Gloria Holden

Having Wonderful Crime (1945, A. Edward Sutherland)

Having Wonderful Crime is a perplexing comedy-mystery. The mystery itself is perplexing because it’s so exceptionally convoluted; three screenwriters and four or five red herrings and the picture only runs seventy minutes. The comedy is perplexing because Crime hinges its comedic potential on lead Pat O’Brien. O’Brien is a skirt-chasing Chicago lawyer who lets rich pal George Murphy talk him into solving crimes. Murphy seems to want to do it because he can’t say no to his girlfriend, Carole Landis. Landis wants to do it because… she’s the idle rich?

There’s a brief setup–including a voiceover introducing O’Brien (whose character appeared in more than just Crime from source author Craig Rice–but O’Brien never repeated the role)–which doesn’t just reveal (after there’s been a shootout) Murphy and Landis are now married (without telling best pal O’Brien) but also a bunch of the players in the next mystery. While on the run from the cops (because O’Brien will be in trouble if they’re found at the crime scene), O’Brien, Murphy, and Landis duck into a magic show. There, Crime introduces Lenore Aubert and Richard Martin as starcrossed lovers working for big jerk magician George Zucco.

After the magic show, which ends with Zucco really disappearing, Murphy and Landis break the married news to O’Brien and head off to their honeymoon. Of course, they end up taking O’Brien along, which is good because when they run into Aubert on the road to the resort–almost literally–they’re able to double register and get adjoining honeymoon suites. Of course, while his new fake bride is up in the room unconscious, O’Brien’s down at the bar trying to make time with Gloria Holden, who gets a thankless part as a professional swimmer.

The initial mystery–before there’s a murder–involves a giant chest, which may have a body in it. Once there’s a murder, the chest is still important, but then O’Brien and pals find out Zucco had played the resort the night before and there were strange goings ons at the resort too. Some involving rich spinsters Blanche Ring and Josephine Whittell, as well as resort manager Charles D. Brown and giant scary porter guy William ‘Wee Willie’ Davis. So many suspects, so much opportunity, so little motive but so many exteriors on the resorts grounds shot day-for-night.

Most of Crime is just O’Brien, Murphy, and Landis walking around outside trying to stumble onto a scene to kill a few minutes.

The film’s humor is utterly perplexing. While Murphy and Landis both occasionally exhibit comedic timing, it’s never when they’re together. There are some nods at slapstick, but usually at its aftermath, like no one thinks they could pull off the gag on screen. O’Brien’s got zero comic timing, so most of Crime’s scenes throwing him into comedic situations–often involving the skirt-chasing–fizzle. They don’t exactly flop, because it’s not like anyone’s trying too hard. Director Sutherland sure isn’t and the screenwriters don’t put any energy into building the gags. Crime gently amuses and never tries for anything else.

And it’s fine, since the film doesn’t have the time or cast to go for more. Landis is the only one of the three leads who’s consistently engaging; even when she gets pointless material, which is most of the time (Crime seems to know she’s easily the most charismatic cast member, yet the script gives her a constantly changing character because… I don’t know, idle rich?). Murphy always seems like he’s waiting for broader comedy. O’Brien always seems like he’s waiting for some actual direction. O’Brien’s scenes might actually play better with a laugh track, just because it’d provide some context for what Sutherland and the screenwriters are going for. Without it he just seems like a big jerk and a lech.

Aubert’s a weak ingenue. Martin’s light as her Romeo. Zucco’s underutilized. Ditto poor Holden. Ring and Whittell are great as the rich old spinsters. It’s a shame they aren’t in it more (Whittell isn’t even credited).

The film’s technically competent. Frank Redman’s day-for-night photography doesn’t transcend and it’s quizzical why they’d set so much of the movie outside when they clearly can’t shoot for it, but it’s not bad. Gene Milford’s editing keeps the pace.

Crime is more diverting than engaging or entertaining. Its creative choices make zero sense–who at RKO really thought people would rather sit through a Pat O’Brien vehicle than a Carole Landis one?

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by A. Edward Sutherland; screenplay by Howard J. Green, Parke Levy, and Stewart Sterling, based on a story by Craig Rice; director of photography, Frank Redman; edited by Gene Milford; music by Leigh Harline; produced by Robert Fellows; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Pat O’Brien (Michael J. Malone), George Murphy (Jake Justus), Carole Landis (Helene Justus), Lenore Aubert (Gilda Mayfair), Richard Martin (Lance Richards), Charles D. Brown (Mr. Winslow), Gloria Holden (Phyllis Gray), Blanche Ring (Elizabeth Lenhart), William ‘Wee Willie’ Davis (Zacharias, the Porter), and George Zucco (The Great Movel).


