by Ben Pivar; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dick Foran (Steve Banning), Peggy Moran (Marta Solvani), Wallace Ford (Babe Jenson), Eduardo Ciannelli (The High Priest), George Zucco (Professor Andoheb), Cecil Kellaway (The Great Solvani), Charles Trowbridge (Dr. Petrie of the Cairo Museum), Tom Tyler (Kharis, the Mummy) and Sig Arno (The Beggar).


The Long Voyage Home (1940, John Ford)

John Wayne gets first billing in The Long Voyage Home, but the picture really belongs to Thomas Mitchell, Ward Bond and Ian Hunter. The film’s a combination slash adaptation of four one-act plays–which is somewhat clear from the rather lengthy sequences tied together with shorter joining scenes–and while Wayne gets one of his own, it’s Mitchell who’s the constant. I remember the first time I saw Mitchell in something besides It’s a Wonderful Life and was astounded he was in other pictures (to save a little face, I’ll point out I was fifteen or sixteen at the time… hopefully). But I don’t think any other film of Mitchell’s I’ve seen really showcases him the way The Long Voyage Home does. The film ends when Mitchell leaves; it’s impossible to imagine it without him, something Ford and screenwriter Dudley Nichols must have realized. The film begs for one ending–the John Wayne ending–but doesn’t give it, maybe the only time the film betrays its ominous foreshadowing.

The foreshadowing’s only a problem in the last act, when The Long Voyage Home gets tedious. There are some narrative surprises, but they come after ten or fifteen minutes of scenes Ford would have done better to cut or somehow recap in expository dialogue. They’re predictable and boring… there’s occasionally flourishes of life, but only because the cast is so strong. The film’s a downer, but it’s such a continual downer–following the opening sequence, involving the crew’s shipboard soiree with some Caribbean prostitutes (it’s frequently amazing how the film is able to depict code-prohibited ideas clearly), which is just a slice-of-life piece–it’s hard to get upset at any point. The ominous foreshadowing, even if it doesn’t ripen, slams the viewer so constantly, it’d be impossible to get the heart rate up. It’s clear nothing good’s going to happen in the picture.

I love John Ford’s films with cinematographer Gregg Toland (a friend once scoffed at this appreciation, telling me to compare it to Toland’s work for Welles) but The Long Voyage Home is better-looking than any other Ford film I can think of. The composition is so continually stunning, it turns the picture into a more abstract piece of visual art–the narrative isn’t important, just the way the film looks. I accidently muted the film for thirty seconds and didn’t even realize it. The visuals are incredible. It’s such a deliberate film (and knowing Ford was not someone to lollygag around when composing shots, it’s unbelievable to think he was able to pick these shots with any speed).

All of the acting is good. Wayne plays a Swede (something he was worried about) and doesn’t get a lot of lines until the end, when it wouldn’t matter if he were good or not (he’s fine), just because he’s such a familiar face as the character. Ward Bond and Ian Hunter are fantastic, Hunter with the more difficult role, though Bond does get the one of the film’s monologues. Barry Fitzgerald and John Qualen are both good. Wilfrid Lawson is also good as the captain, who doesn’t get a name. It’s a solid, familiar Ford cast all around.

At some point in the first twenty minutes, when the film’s established itself as being narratively sturdy and visually stunning, it’s clear it’s never going to pick up. It’s a tad boring (in, unfortunately, the pejorative sense) but still a fine film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by John Ford; screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based on plays by Eugene O’Neill; director of photography, Gregg Toland; edited by Sherman Todd; music by Richard Hageman; released by United Artists.

Starring John Wayne (Olsen), Thomas Mitchell (Driscoll), Ian Hunter (Smitty), Barry Fitzgerald (Cocky), Wilfrid Lawson (Captain), John Qualen (Axel), Mildred Natwick (Freda), Ward Bond (Yank), Arthur Shields (Donkeyman), Joe Sawyer (Davis), J.M. Kerrigan (Crimp), Rafaela Ottiano (Bella) and Carmen Morales (Principal Spanish Girl).


