1945

Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox), Chapter 5: The Big Boss Speaks

The Big Boss Speaks does not feature a scene where the Big Boss speaking over the two-way radio setup sets off the cliffhanger. Actually, the part of the chapter where the Big Boss does speak has absolutely nothing important to do with the plot. Except in how wrong the Big Boss is about predicting Joan Woodbury’s behavior.

This chapter of Brenda Starr is the one where Woodbury gives up and decides to cooperate with the police. Not even her editor (Frank Jaquet) can believe it. Woodbury’s decision comes right after main copper Kane Richmond accuses her of being an unprofessional, delusional liar. And after the scene where Richmond flubs a line and Fox didn’t do another take (or he did and Richmond’s one flub is the best it got).

So not a particularly thrilling chapter as far as Woodbury’s agency goes.

There is a conversation where Woodbury and Richmond decide they’re going to work together, which turns out to be Richmond taking Woodbury’s leads and Woodbury just going home for the night, but Speaks focuses on Syd Saylor and Joe Devlin having a painful comedy sequence.

Not a good chapter. But it does move fairly well. Brenda Starr gets by a lot on Woodbury’s likability, even if the script doesn’t show her much respect.

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox), Chapter 4: A Ghost Walks

Unfortunately, most of A Ghost Walks is missing. What remains–some audio, a couple stills–isn’t really enough to sustain the narrative. After the cliffhanger resolution (not too noisy and apparently not injurious to Joan Woodbury), there’s some treading water while cops Kane Richmond and Joe Devlin catch up to Woodbury and Syd Saylor.

Woodbury and Saylor leave the cops to wrap-up the cliffhanger resolve and head out to investigate a clue. It’s a clue the cops would want, but Woodbury keeps to herself.

There’s a little with Lottie Harrison–turns out Woodbury is throwing cousin Harrison a birthday party only she keeps going out to work on the story.

More than half the chapter is lost, though the subsequent chapter’s recap suggests there’s a big reveal at the end of Walks but as the cliffhanger.

I suppose if a chapter of a serial is going to be lost, it’s best it’s a bridging chapter.

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox), Chapter 3: Taken for a Ride

Taken for a Ride’s opening cliffhanger resolution isn’t particularly exciting–in fact, giving so much information about what’s going on outside the situation to resolve the cliffhanger makes it all procedural, instead of suspenseful–but it still almost leads to a good shootout.

Joan Woodbury and Syd Saylor (who can be dashing and heroic when he needs to be, which is one of Brenda Starr’s best developments) are pinned down inside a warehouse. Gangsters are shooting at them. What can they do? Well, Woodbury pulls a snubnosed revolver and shoots back.

It’d be awesome if the action didn’t cut to cops Kane Richmond and Joe Devlin trying to get into the warehouse.

Wasted potential, though Saylor does get an amusing moment.

The rest of Taken for a Ride has Woodbury and Richmond–independently–trying to figure out how singer Cay Forester fits into the gangsters’ plot. It comes right after Richmond condescends to Woodbury about her job performance as a reporter; even though Richmond is the romantic lead, he’s an unlikable jackass.

All of the audio for the second half of Ride is lost. So, the exact details of the plot are a tad mysterious. The cliffhanger setup in Ride is pretty cool; it’s maybe the first time Charles Henkel Jr.’s editing impresses.

The chapter also brings in Lottie Harrison as Woodbury’s cousin and roommate. She does better than William ‘Billy’ Benedict’s annoying newsboy. Though it’s probably not Benedict’s fault as much as director Fox’s or the screenwriters’.

Taken for a Ride keeps Brenda Starr moving well enough; the chapter never veers off track. Opening with Benedict’s tediously acted scene ends up helping it. Everything else is a step up.

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox), Chapter 2: The Blazing Trap

The Blazing Trap opens with a lengthy lead-in to the cliffhanger resolve. Even though the resolve is pretty easy, it’s kind of cool how much context Brenda Starr gives its resolution. It doesn’t feel like a quick wrap up, it feels like a part of the story.

