Charles Lang

Wildcat Bus (1940, Frank Woodruff)

Wildcat Bus is a tepid b picture about corruption in the hired car business. A group of bad guys–they run an unlicensed car firm–go after sweet old Oscar O’Shea’s bus company. It all hinges on a bankrupted blue blood (Charles Lang), his trusty sidekick (Paul Guilfoyle) and O’Shea’s daughter (Fay Wray).

If Wildcat weren’t so earnest about its story, the film might be good for a laugh. Instead, thanks to the serious nature of its approach, it’s a frequently lame outing. There is a fantastic chase sequence in the third act, however, which shows more directorial skill from Woodruff–not to mention editing competency from George Crone–than the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the good sequence doesn’t turn Wildcat around. It’s just an island.

Woodruff’s utterly incapable of directing actors. Lang and Wray are both appealing, but neither are good. Guilfoyle manages to be both, as he apparently required less direction. Some of the bad guys–Don Costello in particular–are good. Though Leona Roberts is terrible as the lead villain.

The picture runs just over an hour and they apparently saved money by not showing any moving cars during the first act. That budget constraint at least gave Wildcat some personality; it gets worse when there’s actual action (until that great pre-finale chase).

Speaking of the finale, it’s idiotic and more appropriate for slapstick. There’s a good joke or two–definitely one, I might be misremembering another.

It’s not worth investing the hour in Wildcat.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Woodruff; written by Lou Lusty; director of photography, Jack MacKenzie; edited by George Crone; music by Roy Webb; produced by Cliff Reid; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Fay Wray (Ted Dawson), Charles Lang (Jerry Waters), Paul Guilfoyle (Donovan), Don Costello (Sid Casey), Oscar O’Shea (Charles Dawson), Leona Roberts (Ma), Frank Shannon (Sweeney), Paul McGrath (Stanley Regan), Joe Sawyer (Burke), Roland Drew (Davis) and Warren Ashe (Joe Miller).


She Done Him Wrong (1933, Lowell Sherman)

With her cane and big goofy hat, it’s hard not to think of Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera when Mae West breaks out into her first song in She Done Him Wrong.

While West wrote the film’s source, a play, it seems like the film would play better as a silent. Her acting “style” doesn’t lend well to dialogue and the shock value of her lines would work just as well on title cards.

The film drags—it’s barely sixty-five minutes and Sherman has to pad it with four or five musical numbers. He does manage to give the impression he opened it up though. The film takes place in a night club; the one trip outside stays in memory long enough open the picture.

Somehow Sherman and director of photography Charles Lang can come up with nice camera movements to track West and her swaggering strut, but Sherman and editor Alexander Hall can’t do one nice cut. The film’s editing is atrocious. Every time the shot changes, whether between scene or between angle, it’s hideously jarring.

Some of the supporting performances are good. Dewey Robinson is great as West’s flunky and Owen Moore (in a theatrical turn, which I’m not using as a pejorative term) is excellent as her ex-boyfriend. Noah Beery’s okay, nothing more, and Rafaela Ottiano is weak. David Landau has some moments.

Cary Grant, however, has no good ones.

The film and West (it’s her vanity piece, after all) are a chore.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lowell Sherman; screenplay by Harvey F. Thew and John Bright, based on a play by Mae West; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Alexander Hall; music by John Leipold; produced by William LeBaron; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mae West (Lady Lou), Cary Grant (Captain Cummings), Owen Moore (Chick Clark), Gilbert Roland (Serge Stanieff), Noah Beery (Gus Jordan), David Landau (Dan Flynn), Rafaela Ottiano (Russian Rita), Dewey Robinson (Spider Kane), Rochelle Hudson (Sally), Tammany Young (Chuck Connors), Fuzzy Knight (Rag Time Kelly), Grace La Rue (Frances), Robert Homans (Doheney) and Louise Beavers (Pearl).