The Saint’s Double Trouble (1940, Jack Hively)

George Sanders can do no wrong in The Saint’s Double Trouble, so much so, he has the ability to smooth the film over. He’s such a joy to watch, the critical part of the brain shuts down. Eventually, as the film nears the conclusion, Sanders looses his control, letting judgments percolate to the surface. This condition isn’t particularly rare, but what makes Double Trouble is the repeating effect. Even after it’s clear the film’s charm is pulling the wool over the viewer’s eyes, it goes ahead and charms him or her again, setting up another realization a few minutes further into the running time. It keeps it up until the final shot, which plays on the surface like it should get a pass… but it’s really quite hollow.

There’s a distressing lack of content to The Saint’s Double Trouble. It opens rather grandiosely–or, with grandiose promise–in Cairo. Bela Lugosi shows up, mailing a coffin back to the States (there’s no reference to Dracula, which is kind of unfortunate, because it’s got to be what the viewer’s thinking). Lugosi’s actually quite good in Double Trouble–it might be his best performance (or the best performance I’ve seen from him). But then the film skips to Philadelphia and in The Saint’s Double Trouble, Philadelphia only has one exterior street corner. There’s a depressing lack of scale, with the script, budget and direction failing each other. Hively doesn’t do anything to make the film feel like it’s taking place anywhere other than a backlot. He’s a decent director, even if he likes cheap shots occasionally–and he can’t direct a suspenseful scene–but he’s generally fine.

The script’s a different story. It’s got some good one-liners and some fine conversations, but the film’s plot is so addlebrained, the incredibly complex series of double crosses–occurring off-screen–is never unraveled. It’s not as important as the film’s hook, George Sanders playing both the Saint and the villain. These two characters apparently know each other–it’s implied, at least–but there’s never anything more about it. I’m all for letting the viewer figure things out for him or herself, but The Saint’s Double Trouble asks the viewer to ignore critical reasoning and it goes down like castor oil.

The film’s abbreviated running time–sixty-six minutes soaking wet–means not only does Lugosi get short-changed (he’s even funny at one point), but so does second-billed Helene Whitney. She has a bunch of history with Sanders–thank you expository dialogue–but it doesn’t go anywhere. Their scenes together are wasted, accelerating the plot. Sanders is great in the scenes, but the film doesn’t have a single payoff. It keeps deferring the payoff–it really does seem like it’ll come at the end–but no. The film pulls it away again… and the end is so cheaply done, it makes The Saint’s Double Trouble seem like a low budget impression, filmed in someone’s backyard. Hively’s not entirely at fault–RKO controlled the budget–but he doesn’t do anything creative.

The supporting cast is good. Jonathan Hale’s hilarious as Sanders’s erstwhile sidekick slash pursuer. Whitney certainly shows potential. Elliot Sullivan’s a solid henchman….

It’s a fine diversion, but Double Trouble wastes its ingredients.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Hively; screenplay by Ben Holmes, based on the novel by Leslie Charteris; director of photography, J. Roy Hunt; edited by Theron Warth and Desmond Marquette; music by Roy Webb; produced by Cliff Reid; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring George Sanders (Simon Templar / Boss Duke Bates), Helene Whitney (Anne Bitts), Jonathan Hale (Inspector Henry Fernack), Bela Lugosi (The Partner), Donald MacBride (Chief of Detectives John H. Bohlen), John F. Hamilton (Limpy, a Henchman), Thomas W. Ross (Professor Horatio T. Bitts) and Elliott Sullivan (Monk).


Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case (1940, Harold S. Bucquet)

I wonder, did Lew Ayres ever feel like Jimmy Kildare was a heel? I mean, he’s an unbelievably nice guy–he won’t propose to nurse Mary Lamont (Laraine Day sleepwalks through almost all of Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case, since there’s only one scene where she needs to do anything) because he doesn’t want to make her wait until his internship is over. If it means he loses her to wealthy neurosurgeon Shepperd Strudwick, well, so be it. In fact, he’s such a nice guy… he’s going to risk his career (and prison time) to make sure Strudwick doesn’t get a raw deal–and, presumably, can then marry Day.