After it’s over, though, the chapter speeds headfirst into a boring finish. Joan Woodbury, once again, foolishly investigates something without letting the cops know. Last time there were tragic consequences. Who knows what will happen this time. Assuming Brenda Starr doesn’t die in the second chapter.

But that boring finish isn’t just because there’s a weak cliffhanger. It’s everything in the second half of the chapter. The first half hinges on Syd Saylor being funny as Woodbury’s meandering photographer. It doesn’t not work, but at least Blazing is trying.

Then the next scene, when Woodbury and Saylor check in with newspaper editor Frank Jaquet, has some snappy dialogue. It seems like Blazing might be headed somewhere. Somewhere good, not somewhere boring.

Woodbury interviews a night club singer (Cay Forester), who has some connection to the unseen villain–The Big Boss. Then Woodbury gets in trouble investigating a lead. Shouldn’t be boring, somehow manages to be boring.

Woodbury’s fine, she just isn’t compelling enough to save the serial.

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox), Chapter 1: Hot News!

Brenda Starr, Reporter is all action. Sure, there’s some scenes of lead Joan Woodbury sitting at her desk, but she’s just waiting to hear about more action.

The chapter starts with a building on fire. Woodbury and her photographer, Syd Saylor, drive out from the newspaper office, racing to get there faster than the cops. The cops are Kane Richmond and Joe Devlin. Richmond’s the good-looking one and Woodbury’s de facto love interest. Devlin’s the dopey comic relief. He and Saylor–Woodbury’s dopey comic relief–have a bet going on who gets to crime scenes faster, reporters or cops. It leads to some silliness around the burning building, which ought to be terrifying but isn’t.

Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton’s script has thin exposition and broad humor. About half the runtime is spent on mid-level villain George Meeker–there’s an unseen, unknown “Big Boss” who speaks to his thugs in paternal, private radio addresses. Woodbury and Richmond get the other half, with a little more time going to Woodbury.

Jack Ingram plays one of Meeker’s thugs. He doesn’t like Woodbury snooping.

Hot News moves pretty well. Woodbury keeps a straight-face through Saylor’s nonsense, which doesn’t work for the humor but does make Woodbury more sympathetic.

It’s okay. Nothing particularly great (or even good), but nothing concerning either.

Fox’s direction could be a bit more lively, however. And Ira H. Morgan’s photography is a bore.

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


Pride of the Marines (1945, Delmer Daves)

Pride of the Marines is a disappointment. It never gets particularly good, but it does have a lot of potential–at least from its cast–so when it starts getting better and then slips, it’s a disappointment. The film starts before Pearl Harbor with John Garfield’s would-be bachelor falling for Eleanor Parker. Garfield’s reasoning for wanting to be a bachelor is he wants to live his life like a nine year-old boy, going to sporting events, going hunting, never having a woman tell him no.

Garfield’s reasonably likable, but he’s not good in this part. Albert Maltz’s writing for Garfield is juvenile, while everyone else in the cast gets a good part. It’s not just Parker, who actually gets to act when tolerating Garfield’s hijinks, it’s even Garfield’s friends (and landlords) Ann Doran and John Ridgely. Garfield’s friendship with their daughter, played by Ann E. Todd, is his most honest character relationship even though it doesn’t make any sense given how juvenile he behaves. There’s one caveat to Doran and Ridgely’s performances–when they have to spout exposition about how Garfield just can’t grow up, they can’t sell it. Only Parker can sell those moments, at least until the second part of the film.

During the first part of the film–there’s a lot to Pride, given it’s two hours and has three distinct sections–Daves is ambitious with his direction. Lots of extravagant setups. They usually work, except Owen Marks’s editing of the footage is very messy. It looks like Daves didn’t shoot the right coverage, especially when he has to account for Garfield and Parker being much shorter than Ridgely and Doran. But Daves goes for big shots. They work.

