Bruce Cabot

Disgraced (1933, Erle C. Kenton)

Like most lame melodramas, Disgraced‘s plot only works because characters all of a sudden act completely differently than the story has previously established them. Disgraced concerns a department store model (Helen Twelvetrees) who starts hanging around a regular customer’s fiancé. Romance ensues.

She’s got to hide the affair from her father, who would rather she marry an insurance agent of questionable professional morality.

Twelvetrees is good when she’s the protagonist, but she loses that role in the narrative during the third act and things get problematic. As the film gets more absurd, her performance suffers.

As her loafing, rich kid beau, Bruce Cabot does a fine job. Disgraced doesn’t give its actors much to do so it’d be hard for one to be bad. Sadly, as Cabot’s unfaithful fiancée, Adrienne Ames is bad. So’s William Harrigan as Twelvetrees’s father. But at least Harrigan is earnest.

Ken Murray plays the insurance agent and he’s okay. Like I said, there’s not much for anyone to do. Disgraced runs just over an hour; there isn’t room for subplots.

Kenton does a surprisingly good job of directing. Not because he’s generally incompetent, but because he finds little moments in the picture where he can really showcase the technical. He’s got a rather nice crane shot for one of the street scenes and he manages to keep it visually interesting.

Besides some decent acting (for a while), Disgraced‘s only singular feature is the fantastic opening cast introductions. They’re little scenes for each actor. It’s ingenious.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Erle C. Kenton; screenplay by Alice D.G. Miller and Francis Martin, based on a story by Miller; director of photography, Karl Struss; music by John Leipold; produced by Bayard Veiller; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Helen Twelvetrees (Gay Holloway), Bruce Cabot (Kirk Undwood, Jr.), Adrienne Ames (Julia Thorndyke), William Harrigan (Pat Holloway), Ken Murray (Jim McGuire), Charles Middleton (District Attorney) and Willard Mack (Defense Attorney).


Murder on the Blackboard (1934, George Archainbaud)

As its title suggests, Murder on the Blackboard concerns a murder in a school, specifically an elementary school. Only one student appears; Blackboard concentrates on the rather shady goings-ons of the staff. There’s a drunk janitor, a lecherous principal, not to mention a love triangle between teachers. And, one mustn’t forget, Edna May Oliver’s Ms. Withers.

Blackboard is the second in the Withers and Piper (James Gleason) series, though it’s not a direct sequel to the first. Here, Oliver and Gleason bicker and flirt in their charming and funny cantankerous people of a certain age way, but without any relationship development.

Willis Goldbeck’s script has a great structure, which makes Blackboard sail along–ably assisted by the aforementioned bickering. It’s a full ten minutes before Oliver even appears, as Blackboard establishes not just the suspects, but the possible victims, and then it’s a real-time investigation for a while once Gleason shows up. Archainbaud’s direction is okay, though he apparently didn’t give Archie Marshek enough material for smooth cutting. Nicholas Musuraca’s photography–Blackboard almost entirely takes place in the school–is real nice.

There supporting cast is competent, but they don’t make much impression after those first ten minutes. Bruce Cabot, Gertrude Michael and Barbara Fritchie are the teacher love triangle; Cabot’s easily the best of the three. Tully Marshall’s amusing as the principal, particularly opposite Oliver.

Oliver, Gleason and Goldbeck produce an excellent diversion. They distract from the mystery’s lack of mysteriousness for nearly the entire running time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Archainbaud; screenplay by Willis Goldbeck, based on the story by Stuart Palmer; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Archie Marshek; music by Bernhard Kaun and Max Steiner; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Edna May Oliver (Hildegarde Withers), James Gleason (Inspector Oscar Piper), Bruce Cabot (Ad Stevens), Gertrude Michael (Jane Davis), Barbara Fritchie (Louise Halloran), Tully Marshall (Mr. MacFarland), Frederick Vogeding (Otto Schweitzer), Regis Toomey (Detective Smiley North), Edgar Kennedy (Detective Donahue) and Jackie Searl (Leland Stanford Jones).


Sundown (1941, Henry Hathaway)

The majority of Sundown is excellent. Hathaway sort of mixes the Western and British colonial adventure genre with a World War II propaganda piece. New Mexico stands in for Kenya—it’s an interesting war film because there aren’t any Americans. Lead Bruce Cabot is playing a Canadian.

Cabot does well throughout. He handles the colonial scenes well, handing off his command to George Sanders in the first act. Sundown’s peculiar because it takes a self-indulgent pace getting to where it’s going. There’s the tension between Cabot and Sanders, but none of it is necessary to get to the finish. Neither is Joseph Calleia, who has a nice supporting role as an Italian prisoner of war who’d rather cook than fight. Or Harry Carey, who shows up in the second half as the local white hunter.

And Gene Tierney—who gets top-billing—is barely in the film until it’s a third over. It’s an early performance from her and there are ups and downs. Some of it has to do with the role (Sundown’s the one where Gene Tierney plays an Arab), but she’s also not quite ready yet. She does well with Cabot though, selling their attraction right off.