Ayres is okay–he certainly doesn’t play the role with any self-awareness–he’s believable as the impossibly well-meaning Kildare. Maybe it isn’t those good intentions, maybe it’s a lack of consideration for himself. It’s selflessness as a certifiable condition. Every single one of these movies, Ayres ends up doing something illegal and he never worries about it. Usually his mom tells him it’s the right thing to do. In Strange Case–the urge to say “in the case of Strange Case” was unbearable–he’s got to force insulin shock treatment (for schizophrenia, they just call it insanity in the script) on a patient in order to save Strudwick. The obvious, putting the John Doe patient’s picture in the newspaper, doesn’t occur to Ayres or any of the hospital staff (they don’t even call the cops). I read up on insulin shock therapy, just because the film’s treatment of it is so goofy. The insulin causes patient John Eldredge’s brain to devolve to a primeval state, then the mind repairs itself. There are a couple of explanations of this phenomenon, first from Samuel S. Hinds (as Ayres’s father… who visits just in time for every movie) then from Ayres. It sounds absurd both times and I had to look it up. Couldn’t find anything about the primeval state… but it’s interesting a film from 1940 doesn’t question evolution. Of course, 1940 is before the G.I. Bill dumbed down American high schools.

Anyway, Strange Case is fine. There’s not much plot to it–Eldredge doesn’t even show up until the halfway point–and it just allows for the cast, now on their fourth picture in the series, to go crazy. Every performance in the film, from the supporting cast members who got saddled with perfunctory scenes before, is great. Walter Kingsford, Frank Orth, Alma Kruger and Horace McMahon (well, I’m not sure he was in any of the other ones, but it’s implied here) all have these fantastic scenes, just because there’s not enough story so they get more material and they’re wonderful. Emma Dunn and Nat Pendleton, who usually do get material, get even better material here. Dunn’s got her best scene in the four films in Strange Case.

And, of course, Lionel Barrymore is outstanding. He and Ayres have a good banter here, even if the movie–as usual–has him firing Ayres for a few minutes.

Bucquet’s direction is phoned in. He’s fine in his composition except for close-ups. It’s like he wasn’t going to do any, then came back and shot them. The close-ups don’t match. It must have driven editor Gene Ruggiero nuts trying to put the picture together.

Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case is a perfectly inoffensive (narratively, anyway) seventy minutes. It would have been a fine to sit through at an air conditioned movie house on a hot summer day… except it opened in April.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Harold S. Bucquet; screenplay by Harry Ruskin and Willis Goldbeck, story by Max Brand and Goldbeck; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Gene Ruggiero; music by David Snell; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Lew Ayres (Dr. Jimmy Kildare), Lionel Barrymore (Dr. Leonard Gillespie), Laraine Day (Nurse Mary Lamont), Shepperd Strudwick (Dr. Greg Lane), Samuel S. Hinds (Dr. Stephen Kildare), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Martha Kildare), Nat Pendleton (Joe Wayman), Walter Kingsford (Dr. Walter Carew), Alma Kruger (Molly Byrd), John Eldredge (Henry Adams), Nell Craig (Nurse Parker) and Marie Blake (Sally).


I Love You Again (1940, W.S. Van Dyke)

I Love You Again is such a confident success–the whole thing rests on William Powell and everything he does in the entire picture is fantastic–it’s hard to think of anything wrong with it. It moves beautifully, its ninety-nine minutes sailing by, the supporting cast is all excellent and every one of its big comic scenes work.

The film’s premise–Powell as a teetotaler who, following a hit on the head, discovers he’s really a con artist–is well-suited as a vehicle for he and Myrna Loy. Loy plays the divorcing wife–bored with the teetotaler–who finds him a changed and intriguing man. I Love You Again comes about seven years after their first pairing and the two work in absolute unison, allowing the narrative to do without added exposition.

