James Hall

Manhattan Tower (1932, Frank R. Strayer)

Manhattan Tower opens with the Empire State Building and closes with it. I’m not entirely sure they ever call it by name in the film but it’s not supposed to be “real,” I don’t think. Tower‘s Empire State is a world onto itself, so much so, it’s a shock people leave it to go home at the end of the picture.

The film takes place in a day, the morning accounting–roughly–for the first half.

Strayer–Tower‘s easily the best film I’ve seen of his–and screenwriter Norman Houston keep a rapid pace. When it’s introducing characters and situations (there’s a lot of drama on this particular day), Houston always introduces at least two characters and some problem they’re having. The film doesn’t leave anything unresolved and the amount they do resolve–in the last eight minutes or so–is incredible.

The film does have a villain, which makes things a little easier to solve, and Clay Clement is fantastic in the role. In a lot of ways, it’s the least flashy role in the film, because he’s just a sleazebag. The film’s constantly revealing his further lack of character.

Mary Brian’s kind of the lead, giving the best “star” performance in the film. James Hall’s good too, but he’s mostly around just for scenes with Brian.

Hale Hamilton is unexpectedly (his role, at the start, doesn’t seem big) great, turning in the film’s second best performance. All the acting’s good, but Nydia Westman too deserves some singling out.



Directed by Frank R. Strayer; screenplay by Norman Houston, based on a story by David Hempstead; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Harry Reynolds; produced by A.E. Lefcourt; released by Remington Pictures.

Starring Mary Brian (Mary Harper), Irene Rich (Ann Burns), James Hall (Jimmy Duncan), Hale Hamilton (David Witman), Noel Francis (Marge Lyon), Clay Clement (Kenneth Burns), Nydia Westman (Miss Wood), Jed Prouty (Mr. Hoyt), Billy Dooley (Crane-Eaton) and Wade Boteler (Mr. Ramsay).

The Canary Murder Case (1929, Malcolm St. Clair and Frank Tuttle)

As an example of a transitional sound film–Canary Murder Case was filmed as a silent, then reconfigured as a talkie–the film’s very interesting. It’s an early talkie (1929) so there’s no sound design–there’s rarely any noise besides the talking and few sound effects, the actors aren’t ready for talking (for the most part), and the direction, even of the talkie-specific scenes, is awkward and paced for a silent film. People say their line, wait a few seconds, either for a title card or a cut, then someone else says his or her line. It’s disjointed, which surprised me, since I figured I’d just get used to it.

William Powell’s fine in the “lead,” except, while the film’s a “Philo Vance mystery,” Powell has very little to do in the film. He’s an accessory to the police and his single solo scene is a summary sequence of him up all night figuring out the solution. I too figured out the solution and had Philo Vance read more, specifically Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, he wouldn’t have had to stay up all night. The only other amusing actor is Eugene Pallette, who was in the other Powell Vance film I’ve seen too, and even he’s having trouble finding his footing in the talkie atmosphere. He does have some funny moments, which is an achievement, since all the other attempts in the film fall completely flat.

As the titular canary, Louise Brooks leaves little impression. I wasn’t paying attention during the opening titles or something and, since I’ve never actually seen any of her other films, it took me a second to realize who she was when she showed up (I thought the female lead was going to be Jean Arthur, who’s a brunette in the film and barely in it). The greatest impression Brooks’s character does leave, however, is she’s a crook… and when the film’s conclusion is her murder’s justified (agreeing with what the audience already thinks), it makes the whole thing a somewhat pointless experience.

The direction, compositionally, is boring, so there’s little driving the film. Past the long set-up, which I suppose is supposed to be interesting because of Brooks’s presence, there’s almost nothing going on. It’s a very long eighty minutes, though the section where the detective decides a poker game is the best way to discover a murderer is nice and there is one excellent plot development, which in a different film (a better one) would give the characters some real angst. But not so in this one.



Directed by Malcolm St. Clair and Frank Tuttle; screenplay by Albert S. Le Vino, Florence Ryerson and S.S. Van Dine, based on Van Dine’s novel; directors of photography, Cliff Blackstone and Harry Fischbeck; edited by William Shea; music by Karl Hajos; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Powell (Philo Vance), Louise Brooks (Margaret Odell), Jean Arthur (Alys LaFosse), James Hall (Jimmy Spotswoode), Charles Lane (Charles Spotswoode), Eugene Pallete (Sgt. Heath), Gustav von Seyffertitz (Dr. Ambrose Lindquist), Lawrence Grant (Charles Cleaver), Ned Sparks (Tony Sheel), Louis John Bartels (Louis Mannix) and E.H. Calvert (District Attorney Markham).

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