Hathaway’s direction is often fantastic, especially how he shows life on the outpost. The night scenes are problematic, Charles Lang shoots too dark and then the finale’s in a dank cave, which doesn’t film well.

The end brings in the propaganda and lays it on so heavy, Sundown sinks.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Henry Hathaway; screenplay by Barré Lyndon, based on an adaptation by Charles G. Booth and based on a story by Lyndon; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Dorothy Spencer; music by Miklós Rózsa; produced by Walter Wanger; released by United Artists.

Starring Gene Tierney (Zia), Bruce Cabot (William Crawford), George Sanders (Major A.L. Coombes), Harry Carey (Alan Dewey), Joseph Calleia (Pallini), Reginald Gardiner (Lt. Roddy Turner), Carl Esmond (Jan Kuypens), Marc Lawrence (Abdi Hammud), Gilbert Emery (Ashburton), Jeni Le Gon (Miriami), Emmett Smith (Kipsang) and Dorothy Dandridge (Kipsang’s Bride).


Homicide Bureau (1939, Charles C. Coleman)

Oh, those silly liberal apologists, not letting police detective Bruce Cabot beat confessions out of suspects. Don’t they understand these criminals are really working for the Nazis?

Okay, Homicide Bureau never actually says Nazis, just warring foreign powers, but they mean the Nazis.

The funniest part of the movie is the end, where the police commissioner decides Cabot’s right and his tactics work (liberals and laws be damned). Also amusing at the end is Cabot’s romance with Rita Hayworth. It’s maybe Hayworth’s fifth scene in the film–and for a short running time, Homicide Bureau has a lot of scenes, probably one every two and a half minutes–and her romance with Cabot has never even been mentioned before. They’re friendly co-workers to this point, nothing more.

Cabot’s performance is occasionally dismal, occasionally passable; when he and Hayworth meet, the scene practically lifts dialogue from King Kong, as Cabot explains to Fay Wray–sorry, sorry–Hayworth why he doesn’t like women around.

The supporting cast is generally solid, for a b movie, with Marc Lawrence doing a great job as a thug. Hayworth’s role is so small, it’s hard to say much about her performance itself. She’s enthusiastic against all odds (a weak script, Cabot looking old enough to be her father).

Coleman’s direction has its good points. He’s especially effective with close-ups. So effective it makes Bureau seem like a much better film.

It’s mostly a curiosity for its leads and being pro-fascist, but anti-Nazi.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Charles C. Coleman; written by Earle Snell; director of photography, Benjamin H. Kline; edited by James Sweeney; music by Sidney Cutner; produced by Jack Frier; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Bruce Cabot (Detective Lieutenant Jim Logan), Rita Hayworth (J.G. Bliss), Marc Lawrence (Chuck Brown), Richard Fiske (Henchman Hank), Moroni Olsen (Police Captain H.J. Raines), Norman Willis (Ed Briggs), Gene Morgan (Detective Blake), Robert Paige (Detective Thurston), Lee Prather (R.E. Jamison), Eddie Fetherston (Henchman Specks) and Stanley Andrews (Police Commissioner G.W. Caldwell).


King Kong (1933, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack)

King Kong is a perfect film. I don’t think I’d realized before. It’s always hard to talk about films like Kong, influential standards of American cinema. I want to talk about how its structure still sets the tone for modern films–the gradual lead-in (it’s forty-some minutes before Kong shows up), the non-stop action of the second half, how establishing characters well in the beginning means they can go without dialogue for twenty minutes and still be affecting. Or the special effects. I’d love to talk about the special effects, like how I’d never noticed the absolutely brilliant sound design–the most effective stop motion moments are the ones with the people Kong interacts with. Murray Spivack’s sound brings them fully to life–best evidenced as Kong’s rampaging through the village and attacks a house. It engenders concern for the inhabitants, who must have been six inch dolls.

But Kong isn’t a perfect film for its impact. It’s perfect because of itself. The film opens with the scene on the docks, quickly establishing the peculiar tone of the first half. Everyone sort of takes Robert Armstrong’s gung ho filmmaker with a grain of salt. They’re bemused by him. Armstrong’s perfect for the role, big and amiable, it’s hard to be mad at him when he does something selfish and stupid. Just like the characters, who get themselves into the mess by listening to him and knowing better, so does the audience. Armstrong’s like a big kid for lots of Kong, always coming up with the best action after the consequence.

That first scene also goes far in establishing Bruce Cabot. Cabot’s character is Kong‘s most interesting–as is the way the film handles him. The scene with Cabot ranting to Fay Wray about women not belonging on ships–we’re supposed to understand it’s Cabot who’s off, not Wray. Regardless of whether or not he’s right, the first forty minutes of Kong are about Cabot learning to stop acting like a little boy (which Armstrong never has to do). It makes the romance between Cabot and Wray a wonderful one to watch unfold–that “Yes, sir” following their first kiss elicits a fantastic mood.