Watching Powell pursue Loy–and run afoul of her new beau, played by Donald Douglas (in one of the film’s only weak performances)–is delightful, with their pre-existing film partnership part of the agreed upon amusement. And it’s their filmic relationship, the one playing out in I Love You Again, where the film gets overconfident. It assumes the viewer will take that relationship for granted to a degree; the romance, which becomes the film’s driving force, isn’t the biggest plot foil.

Instead, there’s an elaborate con going on. The con’s good and beautifully handled–it’s a shame Edmund Lowe doesn’t have more scenes, but Frank McHugh’s great as Powell’s sidekick–but it confuses the film’s effectiveness. Loy’s hardly in the film’s last third, just because there’s an elaborate and hilarious set-up for the con involving Powell dressed up as a Boy Scout. Because the sequence is so good–and because Loy and Powell do have a nice scene dealing with the romance plot following it–as the film plays, it isn’t clear how much time Loy’s been off-screen.

The first half of the film, filled with some of its best comic scenes–there’s a great dinner scene with Powell, Loy and Douglas, another scene with Powell and Loy shopping–is heavy on Loy. She’s an integral part of the experience and to put her off-screen because it’s workable is bothersome (I know I’m harping on it, but Loy doesn’t get a very good close).

In some ways, this pairing is more convenient than collaborative. Powell gets to do physical comedy, play two wildly different parts (the teetotaler being completely against type for him) and gets to work with McHugh. He and Powell have a great chemistry and McHugh gets most of the film’s best lines; his character is the only one free of a real narrative.

But the film viewing experience itself is so joyful, it’s hard to identify the shortcuts the filmmakers are taking while watching. The film’s a superior diversion and the slightly less than filling feeling takes a few minutes to set in. During, there are a few moments where it’s clear Van Dyke’s not really giving the direction his all. Some of the camera set-ups are identical–even if they frequently do have some excellent cuts–and he’s not really trying. He doesn’t have to, not with the material, not with the cast, but it’d have been something if he had.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; screenplay by Charles Lederer, George Oppenheimer and Harry Kurnitz, based on a story by Leon Gordon and Maurine Dallas Watkins and the novel by Octavus Roy Cohen; director of photography, Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Gene Ruggiero; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Lawrence Weingarten; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Larry Wilson), Myrna Loy (Kay Wilson), Frank McHugh (Doc Ryan), Edmund Lowe (Duke Sheldon), Donald Douglas (Herbert), Nella Walker (Kay’s mother), Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer (Leonard Harkspur Jr.), Pierre Watkin (Mr. W.H. Sims), Paul Stanton (Mr. Edward Littlejohn Sr.), Morgan Wallace (Mr. Phil Belenson) and Charles Arnt (Mr. Billings).


Strange Cargo (1940, Frank Borzage)

A lot of Strange Cargo is really good. Borzage isn’t the most dynamic director, but every time he has a startlingly mediocre shot, he follows it with a good one in the next few minutes. The film’s got lengthy first act–thirty minutes–and then moves from confined location to confined location. The first act is the prison, the second moves through jungle and sailboat at sea, with the third mostly contained in a room. Borzage does the best–and the film’s at its best–during the jungle sequences, when it feels like a big Hollywood vehicle for Gable and Crawford, only with a wacky subplot juxtaposed.

The wacky subplot is Ian Hunter’s Christ figure, helping out this group of prison escapees. Why they’re so important–not Gable and Crawford, who I can understand, they’re big stars, I mean the supporting cast (Paul Lukas being the best known)–is never explained. As plot holes go, it’s not the biggest in Strange Cargo (or the smallest–for example, when Gable escapes, he hightails it out of the line. He’s missing in the count and Hunter shows up in his place… suggesting they two know each other, which would have been interesting–they do not, unfortunately), but a lot’s forgivable, since Strange Cargo, while definitely strange, is also a big Hollywood vehicle.

