Jack MacKenzie

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).


Isle of the Dead (1945, Mark Robson)

The Greek anti-defamation league, if it existed, mustn’t have had much power when Isle of the Dead came out. It’s a quarantine drama, a genre I’m unfamiliar with but certainly has a lot of potential, set on a small Greek island. There’s nothing on the island besides an amateur Swiss archeologist (Jason Robards Sr.) and a graveyard. Boris Karloff plays a Greek general (the film’s set during the First Balkan War) who heads over to visit his wife’s tomb, dragging along American war correspondent Marc Cramer.

Karloff and Cramer find some mild mystery before ending up in Robards’s home, where he’s entertaining multiple guests–temporary refuges from Karloff’s latest battle.

The plague makes an appearance, forcing everyone to stay on the small island. Karloff and fellow Greek Helene Thimig start thinking its an evil spirit and plot murder.

While Thimig is over the top, Karloff’s descent into madness is wonderful. Even when he ignores fact, his conviction remains reasonable. It’s a quiet, unassuming performance from him–costar Cramer appears to be taller even; he transfixes.

Director Robson handles the cast and their subplots well, with Ardel Wray’s script weaving the subplots across each other, fueling the main thrust of the picture. It’s a brilliant, unpredictable script.

Besides Karloff, the best performances are from Ellen Drew (as a Greek peasant who suffered at the military’s hand) and Katherine Emery (as her ill friend). The only other iffy performance is Ernst Deutsch.

Isle resists most formula (there’s romance); it’s rather good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Robson; written by Ardel Wray; director of photography, Jack MacKenzie; edited by Lyle Boyer; music by Leigh Harline; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Boris Karloff (Gen. Nikolas Pherides), Marc Cramer (Oliver Davis), Ellen Drew (Thea), Katherine Emery (Mrs. Mary St. Aubyn), Alan Napier (St. Aubyn), Jason Robards Sr. (Albrecht), Skelton Knaggs (Andrew Robbins), Ernst Deutsch (Dr. Drossos) and Helene Thimig (Madame Kyra).


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