The Mating Season (1951, Mitchell Leisen)

The Mating Season is an awkward social comedy of errors. I say awkward because to make the plot work, Gene Tierney has to act selfishly every time she’s supposed to be garnering sympathy. Thinking about it now, the film never even resolves her flirtations with the guy out to ruin her husband (and their marriage).

If Tierney’s unsuccessful navigating the film, leading man John Lund doesn’t do much better. His character remains sympathetic throughout (even taking the blame for Tierney’s shortcomings), but Lund can’t bring believability to it. It’s never believable he wouldn’t have punched out his gold digging mother-in-law (Miriam Hopkins, who creates an impressively evil character).

The whole plot of the thing reminds me a little of “Jerry,” the show in a show on “Seinfeld” with the court appointed butler. The writers of Mating Season clearly thought they were on to something, but they can’t pull it off. The plot requires supposedly likable characters to be far too disagreeable far too often.

However, there is a bright spot. Thelma Ritter. Ritter’s wondrous as Lund’s mother (who Tierney, being upper crust, mistakes for a cook). The film’s a disjointed pairing of Ritter’s compelling story and Lund and Tierney’s contrived one.

There are a couple nice supporting performances from Larry Keating and James Lorimer.

Leisen’s direction is uninspired. He seems to understand there’s only so much he can do with the script and relies heavily on a scantily clad Tierney.

It’s definitely worth seeing for Ritter, but it’s a disappointment.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mitchell Leisen; screenplay by Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch and Richard L. Breen, based on a play by Caeser Dunn; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Frank Bracht; music by Joseph J. Lilley; produced by Brackett; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Gene Tierney (Maggie Carleton), John Lund (Val McNulty), Miriam Hopkins (Fran Carleton), Thelma Ritter (Ellen McNulty), Jan Sterling (Betsy), Larry Keating (George C. Kalinger Sr.), James Lorimer (George C. Kalinger Jr.), Gladys Hurlbut (Mrs. Conger), Cora Witherspoon (Mrs. Williamson) and Malcolm Keen (Mr. Williamson).


The Last Ride (1944, D. Ross Lederman)

I’m a fan of Warner Bros.’s old hour-long b-movies, so I found The Last Ride particularly distressing. It’s not poorly directed–Lederman even has one or two really good shots–and the writing, at least scenically, isn’t bad. There are some funny moments and the teaser is excellent. It all falls apart pretty quickly, however (it is only fifty-six minutes). The film’s continuity editing is real sloppy, like they shot scenes based on one script, didn’t shoot the rest of the scenes, and let everything sort of clash. The first time, it’s annoying, but by the second… it’s a significant strike against the film.

There’s also the problem with the script in terms of the characters’ stupidity. They’re real dumb, missing the most obvious things. Makes it real hard to care about them. There’s also the case of the disappearing character–Eleanor Parker disappears after two scenes, Mary Gordon is gone by the twenty minute mark (she has the really good comedic scene)–and these aren’t characters the movie, given how the story develops, can do without. They’re needed to react and to interact and they’re gone (probably off shooting other Warner Bros. pictures, but whatever). Richard Travis manages to hold the film up on his own longer than I thought one person could, but even he buckles under the poor handling of the script’s developments.

Besides Travis (and Tod Andrews in a small role), most of the performances are wobbly. Cy Kendall is good in parts, too much in others. Same with Charles Lang. Parker’s barely in it, Gordon’s expositional introduction of her doing more to establish the character than Parker has time to do. The opening setup is better acted than the rest of the film, by actors who don’t stick around long, only because their story is more interesting–if a lot more sensational–than what follows.

My favorite part is the end, when there are all these leftover lines from when The Last Ride was going to run ninety minutes. The way it ends, it’s like at least fifteen was lopped off… it just stops at the earliest convenient point.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by D. Ross Lederman; written by Raymond L. Schrock; director of photography, James Van Trees; edited by Harold McLernon; music by William Lava; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Richard Travis (Detective Lt. Pat Harrigan), Charles Lang (Mike Harrigan), Eleanor Parker (Kitty Kelly), Jack La Rue (Joe Genna), Cy Kendall (Capt. Butler), Wade Boteler (Police Chief Delaney), Mary Gordon (Mrs. Mary Kelly), Harry Lewis (Harry Bronson) and Tod Andrews (Fritz Hummel).