Gable and Crawford have great chemistry with their characters–he’s the con who won’t serve his relatively short remaining sentence quietly because he’s not going to be locked up and she’s the woman who’s ended up, through a long string of bad choices, in the High Seas, singing and dancing at a bar–and, during their jungle scenes, it feels right. Later, when they reveal their inevitable deep emotions for each other, their performances keep it going. The script’s not bad and is quite good in some places, but it’s not exactly discreet in its symbolism.

Some of the supporting cast–particularly Lukas and Peter Lorre–is good. Hunter is okay, nothing more. Albert Dekker and John Arledge are not good. Still, they’re not terrible.

Unfortunately, the second act builds toward the film being better and then the third act, practically a stage production, falters. The end, with the neon symbolism, is also problematic. But Gable and Crawford bring it through.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Borzage; screenplay by Lawrence Hazard, based on a novel by Richard Sale; director of photography, Robert H. Planck; edited by Robert Kern; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Borzage and Joseph L. Mankiewicz; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Joan Crawford (Julie), Clark Gable (André Verne), Ian Hunter (Cambreau), Peter Lorre (Pig), Paul Lukas (Hessler), Albert Dekker (Moll), J. Edward Bromberg (Flaubert), Eduardo Ciannelli (Telez), John Arledge (Dufond), Frederick Worlock (Grideau, the Prison Head), Bernard Nedell (Marfeu) and Victor Varconi (Fisherman).


The Saint Takes Over (1940, Jack Hively)

Speedily paced. The Saint Takes Over is somehow fast, running sixty-nine minutes, but quite full of content. It’s so full of content, in the first act, I was convinced George Sanders was somehow going to remain non-central to the picture, since so much time was being spent establishing the ground situation he finds himself in. And there’s no mystery either… the murder, if not the motive, is revealed rather early on. But it all still works–and this Saint is my first (besides the tragically unappreciated Val Kilmer one); I waited until after it was over to check IMDb and now I understand I would have known what was going on were I familiar with the series.

The story is engaging because, instead of revealing clues, the characters are continually wrapped tighter and tighter in an impossible situation. Eventually, it’s all up to Sanders to get them out of it, which of course he will, but he does so in a–while not unpredictable–always entertaining way. It’s a solid amusement.

The whole thing, in terms of being entertaining, rests on Sanders’s shoulders. I wanted to see one of his Saint films because it’s Sanders and he’s usually enough… except, I had no idea how amazing his performance was going to be. The film starts on a cruise ship and Sanders intrudes into an existing situation, establishing himself very quickly. It’s a series and establishing the main character in a series is always difficult. What if someone hasn’t seen the previous film or what if the character were played by a different actor… whatever. But Sanders sort of–well, oozes sounds bad–he’s funny, charming, and sophisticated. He’s just amazing. His comic delivery, his sarcastic comments, all perfect. But there’s also another element to the film, the one pushing it beyond the b-programmer. It’s sensitive. The Saint is sensitive and so is the film. The director has some really nice moves for showing the emotional effect of these fantastic, b-movie situations on the characters.

Besides Sanders’s unspeakably great performance, there are a handful of other good ones. Most are mediocre, especially Wendy Barrie, who’s too much the mystery woman, but she does have a couple good scenes. Paul Guilfoyle and Jonathan Hale are both good and after that lengthy establishing period is over, it’s really all about the three (Sanders, Guilfoyle, and Hale) hanging out and being really funny together. It’s a pleasure to watch them, though Hale’s the only one who wouldn’t have anything to do if it weren’t for the others’ great comic performances.

The film is rather simple, but it’s not condescending and it is centered around its characters, even if it sets itself up as being centered around its setpieces. It’s got some depth to it, making it funny, engaging, and deep, which a lot of a-list movies are not. And they don’t have Sanders as the lead… and Sanders makes a great leading man. He’s an acting leading man–that uncommon variety, though there are always the rather obvious exceptions–but he’s actually able to shrink (and Sanders is a big guy) when the Saint needs to shrink. He’s just great.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Hively; screenplay by Lynn Root and Frank Fenton, based on the character created by Leslie Charteris; director of photography, Frank Redman; edited by Desmond Marquette; produced by Howard Benedict; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring George Sanders (Simon Templar), Wendy Barrie (Ruth Summers), Jonathan Hale (Inspector Henry Fernack), Paul Guilfoyle (‘Pearly’ Gates), Morgan Conway (Sam Reese), Robert Emmett Keane (Leo Sloan) and Cy Kendall (Max Bremer).