Then Garfield goes to war. After some understandably used, but ill-fitting, real footage from the Pacific Theater, Daves settles into a decent battle sequence. It’s a nightmarish sequence with excellent photography from J. Peverell Marley (his best in the film) and music from Franz Waxman (his best in the film). Even Marks’s editing is strong. It’s also the best sequence in the entire picture, because once it’s over, Pride moves on to its next location and an all new set of problems.

Garfield’s injured. He’s possibly blind. Can a nine year-old boy imagine his girl back home wanting him? No. But he also can’t imagine anything else. But Pride of the Marines is a forties patriotic picture and so everyone else around Garfield is pretty much handling their wounds with dignity. Although Maltz doesn’t exactly have anything for them to talk about. There’s one rousing scene where Dane Clark–who’s great–talks about fighting for himself and his country (as a Jewish guy in the service–there’s even a great anti-racism sequence, albeit only in regards to Mexicans, it’s from 1945 and Warner after all), but otherwise these guys have nothing to talk about except girls. If a reverse Bechdel didn’t sound like a tricky Olympic dive, I’d say it fails the reverse Bechdel. But, really, all these guys have to talk about is their girls back home for the most part. The acting from the bit players is fine, Maltz just doesn’t give them anything to say.

Rosemary DeCamp shows up in Garfield’s recovery as his suffering Red Cross worker. She has to hold his hand through everything because otherwise how can we see Garfield’s struggle. Only it’s not a struggle. Daves doesn’t give him much to do as far as acting. He just acts up. The one or two chances he gets for a good scene get messed up by over-production.

The acting from Parker is good no matter what, no matter how lame the writing gets. Same goes for Clark, who seemingly gets better as his material gets more obvious. Doran, DeCamp, Ridgely, Todd, all good. Garfield sort of gets an incomplete, sort of gets a pass. The film drops the ball on a lot–like how does Garfield feel about being a national hero who loathes himself–and the ending feels tacked on.

Pride of the Marines has its built-in constraints–it’s a forties propaganda picture, after all–but every opportunity it gets to surmount them, it fails. Though Daves’s first act creativity does come back for one shot at the end. Only for him to screw it up with the boringly directed finale.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Delmer Daves; screenplay by Marvin Borowsky and Albert Maltz, based on a book by Roger Butterfield; director of photography, J. Peverell Marley; edited by Owen Marks; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Jerry Wald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring John Garfield (Al Schmid), Eleanor Parker (Ruth Hartley), Dane Clark (Lee Diamond), Ann Doran (Ella Mae Merchant), John Ridgely (Jim Merchant), Rosemary DeCamp (Virginia Pfeiffer), Anthony Caruso (Johnny Rivers) and Ann E. Todd (Loretta Merchant).


Along Came Jones (1945, Stuart Heisler)

Along Came Jones gets by on its gimmick and its charm–it’s got a lot of charm, both from the cast and Nunnally Johnson’s screenplay, which is good as director Heisler doesn’t bring any. Jones is a lower budget Western, lots of rear screen projection, lots of boring setups from Heisler. He prefers medium long shots, avoiding close-ups for most of the supporting cast. He also doesn’t have much of a feel for the material.

Gary Cooper plays the titular Jones. He stumbles his way into a mistaken identity story–everyone thinks he’s gunfighter Dan Duryea but he’s actually just a bit of a doofus. Cooper has fun with the role. It’s thinner than it should be since Heisler isn’t doing much directing of the cast. Johnson’s script has something approximating an arc for Cooper but it doesn’t really come off. As the film resolves itself, it gets its pass not for a creative conclusion but for everything leading up to it. Maybe if the film weren’t so breezily paced, the soft ending might hurt it more. But Jones moves along–the middle section is a lot of lengthy action sequences and they’re solid. Johnson knows how to pace the dialogue and the action. Heisler handles that section best, though just as indistinctly as the rest of the picture.

There’s also a love triangle–Cooper gets himself into the mess over Duryea’s girlfriend, played by Loretta Young. It’s mildly successful. Duryea’s got no personality in Jones; he’s okay, but unenthusiastic. Young’s enthusiastic. She and Cooper have enough chemistry they keep bumping against Heisler’s plodding direction. Especially since doofus Cooper is magic with the ladies. It ought to be a lot funnier, but it isn’t. When he’s not pressed for time, Heisler misses the script’s beats.

