Brandon Hurst

The Greene Murder Case (1929, Frank Tuttle)

If it weren’t so predictable, The Greene Murder Case would be a little better. Not much better–part of the film’s charm is the obvious foreshadowing, since director Tuttle’s obviously on a limited budget and he couldn’t do much anyway.

There are no natural exteriors, which is fine; the one artificial exterior–Tuttle’s establishing shots tend to be of people in offices or rooms–is fantastic. The majority of the film takes place in a large house and the roof plays into the film for a few scenes. At first, it appears to be a model with special effects putting people on the roof. But then the people start interacting with the rest of the house. It’s unclear how they accomplished the effect, but it looks fantastic.

With these Philo Vance films, I’m always curious why William Powell gets top billing… he barely has a presence. Tuttle often shoots over his shoulder to the suspects even. He’s fine; Greene doesn’t ask a lot from him. Eugene Pallette’s mildly amusing as his sidekick. Pallette’s the comedy relief, but not over the top.

The suspects are also the potential victims in Greene. Jean Arthur is okay. Her role’s a little broad. The script really does none of the actors any favors but Ullrich Haupt is worth a mention. First, he’s terrible. Second, he’s supposed to be a devastatingly handsome stud but he’s this wormy German guy. It’s funny.

Greene isn’t not much of a mystery, but it’s not a bad seventy minutes.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Tuttle; screenplay by Louise Long, adaptation and dialogue by Bartlett Cormack, based on the novel by S.S. Van Dine; director of photography, Henry W. Gerrard; edited by Verna Willis; music by Karl Hajos; produced by B.P. Schulberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Powell (Philo Vance), Florence Eldridge (Sibella Greene), Ullrich Haupt (Dr. Arthur Von Blon), Jean Arthur (Ada Greene), Eugene Pallette (Sgt. Ernest Heath), E.H. Calvert (Dist. Atty. John F.X. Markham), Gertrude Norman (Mrs. Tobias Greene), Lowell Drew (Chester Greene), Morgan Farley (Rex Greene), Brandon Hurst (Sproot), Augusta Burmeister (Mrs. Gertrude Mannheim) and Marcia Harris (Hemming).


White Zombie (1932, Victor Halperin)

For a while, I almost thought White Zombie was going to feature a good Bela Lugosi performance. It does not. However, it does feature one of the best Bela Lugosi performances I’ve ever seen. He plays a zombie master who controls his helpless zombies (who mostly do manual labor for Lugosi at his sugar mill–I think it’s a sugar mill–it’s a mill anyway) with his unibrow and by clasping his hands. White Zombie is short on logic.

However, it’s got a lot to make up for it. While the script isn’t stellar in the logic department, it’s pretty darn fantastic otherwise. The film’s premise–plantation owner Robert Frazer can’t have Madge Bellamy (her performance is occasionally too weak, but not often) as she loves ordinary John Harron too much (his performance is mostly strong), so he turns to Lugosi to turn her into a zombie. There’s a lot of angst, a lot of turmoil… especially after Frazer discovers he doesn’t like having a zombie girlfriend.

Throw in a helpful, zombie-hunting missionary (Joseph Cawthorn) and you’ve got a movie.

The biggest assets are director Vincent Halperin and set designer Conrad Tritschler–and whoever did the mattes. The film looks absolutely fantastic, start to finish (I was shocked to learn they used the Universal backlot as it looks so different from the Universal horror pictures). Then, towards the end… Halperin uses music to accompany a zombie’s actions. The zombie’s mute, it’s a silent film technique… it works out beautifully.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Victor Halperin; screenplay by Garnett Weston, inspired by a play by Kenneth Webb; director of photography, Arthur Martinelli; edited by Harold McLernon; music by Xavier Cugat; produced by Edward Halperin and Phil Goldstone; released by United Artists.

Starring Bela Lugosi (‘Murder’ Legendre), Madge Bellamy (Madeline Short Parker), Joseph Cawthorn (Dr. Bruner), Robert Frazer (Charles Beaumont), John Harron (Neil Parker) and Brandon Hurst (Silver).


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