Lucky Partners (1940, Lewis Milestone)

Any movie with a Somerset Maugham reference like this one (to The Moon and Sixpence) is going to get me to go a little soft on it, but given how late the reference fully realizes, Lucky Partners was already reasonably safe. When I saw Lewis Milestone directed it, I knew there’d at least be some nice camerawork and Ginger Rogers RKO comedies are also generally decent. I just realized, thinking about it, Lucky Partners is only the second film I’ve seen starring Ronald Colman, which is a mistake. Colman glides through the film. Most of it is his scenes and he carries the whole thing with geniality. From the fourth shot–the film has a nice Milestone opening, so I can remember the shots–Colman’s the whole thing… which is amusing, but also problematic, because Ginger Rogers and Jack Carson’s characters suffer so Colman can remain the protagonist.

The film makes a number of assertions and changes them to keep the film moving. First, Rogers is likable. Then, she isn’t. Then, she is. Then, she isn’t. First, Carson is a jerk. Then, he’s not. Then, he’s an even bigger jerk. First, the film’s set up as a wonderful neighborhood piece with a great supporting cast. Then it becomes a road picture. Then it becomes a slightly mystical romance. Then it becomes a courtroom comedy. The first act of the film moves fast–twenty-five minutes went by in a snap–but the end of the second act drags, as the film desperately tries to tie itself up. The opening is strong and I kept hoping the film would regain some of that quality as it moved through its ninety-degree squiggles–and the film kept showing potential for said recovery–but it never did. The film’s lowest point was just before it declared itself a charming and mediocre comedy. Harry Davenport as the judge, who’s enamored with Rogers, clangs that change.

Given the excellent quality of Ginger Rogers’s other RKO features, Lucky Partners should be a bigger disappointment, but it’s such a pleasant viewing experience, it’s hard to get particularly upset. In fact, I think the film’s a major achievement. Though he’s a wonderful director, Milestone rarely made good films. And Lucky Partners is so close to good, it counts.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Milestone; screenplay by Allan Scott and John Van Druten, based on a story by Sacha Guitry; director of photography, Robert De Grasse; edited by Henry Berman; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; produced by George Haight; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Ronald Colman (David Grant), Ginger Rogers (Jean Newton), Jack Carson (Frederick Harper), Spring Byington (Aunt Lucy), Cecilia Loftus (Mrs. Alice Sylvester) and Harry Davenport (Judge).


One Crowded Night (1940, Irving Reis)

One Crowded Night opens strong enough–a Mojave desert motel and lunch counter, run by a family with a past, with employees with romantic woes. It’s an RKO B-picture, as the most recognizable people in the cast are bit players from bigger films. It’s filmed on location (at the motel) and it starts centered around Anne Revere’s character, which gets it that “strong enough” comment. Revere plays a woman whose husband’s in prison and she’s dropped out from her former life. At first, it sounds like he did it, then we find out he was framed. Once I heard it was an unjust imprisonment, I knew Crowded Night was going to get into trouble, but she’s real good anyway. Unfortunately, she doesn’t remain the focus… especially not after the husband shows up.

If it had been about the women, Crowded Night could have been excellent. All of the female actors are good, with Revere and Billie Seward standing out. Seward’s particularly exceptional. Crowded Night was one of her last films, after a number of Westerns, and it’s worth seeing just for her performance. Another reason it should have concentrated on the women is the men. None of the male actors are good, only a couple are mediocre–though Steve Pendleton approaches having a good scene–and the two most important, Charles Lang and Paul Guilfoyle, are terrible.