William Demarest plays Cooper’s suffering sidekick. It’s William Demarest, he does fine. It’s not a particularly good part though. Johnson’s script is more concerned with the pace than the characters. It’s not a bad script, it’s just overly pragmatic, overly confident in its actors to give it more heft than it might deserve. It’s a mildly successful move from Johnson and Cooper (who also produced). Overall though, Jones just seems like a missed opportunity. It’s got a great cast, it could’ve been more than a diverting comedy Western.

Along Came Jones moves well, it’s got a solid supporting cast (especially Don Costello), it’s got Cooper and Young. It’s just a shame it’s not a better made film–Heisler’s mediocre direction, Milton R. Krasner’s strangely boring photography (he doesn’t do anything with the sets) and Thomas Neff’s awkward editing. Heisler doesn’t know how to direct a gun fight. Even if Jones is a comedy, it’s a Western. You need a competent gun fight.

Anyway, it’s cute. It’s cute enough.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Heisler; screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, based on a novel by Alan Le May; director of photography, Milton R. Krasner; edited by Thomas Neff; music by Arthur Lange; produced by Gary Cooper; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Gary Cooper (Melody Jones), Loretta Young (Cherry de Longpre), William Demarest (George Fury), Dan Duryea (Monte Jarrad), Frank Sully (Avery de Longpre), Don Costello (Leo Gledhill), Russell Simpson (Pop de Longpre) and Willard Robertson (Luke Packard).


House of Dracula (1945, Erle C. Kenton)

House of Dracula is immediately disappointing. The film opens on man of science Onslow Stevens as Dracula (played by a boring John Carradine) comes visiting, hoping for some cure to vampirism. Will Carradine try to seduce Martha O’Driscoll’s fetching nurse? Will something go wrong with Stevens’s cure for Carradine? Unfortunately, yes to both. Director Kenton and screenwriter Edmund T. Lowe Jr. don’t so much have foreshadowing in Dracula as much as they immediately follow tangents.

The film feels relatively tame; I wonder if it was meant for a more child-aged audience than usual. George Robinson’s photography is boring, though somewhat competent–the shadows don’t tell stories or hide monsters, they’re just contrasted well against the lights. There’s no nuance to Dracula. Kenton’s particularly disappointing.

Lon Chaney Jr. escapes mostly unscathed. He has a lousy part but he does try. Same goes for the rest of the cast, with the exception of Carradine. Once Stevens starts to feel the effects of the vampirism, he plays an excellent Mr. Hyde. But Lowe’s script is still lame. Kenton’s direction is still disinterested.

Some of the problem is how uncomfortable the film gets with Jane Adams’s nurse. She’s the hunchbacked assistant this picture, only Lowe doesn’t give her anything to do. Kenton gives her a little more–mostly because O’Driscoll’s just around for the nurse’s outfit’s skirts–but not enough. The film’s in desperate need of a protagonist. It’s not Stevens, it’s not Chaney, it’s not Adams.

In Dracula’s smallest significant role–inciting, wrong villager–Skelton Knaggs does some good work. It’s a shame there’s not a good film here for him to be doing that work in.

House of Dracula barely runs sixty-five minutes. It’s boring from the first three minutes. Nothing so short, so full of monsters and effects and Universal contract players should ever be boring.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Erle C. Kenton; written by Edmund T. Lowe Jr.; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Russell F. Schoengarth; produced by Paul Malvern; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Onslow Stevens (Dr. Franz Edlemann), John Carradine (Count Dracula), Lon Chaney Jr. (Lawrence Talbot), Martha O’Driscoll (Miliza Morelle), Jane Adams (Nina), Lionel Atwill (Police Inspector Holtz), Ludwig Stössel (Siegfried), Skelton Knaggs (Steinmuhl) and Glenn Strange (The Frankenstein Monster).