Crime by Night (1944, William Clemens)

Jerome Cowan’s detective in Crime by Night slides through the film soaked in bourbon. While the film’s mystery isn’t a bad one, perfect for a seventy minute running time, the suggestions of off-screen actions are a lot more fun to think about. The detective, with his love interest secretary along (played well by Jane Wyman, who manages ditzy humor without coming off dumb) manages to find time to romance the hotel operator, get to know all the bar staff intimately, and generally just settle himself in to small town life, enough he doesn’t seem alien to it when he’s investigating in it. The film rarely deviates from the era’s standard–we follow the detective, finding clues with him (not always getting to piece things together as quickly as he does, though all the necessary information is actually presented to the audience in Crime by Night, it’s so obvious), but the private life of the detective is–to a degree–kept from the audience. It’s a different approach, especially since Cowan’s detective is only likable in his dealings with the country bumpkins (he uses electoral competition to get paid more for investigating) and it’s Wyman who’s the likable character throughout. Given Cowan’s practically goofy performance, it’s easy to read the detective as a drunk jerk. The best thing about him is he brings Wyman around and he’s better than the country bumpkins. Still, at the end of Crime by Night, I still found myself wishing Warner had done more films with Cowan and Wyman.

I’m trying to think if the film does one unexpected thing, or even one unique thing, but, like most of the Warner b-movies from the early 1940s, it’s really a crock pot of reused ideas. The competing politicians are a comedic subplot out of something else, the family troubles precipitating the falsely accused client of Cowan’s (which is a recycling of a Thin Man plot, probably two or three or six of them) are such a non-starter the kid in the custody battle never even shows up… which is unfortunate, because Eleanor Parker, at this age, is always worth seeing working with kids–but what’s more interesting is the film forgets about the kid, just like it forgets about the inheritance after it’s introduced in the case set-up. obviously, there’s a far amount of editing incompetence, maybe there were cut scenes or maybe everyone forgot, because those scenes weren’t fun. Cowan hadn’t come out as a drunk in the opening; he wasn’t very serious, but he certainly wasn’t as goofy as immediately following. In any event, it doesn’t matter… the seventy minute b-movie needs to entertain and engage, which Crime by Night does, mostly with its cast.

Wyman’s incredibly personable performance aside, there’s also Parker as the suspicious, shady daughter of the victim. She’s one of the film’s villains, the detective’s foils, throughout, and she manages to bring some depth to a shallow role (you almost believe she has a kid somewhere, while she’s off with the nightclub singer). At the end, for her big scene, director Clemens makes his only terrible directing misstep–he inexplicably shoots her from the ground up. It looks funny; the camera on the floor appears to be the perspective of Cowan’s left shoe. Faye Emerson is unfortunately disappointing as one of Cowan’s extracurricular activities and Charles Lang is too bland, but Stuart Crawford is good as the falsely accused and Cy Kendall is amusing as the slow-witted sheriff.

I just checked IMDb and Night is the only one with these characters. Too bad. It’s a fine setup for a series.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by William Clemens; screenplay by Richard Weil and Joel Malone, from a novel by Daniel Mainwaring; director of photography, Henry Sharp; edited by Doug Gould; music by William Lava; produced by William Jacobs; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jane Wyman (Robbie Vance), Jerome Cowan (Sam Campbell), Faye Emerson (Ann Marlow), Charles Lang (Paul Goff), Eleanor Parker (Irene Carr), Stuart Crawford (Larry Borden), Cy Kendall (Sheriff Max Ambers), Charles C. Wilson (District Attorney Hyatt) and Fred Kelsey (Dad Martin).


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).


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