These scenes all happen long before Kong shows up, long before the roller coaster starts. I didn’t even get to the coffee shop scene, where Armstrong’s enthusiasm even gets the viewer going–promising everyone, viewer and Wray alike, the wait will be worth it.

And when Kong does show up, it’s clearly worth it. King Kong doesn’t really make the monster a sympathetic character. He tends to chomp on people and his curiosity usually leads to someone dying in a horrific manner, but they do make him into a real character. Utterly insensitive to the chaos he causes, Kong still has these wonderful, inquisitive moments. He’s frequently confused by the little people and it rounds out the film, bringing about emotional concern for him without having to light it in neon. The film reduces Wray’s part to victim at the halfway mark–and she certainly never shows any concern for Kong–which is narratively reasonable. It also puts the onerous on the viewer–if he or she wants to care for Kong, it’s because of his or her response to him, not because the film’s dictating.

Once Kong gets back to New York, the whole thing seems to wrap up in fifteen minutes. There’s the interesting monologue from Armstrong though, regarding what he’s done to Kong. He’s fully aware he’s been culturally insensitive, as well as zoologically, but he doesn’t care. The people don’t care what they’ve done to Kong and Kong doesn’t care what he does for people. It creates an interesting, ego and superego free narrative. Anything the audience wants to bring to it or attribute to it, they’re bringing themselves.

King Kong‘s a lot of things audiences and critics had to come up with new adjectives to describe back in 1933–a romance, an adventure being the two easiest–but it’s simply just a fantastic way to spend a hundred minutes.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack; screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose, based on an idea by Cooper and Edgar Wallace; directors of photography, Edward Linden, J.O. Taylor, Vernon L. Walker and Kenneth Peach; edited by Ted Cheesman; music by Max Steiner; production designer, Carroll Clark; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Fay Wray (Ann Darrow), Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham), Bruce Cabot (Jack Driscoll), Frank Reicher (Captain Englehorn), Sam Hardy (Charles Weston), Noble Johnson (Skull Island native chief), Steve Clemente (Witch King), James Flavin (Second Mate Briggs) and Victor Wong (Charlie).


Sinners in Paradise (1938, James Whale)

It’s James Whale’s “Gilligan’s Island,” only with more rear screen projection, as a plane crash in the Pacific brings a varied bunch together on a tropical island. It’s a boring sixty-five minutes–the script’s real stagy, with a two or three week (there’s a lot of problems with time) break in the middle, with the second half establishing all the changes instead of showing them occur. And Whale’s not much of a director here. As good a job as he does inside (even though almost all of Sinners in Paradise was shot on a sound stage), the pseudo-exteriors don’t work. It’s all too goofy, with labeled straw huts and everyone having changes of clothes after swimming from a burning plane.

The movie’s tolerable due more to geniality than anything else, though some expectation is laid throughout for the ending, especially in regards to the future of John Boles’s character. Boles is on the island when the plane crash survivors arrive and, in a strange string of scenes, refuses to help them. At that point–though the time on the plane itself is misspent–Sinners is still moderately well-paced. The script hasn’t gotten around to speeding past all the interesting moments. Of course, the viewer learns Boles’s backstory, but the characters never do, which is an awkward choice, but it does give Whale a cheap way out at the end.

Boles is visibly worn out–and Whale’s awkward close-ups, a holdover from before sound design, don’t do him any favors. Madge Evans is okay as his love interest, but her character never gets to be developed either. Charlotte Wynters is similarly okay as an heiress and Gene Lockhart is funny as a possibly corrupt senator. Marion Martin is annoying and the rest of the cast is either serviceable or bad.

Except for Bruce Cabot, who has fun–shirtless almost all time, which is never explained either–as a gangster with a heart of gold.

Where the movie’s most interesting is in its politics. It’s anti-war profiteering and pro-union. There’s a lot of subtle socialism in the exposition (co-writer Lester Cole was one of the Hollywood Ten), not to mention the inference true democracy and the senator’s version of it are quite different.

It’s a strange b-movie, if only because of the script (at times, even though Whale isn’t directing it right, the dialogue is excellent), not to mention the political elements. And it doesn’t hurt, even though Boles’s performance is a tad broad, his chemistry with Evans is palpable.

And who can get down on a movie with an uncredited Dwight Frye bit part?

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James Whale; screenplay by Harold Buckley, Louis Stevens and Lester Cole, based on a story by Buckley; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Maurice Wright; music by Charles Previn and Oliver Wallace; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Madge Evans (Anne Wesson), John Boles (Jim Taylor), Bruce Cabot (Robert Malone), Marion Martin (Iris Compton), Gene Lockhart (State Senator John P. Corey), Charlotte Wynters (Thelma Chase), Nana Bryant (Mrs. Franklin Sydney), Milburn Stone (T.L. Honeyman), Don ‘Red’ Barry (Jessup), Morgan Conway (Harrison Brand), Willie Fung (Ping) and Dwight Frye (Marshall).


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