Dracula’s Daughter (1936, Lambert Hillyer)

Dracula’s Daughter starts as a comedy. With Billy Bevan’s bumbling police constable, there’s nothing else to call it. Sure, the opening deals with the immediate aftermath of the original Dracula–returning Edward Van Sloan arrested for driving a stake through a man’s heart–but it’s all for smiles, if not laughs. Bevan’s terrified expressions carry the movie until it’s time for Gloria Holden to show up.

Holden plays the title role. She’s in England to dispose of her father’s remains and to paint (and to prey upon the living). She’s not happy about preying upon the living and Garrett Fort’s screenplay implies its all going to be about vampirism as a compulsion. Top-billed Otto Kruger ties everything together; he’s a society psychiatrist, trained by Van Sloan, who ends up defending his old teacher while taking an interest in Holden. She’s in society because her paintings? It’s unclear why anyone would invite her. Fort’s script isn’t good on narrative progression.

Holden thinks Kruger might be able to help her with the vampirism. She assumed her father’s death would help, but her man servant and familiar Irving Pichel convinces her otherwise. Pichel’s just around to encourage Holden’s bad habits. He definitely looks creepy, but he doesn’t treat her with any respect, much less fear. It creates a bit of a tonal imbalance–the vampire isn’t bad, the human encouraging her is bad–until Holden finally takes up the villain reins.

Once Holden and Pichel go after Nan Grey (who’s rather good in her small part), it’s clear the happy London society dalliances are soon to be over. See, Kruger’s her doctor too. And he’s going to get to the bottom of it. Can Holden convince him to join her–possibly replacing Pichel–in Transylvania before Kruger can dehypnotize Grey long enough to find out who attacked her?

It’d be a far more effective twist if Holden’s character were better developed (and established in the first place) and if director Hillyer didn’t direct Kruger like he’s always waiting to react to a punchline. Once the initial comedic stuff is over–though Scotland Yard man Gilbert Emery is mostly for laughs (including the film’s best ones)–Hillyer starts giving Kruger these close-ups where he’s just reacting to something or pensively smoking. I guess he needs to be doing something since he’s not figuring out Van Sloan’s not crazy and Holden’s got something weird going on.

Twenty-something Marguerite Churchill is quinquagenarian Kruger’s assistant. She’s an heiress or something so she gives him a lot of guff. She’s also, of course, enamored with him. Because why wouldn’t she be enamored with her fifty-year old boss. They don’t have any romantic chemistry, though occasionally Kruger does come off paternal. Too occasionally.

Churchill’s unprofessional jealousy of Holden eventually gets her in a lot of trouble, kicking off the final act, where Kruger’s got to fly to Transylvania to try to save the day. He doesn’t, as it turns out, because Fort’s script is goofy. I wonder if it had to contort itself through the Hays Code. Hopefully. At least contorting for the Code would provide an excuse.

The film’s got good sets and fine photography from George Robinson. Hillyer starts with some creepiness, but soon gives it up. Why the film should want to scare Bevan’s bumbling constable but not Churchill or Grey’s damsels is another of its mysteries. There are some excellent foggy London effects and some real mood with Holden, in her black wraps–though Holden’s costuming when she’s not a creature of the night is grey and drab.

Holden’s okay. The film’s failures aren’t her fault. They’re not Kruger’s fault either, but he’s so miscast after a while–and Hillyer’s direction of him is so awry–he gets tiring. Van Sloan’s fun for a while, but he too can’t survive. Churchill’s just annoying. Maybe it’s supposed to be the part.

Dracula’s Daughter is an almost solid production of a troubled script. It’s a bunch of ill-fitting pieces mashed together without success.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lambert Hillyer; screenplay by Garrett Fort, based on a suggestion by David O. Selznick and a story by Bram Stoker; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Milton Carruth; produced by E.M. Asher; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Otto Kruger (Jeffrey Garth), Gloria Holden (Countess Marya Zaleska), Irving Pichel (Sandor), Edward Van Sloan (Professor Von Helsing), Marguerite Churchill (Janet), Gilbert Emery (Sir Basil Humphrey), Nan Grey (Lili), and Billy Bevan (Albert).


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