The film’s constructed to solve a problem–it’s a sixty-eight minute deus ex machina, in fact–and all the added complications take away from what works. Oddly, the film was never predictable past the unbelievably fortuitous set-up. Characters remained in peril throughout, making for a tense last ten minutes. The director, Irving Reis, did go on to bigger films, which is no surprise, since much of One Crowded Night is well-directed. At first I thought it wasn’t, then I realized it’s just the editing. The film has the worst cuts between shots I’ve ever seen. They’re eyesores and until I caught on, I blamed it all on Reis. Actually, the bad taste from the edits was carrying over into his good work.

So, for a sixty-eight minute B-picture, One Crowded Night is fine. Seward and Revere make up for the film’s acting and writing deficiencies and Reis is just a bonus.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Irving Reis; screenplay by Ben Collins and Arnaud d’Usseau, based on a story by Ben Holmes; director of photography, J. Roy Hunt; edited by Theron Warth; produced by Cliff Reid; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Billie Seward (Gladys), William Haade (Joe Miller), Charles Lang (Fred Matson), Pamela Blake (Ruth Matson), J.M. Kerrigan (Brother ‘Doc’ Joseph), Paul Guilfoyle (Jim Andrews), Anne Revere (Mae Andrews), Gale Storm (Annie Mathews), Dick Hogan (Vince Sanders), George Watts (Pa Mathews), Emma Dunn (Ma Mathews), Don Costello (Lefty), Steve Pendleton (Mat Denlen), Casey Johnson (Bobby Andrews), Harry Shannon (Detective Lt. McDermott) and Ferris Taylor (Detective Sgt. Lansing).


Flight Angels (1940, Lewis Seiler)

When the studio system collapsed, so did the B-picture promotion system–a star of a B-picture could end up the star of an A-picture… For example, Jimmy Stewart started out in B-pictures, so did Eleanor Parker, so did Humphrey Bogart (I think). Occasionally, B-pictures made A-picture money (The Thin Man). It was a good system and there hasn’t been anything like it since–the rash of soap opera actors going mainstream did have a few good results (Alec Baldwin, Anne Heche) but none lasting–and that phenomenon has ended. It was never as successful as the promotion system and its disappearance is unfortunate, because it did produce good actors.

Flight Angels has an odd mix of actors, career-wise. Virginia Bruce, the star, was on the downswing. Her romantic interest, Dennis Morgan, was on the upswing (he ended up in musicals no less). Jane Wyman has a supporting role and runs wild with it, making the best of the script and turning in the film’s best performance. These actors’ success in light of the script–which alternates between a commercial for American Airlines and an astoundingly sexist portrayal of working women–is Flight Angels biggest surprise. The film doesn’t start out as anything but the commercial, so when the flight attendants–sorry, stewardesses–all get together to talk about marrying rich passengers and scream and run around and… fight (there’s a cat fight in Flight Angels), I couldn’t help but dream of a showing of Flight Angels with a debate afterwards between Margaret Cho and some female Conservative. Many A-features, for example, have a strong sexist attitude running through them (The Women, The Philadelphia Story), but I guess studios reserved the blatancy and cat fights for the B-features. Maybe not many theaters on the coasts played B-features. I suppose it’d be worth investigating. Oh, I forgot… not a history major anymore.

Still, Flight Angels is a well-handled film. Director Seiler has a lot of experience and the film even had one really nice shot. The special effects by Byron Haskin (who later directed) aren’t as nice as the aerial photography. On one hand, Flight Angels is an interesting historical document, on the other, it does have some nice performances from a likable cast. Either way, it’s a diverting seventy minutes.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Seiler; screenplay by Maurice Leo, from a story by Jerry Wald and Richard Macaulay; director of photography, L. William O’Connell; edited by James Gibbon; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Virginia Bruce (Mary Norvell), Dennis Morgan (Chick Farber), Wayne Morris (Artie Dixon), Ralph Bellamy (Bill Graves), Jane Wyman (Nan Hudson) and John Litel (Dr. Barclay).


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