The Thin Man Goes Home (1945, Richard Thorpe)

The Thin Man Goes Home is very genial. It would be hard for it not to be genial given some of the supporting cast is around just to be genial–familiar character actors like Edward Brophy, Donald Meek and Harry Davenport are around to be likable. And why shouldn’t William Powell and Myrna Loy heading to small town U.S.A. be genial? Of course, there’s a murder mystery, but director Thorpe manages to keep the investigation of it amusing too.

The film’s problem is the geniality is the important thing, not just an approach to the story. Thorpe does really well with some of the comedic set pieces–the Grand Central Station sequence at the beginning, followed by a great packed train car sequence, then there’s a later one with Loy trailing Brophy to comic effect. He does great with Loy and Powell’s few scenes together too. Eventually their visit to Davenport and Lucile Watson (as Powell’s parents) and the murder mystery make it hard to make time for scenes together.

At least, it’s hard for Robert Riskin and Dwight Taylor to figure it out in the script, which is strange, since it’s a really breezy piece of writing. Between Powell acting without sensible motivation, one large subplot being entirely ignored and then a few characters forgotten about, the script’s Home’s biggest problem.

Powell and Loy are good, though she gets much better scenes, and the supporting cast is fine.

After being a reasonably successful entry, the third act is a complete disaster.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Thorpe; screenplay by Robert Riskin and Dwight Taylor, based on a story by Riskin and Harry Kurnitz and characters created by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, Karl Freund; edited by Ralph E. Winters; music by David Snell; produced by Everett Riskin; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora Charles), Lucile Watson (Mrs. Charles), Gloria DeHaven (Laura Ronson), Anne Revere (Crazy Mary), Helen Vinson (Helena Draque), Leon Ames (Edgar Draque), Donald Meek (Willie Crump), Edward Brophy (Brogan), Lloyd Corrigan (Dr. Bruce Clayworth), Anita Sharp-Bolster (Hilda) and Harry Davenport (Dr. Bertram Charles).


The Brighton Strangler (1945, Max Nosseck)

While a lot of The Brighton Strangler meanders, there are some rather effective moments in the film. It's a B picture, with John Loder as an actor suffering from amnesia who imagines himself his latest role–a murderer. The film's set in London, with blackouts and air raids–not to mention service people–all part of the setting and story.

Loder has a difficult part; he needs to be both menacing and sympathetic. Unfortunately, the film doesn't really want to deal with the question of responsibility and hurries through the third act to get the film to a nicely tied conclusion. Also unfortunately… this nicely tied conclusion ties to the inept opening. So the film opens and closes on its weakest points.

The middle section of the film has amnesiac Loder inserting himself into servicewoman June Duprez's life, with only her beau–an earnest but bland Michael St. Angel–suspecting.

Director Nosseck occasionally does wonders even on the low budget. The entire London bombing sequence is phenomenal and clearly the most expensive thing in the film. Except it's only a few minutes and the film really could have used some expense during Loder's vacation in Brighton. He goes from hotel to house to street–the street scenes aren't terrible, but Nosseck doesn't use establishing shots; there's no sense of scale.

Duprez is appealing, Miles Mander and Gilbert Emery are both good in small parts. Loder goes overboard, but it's the script. It doesn't know how to handle him.

Strangler's occasionally boring, but it's got its moments.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Max Nosseck; written by Nosseck, Arnold Phillips and Hugh Gray; director of photography, J. Roy Hunt; edited by Les Millbrook; music by Leigh Harline; produced by Herman Schlom; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring John Loder (Reginald Parker), June Duprez (April Manby Carson), Michael St. Angel (Lt. Bob Carson), Miles Mander (Chief Inspector W.R. Allison), Rose Hobart (Dorothy Kent), Gilbert Emery (Dr. Manby), Rex Evans (Leslie Shelton), Matthew Boulton (Inspector Graham), Olaf Hytten (Banks, the valet), Lydia Bilbrook (Mrs. Manby) and Ian Wolfe (Lord Mayor Herman Brandon R. Clive).


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